Paris

It’s been a while but…..

As I write this I’m currently sat on the Eurostar on my way back from my favourite city in the World… Paris. As I explained to my mum a few days back, I’ve long thought that I must have been born in Paris during a previous life! There has always been something in me that is pulled to the city. But as with most things in my life, I’ve investigated said ‘pull’ half heartedly. 

We spend most of our lives working and sleeping. This was something up until recently that I was guilty of also. Work was my life! In football there is very rarely a line dividing both, something a lot of my friends will back me up on. 

Late one night whilst in my hotel in Paris, I had just got in from a great day and evening exploring the city with my close friend (and Parisian) Hamza Bencherif, when the White noise of the TV that was on in the background caught my attention. It was a BBC world feature on CEO’s and time management. The usual ‘work/life stories came up, then this lady came on screen. I can’t remember her name but I wish I had! She was CEO of a massive company and she explained that she has 6 kids ranging from 5 to 22!! Now, from the look of her louboutin’s she could afford an au pair BUT how inspiring!! This lady can manage a marriage of 20yrs, 6 kids (all happy and pleased to see her at the end of the day, and a company that turns over MULTI millions!! I can’t even figure out how to get on the right path to become a CEO and so far my relationship has broken down and my health! It’s embarrassing. That lady proved to me that although to some, work is a dirty word!! Doing something you enjoy, cleans it up!
I can see my dad in heaven (if there is one) saying ‘you’re being too hard on yourself again son’, but we all need to feel as though we are accomplishing something, or on the right track. That to me is what life is about. Feeling that we’re needed in any part of our lives, and that our little time on the earth leaves some sort of impression. 

Paris taught me that I need to focus. I need to find what I love and do it. Then if that doesn’t work, I can’t have any regrets. 

The Film and the Thought

I watched a fantastic film last week called ‘Draft Day’. Kevin Costner played Sonny Brown, the Cleveland Browns general manager. The whole plot revolves around a fictional 2014 NFL player draft, and while the ups and downs were entertaining, I was really drawn in by 2 sub plots. Firstly how Sonny dealt with being in the shadow of his popular father, who was coach of the team before he died, and secondly the process of player recruitment in the NFL. Now, I am under no illusion that this was a FILM and therefore not real life, but I was hooked. Sonny was constantly reminded and compared to his father, it was obvious that his dad was a legend and Sonny missed him but when given a real opportunity to shine, he stepped out from beneath his dad’s shadow and people saw that he was capable in his own right. Something totally clicked with me. Sonny was confident in his decision making. He knew that given the opportunity he would succeed. In the end that opportunity only presented itself when he took a leap of faith and used some clever negotiating to get the players he wanted. It’s no secret that I have a few regrets during my time as chief scout. But the main one is not forcing my opinion more. I wasted an opportunity given to me by the owner. I constantly look at my old emails and think ‘I wish I had had that argument’! The fact is the managers get paid to make the decisions but I know players! I should’ve been stronger and then even if the players hadn’t done what some are doing now (playing at a higher level), I could at least say, ‘it was my decision’.
The second part of the film that fascinated me was something I knew a little bit about. The NFL recruiting process. Basically most teams have a ‘general manager’ and a team of ‘scouts’. The General manager is trusted to get all of the players for the Head Coach to coach!! There is a little input from the Head Coach but it is basically the General Managers team! Now I’m not saying that the film was all factually correct but I looked into it and it seems that it’s not far off! The general manager sources players (with his scouting team), discusses wages, salary cap, budget, draft picks, negotiation and even flights! The Head Coach is then asked to coach the team. I personally like part of this concept and it seems that some Premier League clubs do also. One thing I think football in the uk has got wrong is the amount of responsibilities we give to managers. 9/10 times they are negotiating players wages, handling budgets and dealing with agents themselves! For a seasoned manager this is difficult but for a rookie manager this can be really daunting and all the coaching badges in the world couldn’t prepare you for it! I’d like to see more clubs taking financial responsibilities away from managers and this will free them up to coach (effectively becoming head coach)!! I mean let’s look at it objectively, most football club boards are made up of people who have years of experience in business!! Probably staff recruitment, negotiating massive deals and much more. I know football is ‘different’ but why can’t their obvious knowledge and business sense be used to make informed decisions on players salaries and contract terms, more often? Maybe more clubs wouldn’t be in such financial holes and a lot more sustainable……. Just a thought.

On the Sidelines

So the new season is here again. For me it starts when Notts County and Bradford City (my 2 previous clubs) play their first games! Not when the Premiership finally decides to kick off a week later. I won’t lie, It feels so strange to be heading into this one on the outside looking in. For as long as I can remember either my dad or I have been employed by a football club! This is the first season in probably the last 20+ where neither of us have been directly involved!! So there’s a feeling in my stomach that I haven’t had before. Its a mix of relief there’s no pressure and jealousy that I’m missing out on that same pressure! As I said in my previous entries to this blog, recently I felt I have fallen out of love with football. I just don’t feel as reliant on it for happiness as I used too. But 4 days ago I went to watch Lincoln City U18’s vs Newark Town (senior team). This doesn’t much sound like a glamour tie, and trust me it wasn’t. But I attended to watch 2 of Lincoln city’s youth players who are currently in digs (lodging) at my best friends house (Jordan a 6ft left footed confident striker and Leon a tough athletic right back). I was totally caught up in the game and even felt myself having a pop at Newark’s right back as he reacted angrily to a mistimed challenged from lincoln’s 16yr old energetic left back and grabbed the boy by the throat (there was no need for that dickhead) maybe that was my fatherly instincts coming out, as they always did when ever someone unfairly criticised any of my U21 players at Notts County!! Anyway for 90 minutes I was again consumed. I kicked every ball and felt every challenge. THIS is how a fan feels every week!! They are totally immersed in the game and see it so much more emotionally than I have for the past few years. You see, football is much more enjoyable if you are not defined by it!! Remove your own expectations of success or failure and you see the beautiful game again!! Who knows what this season will bring. There is always a ‘dark horse’ and a team that under performs but all I wish is that it is successful and injury free for all my friends involved! Good luck and smile…… Life goes on (even after a 90th minute defeat)

Free Agents

A lot of things surprise me when it comes to football but none more than free agents. Players without any attachment to a club. These are players who have either let their contracts run down so they can gamble on a bigger more lucrative contract (Premier league), or deemed not good enough by their previous employer (the rest). I’m gonna concentrate on the ones deemed not good enough as these are the players I have dealt with personally. In the UK we see this type of free agent a little differently than our European counterparts. If a player is released by a manager of a league 1 club for example, there is an automatic acceptence that he is no longer good enough for any other league one club OR dread the thought that the manager releasing him may have got it wrong and he actually could play in the championship under the right guidance!! Every year there are players who when I see they are free agents, it astonishes me that no one else can see their value! This year, it’s Marcus Haber. A 6ft 3″ Canadian international striker. This lad is strong, quick, runs channels and attacks corners and crosses as good as anyone I’ve seen yet still only 25yrs old!! I can’t believe that no one has signed this player who you could get for less than an above average car salesman’s salary!! These are the players who as a scout used to make me doubt myself! I can see the qualities of a player like Marcus but am I missing something negative that other people see? He doesn’t score 20 goals a season I know, but he creates and brings others into play. He is not a loud personality but he is a presence on the field. So what is stopping people from trying to get out of this lad what West Brom saw when they brought him across from his native Canada at the same time as Chris Wood (now in the premier league with Leicester City). Could it be an ex manager putting people off? Or that he just isn’t good enough? The fact is, I’ve seen a lot worse players on a lot more money than you could get Marcus for so you make your own decisions on why experienced, young international team players like him are still available. One things for sure, I may not have been super successful as a chief scout (my record of recommendations wasn’t to shabby though) but if you search hard enough, long enough and think outside the box a little. There are players out there who with a little confidence installed into their already bruised ego, may not be premier league bound but STILL represent good value for money.

To be or not to be….

This time of year in football never ceases to amaze me! It’s a continuous stream of the same phone calls!!! ‘Matt I need a striker, Matt do you have blah blah’s number, Matt what do you think of him as a player’? It’s EVERYday!!! I’m always flattered that people want my opinion, but do they REALLY???? What I’ve learnt is that most people in football are massively insecure!! So the reasons for calling me are not because they think I know best or my opinion REALLY matters, but because they don’t trust their own opinion and are looking for any type of confirmation on what they think. It could be anyone they call. Unless they are looking for a number……. I can get hold of most people in the sport so yea, it’s probably a good idea to call me for that!!! 😉
I’ve been out of full time football now since December (7 months) and as I said in my previous blog, things have been pretty tough for me on a personal level recently but now I’m feeling pretty focused, so I’ve been thinking about my career and future. I was offered a job recently with a championship team, to head up their player recruitment and football operations. Now to most people (inc some of my friends) this seems like a great job, and it is!!! But I thought about it long and hard. I currently work with Notts County owner Ray Trew, in another of his businesses. I absolutely love it!!! I love the place I work, the people I work with and when busy, I love the work I do!! I also feel I want to repay Ray for everything he has done for me. No one sees how hard this guy works! Plus how much he is respected by his employees! It’s amazing!! So when this job offer came, I thought….. Do I love football enough to walk away from my current position? The answer (which was like a lightening bolt) was no! This has made me really think lately (something I do way too much apparently), my dad would’ve done anything to stay in the game! Why wouldn’t I?!? I think it all stems down to how I view football right now! I blame it for the death of my dad, I partly blame it for my relationship break up and I blame it for my lack of confidence at times! So what chance does football have in my life right now? Very little! However I was born into the game and I’m good at what I did so who knows, maybe one day I’ll fall back in love with it!

Long time no see!

It’s been quite a while since my last blog and lots has happened. So much in fact, I’ll struggle to write it all down.
I finished the 2013/14 season as a fan and watched Notts County complete the great escape from the stands! That was really strange but I was so pleased to see them stay up. I won’t lie though, the travelling was getting to me and I wanted to spend more time at home. So overall it was a win win for me. It’s been a turbulent few months and with my 9yr relationship ending, I have struggled to focus at times. Not sure she reads this but I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my ex partner for all her support over the years and no matter what the circumstances of our split, I am glad we met and she’s the mother of my child!
Anyway, Back to some more positive news. I have had my little toe in football still as I was asked to consult for another league 1 club, this kept me watching games etc so I could still have an up to date memory bank on players. I know things at Notts didn’t quite work out how I would’ve liked but I know I have an eye for a player, I work hard, I have a great contact base and I am confident starting, negotiating and concluding big deals, so I genuinely believe my future lies in football. I just have to get my focus back!
Throughout the last few months my best friends have been there for me and it just so happened that one of them were getting married. So I was extremely lucky to be invited on the stag party in….. Las Vegas!!! People who know me will know that to me, this was not massively appealing but I needed a blow out and to spend it with 3 of my best friends was so good for me. Little did I know that those 4 days would turn out to be some of the best days of my life!!
I now feel as though I am just starting to get back to my normal self and have a few interesting projects in the pipeline.
Who knows what comes next in life but what I do know is that whatever it is, I’ll be ready for it!

New year, New Start

Well that’s it!! I’ve finally done it. I’ve not felt happy for a while so I handed my resignation in. To be honest I can’t believe I’ve actually done it. It was a Sunday night and I was sat on my bed after putting my little girl to bed. The last thing she said to me was ‘I love you daddy’. I felt terrible (not the usual emotional response), I knew that I would be out the house the next morning before she woke (as I had to travel to a game). I wouldn’t even have the chance to say good morning. I’ve been doing this now for years and I knew that I could not continue. I had a plan when I left the agent game. The plan was to get into scouting for a few years, make my way to chief scout, then possibly head of football operations and eventually a CEO somewhere (I have a mentor who is a CEO at a top premier league club and this was something we spoke about at great length). I can deal with the many sacrifices if I know there is an end game. I am an ambitious guy and as I’ve said before I cannot deal with not learning anything new or having no progression path, it has a real effect on my overall mood and confidence.
So I sent an email to the clubs owner, Ray. This is a man I have so much respect for! He constantly sacrifices his own lifestyle just to keep the football club afloat. I mean If I EVER have a substantial amount of money, it won’t be going anywhere near a football club!! Yet he continues to put Millions in to Notts!
So after I sent this email there was first a sense of relief but immediately after that I felt I had let him down! I didn’t expect this at all! Why do I feel so bad? Maybe it’s because my career has not progressed as I expected or maybe it’s because I leave notts near the bottom of the league! It’s the latter. Chief scout is a strange position in any football club! You can recommend as many players as you like but if your not listened too, you have very little chance of being personally successful. You spend the majority of your time on the road and organising match reports. You are judged on the performance of the team and we are right down there! I wanted to be top of the league and maybe a promotion on the cv!! THAT’s why I feel shit!!! I’ve let Ray, Aileen and everyone down!
I hadn’t even thought that it’s Christmas in a few weeks!! What am I doing!!!
I had a real ‘shit’ moment!! But then I calmed down and thought….. ‘Matt your intelligent, hard working and still young!!! You’ve done it before and can do it again.
Of course I can!! I’ve been directly involved in multimillion pound transfers and commercial deals. I am constantly contacted by clubs on my opinion of players and the players ring me for, well EVERYTHING else. I must be doing something right!
So after my initial apprehension I’m now quite excited about the future. Despite my lack of clarity on my immediate career, I’ve always managed to land on my feet in the past and my appetite for success is no less than before, so now should be no different!! Sometimes the path to the top can meander a little…….. That’s football.

Good luck to the new manager, assistant and everyone behind the scenes at Notts County. They are all good people and I’m confident that success is just around the corner. I will miss the place. Especially my group of U21’s, these boys are like family!