Inside AFC Bournemouth: an exclusive interview with Andy Howe
Amidst a global pandemic and juggling multiple conference calls, we managed to speak with Andy Howe – AFC Bournemouth’s Head of Domestic First Team Scouting – for some insight into how a Premier League football club scouts, scrutinises and signs players.
Andy Howe has held a UEFA B Coaching Licence since the age of 21 and has been involved in football his entire life. The man who heads up AFC Bournemouth’s domestic recruitment – as one would expect – lives and breathes the beautiful game.
“Football’s always been in my blood,” he says at the beginning of our conversation, diving immediately into childhood memories of a life enveloped by the sport. “I used to write notes on games from the age of 7 to 11. I’d write down the team line-ups, bookings and so on, so weirdly I was always destined to come into this side of it at some point.”
The man responsible for heading up the domestic scouting team, a group who did the groundwork in assembling Bournemouth’s current Premier League squad and are always scouring the lower leagues, has spent a number of years at the club – eight as a scout, with a further four in his current role. His first position at the club was as an academy coach as a teenager. It was unpaid, merely intended to further his learning and develop his coaching repertoire, he says. Being immersed in the world of professional football – albeit in a more observational domain – from such a young age has no doubt assisted him in his exploits as a scout.
Scouting is a 24/7 job, there isn’t a minute in the day when you couldn’t be watching a game live or on Wyscout.
“I always enjoyed watching games and analysing players and teams, thinking, ‘right, how would this player do at this team?’ and ‘where’s his weaknesses, where’s his strengths?’”, Andy recounts, harking back to his coaching days.
Having a keen eye on proceedings from a coaching and scouting perspective has set Howe up for his current role, which entails a great deal more than just glamorous European scouting missions. “Scouting is a 24/7 job, there isn’t a minute in the day when you couldn’t be watching a game live or on Wyscout.
“When not watching football it’ll be meetings via conference calls or in-house with our domestic scouts, co-ordinating not only my own trips for the coming weeks but also the guys within the team, and obviously talking to analysts and data guys every week, trying to see how our current targets are progressing”. It is little surprise that as an influential figure in the engine room of a Premier League club, he is rarely off the phone, or away from a laptop screen.
Player recruitment has been Andy’s profession for the best part of a decade now. His roles have ranged from voluntary work at Burnley, to first-team scouting at Plymouth Argyle, before eventually becoming Head of Domestic First Team Scouting at Bournemouth. He has seen the landscape of the professional game change, something he insists is always evolving year-on-year. He also notes the changing methods and approaches scouts are having to take in the modern game.
Particularly, Andy heralds the growing impact of online scouting platforms such as Wyscout for assessing players. Some may see it as armchair scouting, but it is far more than watching highlight reels of South Americans on YouTube. Andy describes it as intimate: allowing him to zero in on a single player’s movements, technical ability, passing range, tactical understanding, and more. In his role, where he is expected to remain abreast of multiple targets at any time, video scouting is hugely practical.
“It’s great for honing down on extra games that you might not have seen or might not have been able to see live, because maybe you were at another game.
“You can easily watch a player from your laptop and be like, 'right that player’s not for us'. I’ve saved a trip to the northern part of England which has saved me hours in travelling time which I can then focus on a player who’s been made a priority and is right for us.”
In a world where marginal gains can be the difference between Premier League survival and relegation, any avenue which may give Bournemouth an edge over their opposition must be explored. As for those clubs not yet taking advantage of the resources available to them, a stark warning: “They might not fall by the wayside but they’ll certainly miss players. I think in the scouting world you have to use every possible tool that’s at your disposal.”
We are big on the British market. I pretty much spend most of my time in the Football League, spending a lot of time in Under-23s and Under-18s too.
There is a palpable sense of pressure, responsibility and seriousness in Andy’s voice as he describes his work. It is also tinged with a clear and distinct passion for his profession.
“It’s been quite surreal, the journey from League One up to the Premier League. You have to adapt every season. The quality of players and the way that the game is being played changes each year so you have to adapt and evolve. You can never be caught standing still,” he asserts.
The rhetoric is familiar; it’s synonymous with that of Premier League footballers. It is unsurprising that the same can be said of the work that goes on behind the scenes at a club who have enjoyed successive promotions and established themselves as a top-flight mainstay during Andy’s eight years. His role at the club is significant, especially considering four of Bournemouth’s five first-team additions in the 2019 summer transfer window were signed from English clubs – three of whom had spent the 2018-19 season in the Football League.
Lloyd Kelly and Harry Wilson had enjoyed campaigns in the Championship with Bristol City and Derby County respectively. Meanwhile, Jack Stacey secured promotion from League One with Luton Town. Without being drawn into discussing specific players, Andy acknowledges that a large portion of the club’s recruitment focuses on young, domestic talent.
“We are very big on the British market. The manager will always watch the players himself and will always have the final say, but as a recruitment team, we are heavily involved in helping to identify the right players for the manager and the football club.”
Going through previous seasons uncovers an exhaustive list: David Brooks and Chris Mepham, both Welsh internationals, signed from Sheffield United and Brentford; likewise, Callum Wilson was signed from Coventry City before firing Bournemouth to the Premier League. Aaron Ramsdale – another on Sheffield United’s books as a teenager – has established himself as the club’s number 1 this season, while former England U-21 captain Lewis Cook remains at the club despite suffering serious knee injuries since joining from Leeds United in 2016.
“I pretty much spend most of my time in the Football League, [as well as] spending a lot of time in Under-23s and Under-18s.
“You need to understand a player’s journey and pathway. I think it’s important to know that not every player’s going to have a good game and young players especially, their performances are naturally always going to dip so I think it’s important you track players over a longer period of time.”
Andy is not celebrating his own eye for under-appreciated talent in the lower divisions, far from it. Rather he is praising the recruitment team and the club’s transfer history aligning neatly with the philosophy of the manager, Eddie Howe.
Bournemouth have a squad littered with homegrown players. Andy attributes this to the manager’s own desire to develop hungry, young players on the training ground.
“Our manager is very big on attitude, I think most managers are, because everybody wants a player who’s a good lad; he’s a hard-worker, he’s intelligent and he wants to improve. These are the core qualities that we look for when it comes to signing a player.”
The emphasis on signing the right characters is evident and becomes a running theme of our interview. But having the correct attitude only goes so far; players must have outstanding talent or untapped potential to cut it in the Premier League, and, crucially, must want to learn under an enthusiastic coach.
“Sometimes when we’re scouting we might try and think outside the box. We’d think ‘he’s playing in this position for this club, but for our club and our manager, we may be able to make him into something in another position where we could get more out of his attributes and his qualities in a different role.”
A novel idea and one requiring an expert team of scouts, capable of identifying a player’s transferable skills between positions. It is certainly a method which has borne fruit for Bournemouth. Upon closer inspection of Nathan Aké’s career pre-dating his £20 million move in 2017, he played in a variety of positions on loan at Watford, but also in Chelsea’s youth sides and during a brief spell at Reading.
Aké is one of the club’s most successful recent signings. He infiltrated Bournemouth’s defence, which had not undergone a great deal of upheaval since their Championship days, and established himself as one of their key players.
On the other hand, Andy insists it is also vital not to lose track of players who may experience a dip in form. This is where his five-strong team is so crucial, he says. Keeping across the various options is important, and takes up much of the scouting department’s time.
“I don’t think there’s any real science behind how many times you actually should go and watch a player individually, because sometimes we’ve been tracking a player for three years before we’ve ended up signing him.
“Over those three years, we would probably have watched that player 60 times as a group. We believe it’s trying to make sure you’re signing the players at the right time in their careers, where they’re ready to go into the first team and hit the ground running.”
Compiling detailed reports, identifying certain criteria, being savoir-faire with the tech now involved in scouting, and even attending bitterly cold evening fixtures at Dorchester Town; the life of a Premier League club’s lead scout is far from dull.
Millions are invested into Bournemouth’s scouting team and their subjective assessments of players – albeit each is vigorously eye-balled for extended periods of time before the manager pulls the trigger. Nevertheless, the pressures that come with the territory are undeniable. Andy regularly reiterates his love for the game and the job, embracing the constant evolution of top level football and the demands that accompany it.
From writing reports into a notepad as a child, he’s now doing the job he dreamed of. With a trusted team alongside him, Andy exudes optimism about the future. There seems to be a distinct link between the club’s vision, the scouting team’s passion and influential work, and the continued progress they all wish to achieve.
We can't thank Andy enough fr his cooperation, insight and patience during what is a testing time for us all, and wish him and Bournemouth all the best once football resumes. If you liked this interview, please support our work by purchasing a Scouted Football Handbook here.