Insight/Analysis: Head of Recruitment Tommy Johnson

We take a look at the man behind some of the recent transfer business by Blackpool. The Head of Recruitment has certainly been busy these past few weeks as we have seen six new arrivals. We looked at previous stats, records and the interview of Tommy Johnson by This Football Life.

The new Head of Recruitment has gone under the radar at Blackpool, and must be incredibly busy as he has been tasked with recruiting the new look squad along with his team and the support of Ben Mansford and Neil Critchley. We take a look at the former Notts County, Aston Villa, Derby and Celtic striker’s scouting successes, including the players he has been responsible for signing.

Background

Johnson started coaching with Notts County in 2007, prior to joining Leicester City as Chief Scout and then the Northern Ireland under-17 and under-21 setups as assistant manager.

Since then, the 48-year-old has held senior scouting and recruitment positions at Championship and Premier League level with Cardiff City, Blackburn Rovers, Watford and Nottingham Forest.

Pool managed to get a hold of Tommy when former club Celtic were interested and he was also linked with a role at Southend United with former teammate Henrik Larsson. This shows Blackpool again becoming a preferred choice as we beat others to another key signature, with Johnson opting for the ‘project’ Pool are known for these days under Simon Sadler. This appointment in October 2019, set the recruitment wheels in motion, which we are now seeing the benefits of.

Gary Medel and Shane Duffy

Two of the famous signings Johnson was involved with were Gary Medel and Shane Duffy. When Tommy was a European scout for Cardiff, he was tasked with scouring Spain for the best talent. He was part of the team that recruited Gary Medel ‘the pitbull’ from Seville. At the time Cardiff had just been promoted to the Premier League and spent a record fee of £11 million on the player, based on Johnson’s recommendation. This bodes well for Blackpool who are currently thought to be in the market for a defensive midfielder, having recently parted ways with Jay Spearing and shown an interest in Swindon midfielder Anthony Grant.

Another player scouted by Tommy Johnson was Shane Duffy who had been on loan at Scunthorpe United and wasn’t getting a chance at Everton. He was signed for around £200k whilst Johnson was Head of Recruitment at Blackburn Rovers, and was sold for £4.5 million a couple of seasons later, to Premier League side Brighton.

Tommy was responsible for ensuring scouts were spread across the UK for Blackburn as previously they had only been casting their net on the North West. It seems obvious but in order to find talent it is imperative that the net is across a wider area as opposed to one section, in order to give yourself the best chance of finding a hidden gem. These scouts needed to be people he could trust to give him reliable feedback on players.

The Scouting Process

The process of scouting involves watching games and building up a database of players. Finding out about the background and real personality of the players is key, along with more conventional data on physical attribute or rankings. Discovering knowledge and insights through questioning contacts and understanding their opinions is also vital. Tommy mentions the typical questions he asks of a player in the This Football Life podcast: ‘Is he a hot head? Is he married? What is he like off the pitch?’

All of this due diligence is absolutely necessarily in the modern game to find out if they are a capable player but also a good character to have in the changing room too.

So how does Tommy’s process work, from determining the requirement through to locating the right player?

Firstly, players are recommended either through agents, or they are flagged up through contacts, and then they passed on to the Head of Recruitment to be discussed further. Alternatively, positions are highlighted where they need to target; in most cases player profiles are drawn up to be more specific for what is precisely needed at the club.

This is then filtered due to things like wage demands and likelihood of the player making the move. Databases are held including reports on players’ attributes and attitudes. Ultimately, the question falls down to ‘Is he better than what we have?’ and if the answer is no then time and money won’t be wasted signing the player.

Summary

Tommy Johnson is seemingly a down to earth Geordie bloke, who loves his job, travelling and watching football. Johnson is very much of the essense to treat people how you like to be treated. It’s refreshing to hear that Tommy seems to be very much a people person, which is required for the role in recruitment, due to contacting people and communicating with them so often. The primary role of scouting is being able to spot talent and understand a players’ decision making, which Tommy, as a previous player, will find easier. Another part of the recruitment process relies on contacts and network, which again will have already formed when he was a player.

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Published by Dan Hopwood

Life long Blackpool fan, thanks to my older brother for dragging me to Bloomfield Road in days of Colin Hendry! Currently a seaside exile living in London.

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