Jacek left Poland at a very young age and still lives in Brussels today. He earns his living working hard in a regular day job. The story sounds like any other story about people leaving their countries to find a better life abroad. What comes next though is extraordinary. Jacek started a project, fueled only by his passion, which gave him a pioneering role of a digital scout. His “Football Talent Scout” is followed by over 100,000 people on Twitter. Most importantly, within that 100,000 followers were Famalicao’s officials, who decided to roll a die on a new, untested project. How did this amateur endeavor turn into a job for a professional football club? Let’s hear Jacek tell us himself.
Are you tired yet of the popularity? Ever since you got hired by Famalicao, you have become quite a
I have to say that I am actually very proud of it. I am not at all tired of it, especially because I enjoy talking about what I do and I try to make it interesting for others. It is a positive experience and I am not tired at all.
I have to ask the most obvious question: do you remember the day an idea to start a blog came up?
I remember the day very well, as if it was yesterday. It was a weekend and I was actually really bored. That’s when I had this thought that I was actually always very interested in the youth talents and maybe it would be good to transform this into paper, or the keyboard to be more exact. I remember seeing an ad online about the possibility of opening a blog. So I decided to do it.
Did you get to work right away?
Yes. On the first day I had my first report done, it was about Ricardo Rodriguez of Wolfsburg.
What did the process look like? Did you just start blogging regularly? Did you decide to set aside a certain amount of time to it?
In the beginning I was just doing it for myself. You can say that I was just writing for my own use. My reports were not very detailed, they were very amateurish and it took some time for me to get more and more detailed. I started watching more games, opened up a Facebook fanpage, friends from a football forums suggested that I register on Twitter and that’s kind of how it just took off.
There are many ways in which you can be interested in football. You took up a loving for young talents. How did that come about?
It all started with Championship Manager..
Yes, totally typical. I remember that I was in a heated rivalry with my cousin in this game. However, we weren’t really interested in results. We were interested in finding talents. Who could find better talents? Who will benefit more? Which country is the best? In that game, the best countries were Romania and Bulgaria. We spent hours there, seeing who we can find. That is how it all started. When I was watching games on my own later on, I was most interested in youth talents and then it just started to get deeper and deeper. That is how Football Talent Scout got started.
The whole blogging thing looks very much like a hobby. Many people urged you to take the next step. To transform your passion into a job. Did you ever think about this before the offer from Famalicao came?
To be honest, my goal was always to be seen. From the very beginning of this project, I was hoping to be noticed. I had to wait six years, but it finally happened.
When your visitors on the blog and followers on Twitter numbers rose, were you surprised?
I was very surprised. When I was starting all of these accounts, I never expected it to get to these levels. In the beginning, I was hoping for a thousand followers on Twitter, but then it just went quickly. Thousand, ten thousand, and now hundred thousand… Yes, I was very shocked! On the other hand, I put in a lot of work into this so, not to sound rude, I felt that I deserved these numbers. I really invested a lot of myself into this project.
Could you tell us how many hours it took to you to get here? An average amount of hours a day it took?
Today I spend a lot more time on writing these reports. As I said previously, in the beginning my reports were not all that detailed. Sometimes all I had to do was see a player for 45 minutes and I was ready to write a report, even if it was of poor quality. Today, before I write anything, I have to see at least five matches involving the player, so it takes at least a few hours a day. On top of that, I have to add the time spent on managing social media. To be honest, nowadays it all comes naturally. Something just clicks and I know that I will be looking at FC Schalke 04 youth talents that day. It just happens. But I also have my work for Famalicao today, so I really have to put in a lot of work into this to get something for the club.
Are you a brave man?
That depends what are you asking.
Well, at some point in your life, you decided to come out of your comfort zone and share your passion and knowledge with the whole world. I think it takes some courage to do that, because right away you are confronted with people who know better or at least they think they do.
If you are talking about every day life, I have to say I am not all that outgoing. I am a very different person when it comes to football, though, because I feel very strong about my knowledge. I know my worth when it comes to this business. I know that I can get around and I am not afraid of letting people know that.
How did people react when they found that there is only one person working at the Football Talent Scout? You really are a hegemon when it comes to this corner of the football world, but looking at it from the outside, it looks like it is run by a good crew of people, a professional organization.
The truth is that people are still shocked. The second biggest thing on Twitter which is similar to mine has 40 thousand followers less. I actually know that there is a rather large team working behind that project. There are people who do deal with just social media, others who deal with the content etc. In order to promote myself, but also to showcase that I work independently, I added my first and last name to my fanpage. There are still a lot of surprised people. Usually when I got e-mails or messages, they were not addressed to me – they were addressed to “the team.” Could “my team” help out? Can “my team” do something? I think that until very recently, there were still a good amount of people thinking that Football Talent Scout is a well-oiled machine, comprising a number of people working together. When people found out that I am on my own, I started getting a lot of warm messages and thanks for what I do.
You said that you are very sure of your knowledge. Did this attitude mean you offered your services to different clubs?
I sent my resumes to a few places, I got some offers, but from agents, not clubs. I was not interested, because they were average at best. In terms of my applications, getting a job at a club is not all that easy. These are well established organizations, that have their own structures and people in places for all these things. They probably get a ton of messages like that a day. Somebody wants a shirt, somebody would like a souvenir, somebody is offering their services. I think my resumes were just lost in the massive amounts of all these e-mails. I did not have an in at any club and that was probably necessary to get any sort of position.
When did Famalicao reach out to you? How did this look like?
I got a message from a guy who is responsible for the entire “digital scouting” project. It is rather innovative, first of its type in Portugal. I got a message that he admires my work and would be interested in seeing where we can go from there. We moved from e-mail to WhatsApp, talked a little there and then I got an official offer. Did you have any doubts about whether to take that position? Maybe it is a remote job, but it is still a job for a club at one of the bigger European leagues. Honestly, I did not feel any pressure. I thought that I would still be doing everything as normal, so why not do it for a club? I knew that I would not stop watching the kids, so there was no fear, there was just excitement. It is difficult to call this a job at this point, it is really just a trial period.
Has your every day schedule changed because of this trial?
No, not much has changed. If I spent three hours on watching the players for my blog, now I spend two hours for the blog and one hour for Famalicao.
Do you have a specific region for which you are responsible?
Yes, Eastern Europe. I was asked in the beginning which region I feel the best in and I can imagine that if I said Spain or Italy, that would not go over too well. Famalicao is obviously not a rich club that can afford to get players from La Liga or Serie A.
So your choice of regions satisfied them?
They were very happy, when they found out that I am comfortable covering Poland, Slovakia, Czechia, Serbia or the Balkans in general. They are very interested in that particular area of the world.
We keep talking about remote work. Will you also have to do some in person scouting?
I have that option. I can go to a game and watch the player live, but I have to let the club know of that intention 72 hours before kick off. I get everything sorted out, I get a ticket to the game and I think I will take advantage of that opportunity soon.
How much do you expect your reports to matter when it comes to a transfer of each individual player to the club?
Obviously, this is all teamwork. We are a group of people working on the same goal. I give a recommendation for further scouting to my boss, who then makes a decision. If he agrees, then the board has to accept that. Of course, I cannot say, “go ahead and buy this player” and things happen. It’s a longer process.
When you were wrong about a player on your blog, there was no harm done. Do you have that in the back of your head that your future could depend on whether you make mistakes or not?
Of course, it’s not good to make those mistakes. However, there is no such thing as individual success at the club. We work for the club, not as individuals. Nobody will come in and say “this is your player, this is your success.” Each success and each failure belongs to all of us, the whole department. We all work for the same goal. So I do not expect to be faced with any severe repercussions if my report is wrong every now and again, because it has to be verified and go through other stages. There is always somebody who puts his signature on the paper at the end and is responsible for all of it.
Do you know how many other digital scouts Famalicao is hiring?
I am in a group of a few people from different countries. I know of a guy from Morocco, but I do not know the exact number.
Digital Scout. It is a totally new thing in the world of football. Do you feel like you are a pioneer in this matter?
A pioneer? Hard to say. I know that the project is very innovative in Portugal, but is it new in the rest of the world? Maybe they already have had things like that, who knows. I think you have to give credit to Famalicao for following that route as the first club in Portugal to do that.
Football is always changing. Prices are rising at tremendous rates. Do you see clubs more eager than ever to grow their own players or hire them when they are still teenagers in order to avoid some costs?
Definitely. In today’s world, you pay half of the fee for the actual skills of the player, and another half for his potential. If Joao Felix comes to Atletico Madrid for 126 million at 19 years of age, it is not hard to imagine that clubs will try to find these players at an even younger age to avoid paying these large sums. From what I am seeing, clubs are trying to invest more and more in scouting.
Today it is already part of your professional obligations, so you might not want to share that with me, but I still have to ask. Do you see any players today in Poland who are not widely known but who have to potential to become someone of the same stature as Robert Lewandowski?
It will be hard to match Lewandowski, because he is one of a kind and we might have to wait another hundred years for somebody like him. We have many great talents who are worth noting, though. My favorite example is Kacper Kozlowski, who is 16 years old, but is more mature in his midfield role than many players in the Ekstraklasa today.
In Poland a 25 year old player is still seen as a promising young talent. Why is that?
Until recently that was indeed the case, but it definitely has been changing as of late. Clubs like Lech Poznan have definitely played a big part in this, because they are brave in putting out young talents in the first team. If we look at how many young players are playing in the first team in Polish clubs, you will know that this will benefit us in the future. Academies of clubs such as Zaglebie Lubin or Pogon Szczecin also do a magnificent job. I think things are getting better in Poland.
Do you think the youth rule [explain] has an impact on this? Were you glad to see it enacted?
Absolutely. I think this is the best thing that happened in Polish football in recent years. I know it is impossible, but I would like to see a mandatory 3 young players in the team, because Polish football hit rock bottom, and that would help us get out of it. I realize, however, that this is unrealistic. The only way we can progress in Poland is if we stop importing 30-year olds from Slovakia or the Balkan countries and let our youth play.
Going back to the blog. Do you profit from it? It seems like there is a lot of opportunity for some extra income?
I do not make any income on the blog. I had some offers from bookmakers or writing sponsored articles, but I do not want to sell my soul for a 100 dollars. I am operating this blog with an operating loss from the very beginning, and majority of it is my time – that’s the biggest investment.
Have you had any encounters with families or agents of young players?
If only one (laughs)! Not a day goes by without such an e-mail. Everybody wants me to check out the “new Messi” and whatnot. One time, I got a video from a father of a 5-year old kid. I never responded, so he wrote an angry e-mail. What am I supposed to say about a kid kicking the ball around for fun? In the beginning I enjoyed these messages, but they got to be way too much and so I stopped responding to them.
Have you thought about starting a YouTube channel?
I thought about it, but that is a lot of work and a big commitment, so I have to really think about whether I am ready for it.
You said that you are in a trial period. Do you have any ideas about how your work is seen at Famalicao?
Positively. They like the fact that I am consistent and they like my reports, which motivates me even further.
What if the Portuguese like it even more? I am thinking about a full time position.
That would actually be my dream. To do what I love and make money on it. Especially since I am a simple guy, I do not expect much. I just want to be able to make a living and that will be enough for me.
Would you be willing to move to Portugal should an opportunity arise?
I do not know what they have in store for me. Would I be able to stay in Brussels and continue my work here, or work locally in their offices? If I had to move, I would have no qualms about it.