Ex Arsenal scout Brian Stapleton spoke to Gunners Town in an exclusive interview, uncovering stories across his scouting career, spotting some well-known names in today’s game including Max Aarons, Nathan Tella, Charlie Patino and Daniel Ballard. Stapleton gives a rare insight into the scouting world and some aspects of the day to day life working for Arsenal.
Brian Stapleton first emerged onto the books at Arsenal after being approached by Senior Academy Scout Shaun O’Connor, an old friend from school who was looking for someone to scout in the Hertfordshire area. O’ Connor asked if Stapleton would be interested in working for Arsenal and, being a fan of the north London club himself, he jumped at the opportunity, first getting involved at his boyhood club 16 years ago.
Scouting was never something he imagined he’d get into, fully committed to coaching however, after being given an opportunity he simply couldn’t refuse, he was invited to the Arsenal academy for an interview and began work on a six month probation period.
“I was told by my boss at the time Roy Massey that if I got one boy signed at Arsenal in a year then I’ve done really well so that was my goal to try get a boy into the Arsenal academy. Everything I do I try to be the best at what I do.”
Originally, bringing players into Arsenal wasn’t as easy as the scout thought. After going into Arsenal, the first thing that became apparent was the incredibly high standards that the club promoted.
“Going into Arsenal was eye opening because previously, when taking a player in who I thought was good enough to play instantly looked out of their depth. Seeing the standard was unbelievable and sometimes they weren’t up to the level required.”
“The first person I bought into Arsenal was a lad called Jamie Dutton who scored 100 goals in local football in Stevenage who I then took to Arsenal, he was way off the mark. Following on from this I then really knew the level that they are really looking for.”
In a recent conversation, Stapleton revealed that Dutton now works in a supermarket, underlining just how cut throat and ruthless the game can be for some who don’t make it.
Stapleton only ever worked in football on a part time basis and went into detail over the day-to-day procedures as a scout for Arsenal Football Club.
“I would be told by the club if they want me to go to a specific game so I would be issued with a game to go to as they (The club) would have someone that flagged up on their radar so I would go the game to watch that player.”
“Back when I started it was easier as I could ring Roy (Massey) up and say a boy here is good and then he would say bring him into training on a Friday night and see how he gets on. As the years went on it got a bit more technical where Arsenal needed loads of reports. In the earlier days it was a case of you’d go watch a player, make a phone call and then you bring him in. if they do well then they’d put them on a 6 week contract.”
Sometimes the best players score a load of goals or stand out on the pitch for many different reasons such as playing style, attitude, or technical ability. When scouting at the age group of around under six or under seven, scouts look for different features that stand out that could make the difference between making it at the top or continuing their career elsewhere.
“For me one of the most important things about when you’re scouting is first touch and getting the ball under control. That is really important that you get that ball, kill it dead.”
“The other thing is having a brain to be honest. You can have all the ability but you need the brain. Kids with vision, kids that get into space. There’s lots of good young players but, there normally is one that will stand out in that group of 7/8 boys you go and watch.”
“You have to take into consideration can they run and as they go through the bigger pitches will they be able to run on the bigger pitches. To be an athlete now and to be a footballer you have to run well and be able to get around the pitch but personally to me first touch was really important.”
Once these players are scouted and bought into Arsenal, they are taken into the care of the Arsenal Academy – Hale End.
The Arsenal academy has been the home of so many talented youngsters over the years with today’s Emile Smith-Rowe and Bukayo Saka graduating alongside Joe Willock, Josh Da Silva and many more players that can be found at various clubs across Europe’s top leagues.
“Hale End is very strong, some great young talent coming through but it’s all about giving them their opportunity. The player has got to be ready, you can’t put a kid in the deep end. There’s a time and a place when they’re ready. Arsenal will know that.”
“It’s in a really good place that academy but that goes back to years ago. The scouting network 10 years ago is why we are where we are today. The guys coming into the team now have been in the system since U6/U7. It’s the scouting network that started under Shaun O Connor, Roy Massey and Steve Morrow as to we are today with that academy. We were always fighting with Chelsea who have a great academy. We’ve done well over the years and I’m really proud of the work the boys have done.”
As mentioned at the beginning of the article, Stapleton was responsible for scouting some of the current up and coming players in the U23’s side including Charlie Patino, Daniel Ballard, Zak Swanson and Kido Taylor Hart.
Charlie Patino is one name that leaves lips with an air of excitement, currently starring in the Arsenal U23’s side but, beginning to enter the transition phase between under 23’s and first team. Patino made his first team debut in the EFL cup, coming off the bench late on in the Gunners’ 5-1 victory against Sunderland and scoring in his first senior appearance for the club.
Stapleton has in past interviews described Patino as “one of the best kids he has ever seen” and when describing the day he scouted him, even claimed to break club procedure to ensure Arsenal got their player!
“All the boys I bring into Arsenal, I treat them the same but Charlie is a special talent. He’s one of the boys that first time I saw him I didn’t need to go back and see him a second time. He was about 2-3 years above his age, he had everything. He had the awareness, the pass, determination, and hunger, he was just a winner. He had it all, ticked all the boxes for Arsenal. I rang up Shaun O’Connor who asked what I thought and I said Arsenal need to get the boy straight away.”
“Shaun’s response was that there’s a procedure we have to do where you need a number of reports on him individually but I said I’m not going to go watch him again, I don’t need to, I’ve seen enough of this kid already. He’s one of the best players I’ve ever scouted.”
After speaking with Stapleton and watching for themselves, the club unanimously agreed to sign him.
“I think he could go all the way to the top, He’s got a bit of Phil Foden and a bit of Jack Wilshere about him, He’s got that bite as well. I think he should get another chance like Emile (Smith Rowe) and Bukayo (Saka) had. Put him in there and see where we go with it. I don’t think sending him out on loan would do him any good at the moment.”
Another one of Stapleton’s players include Arsenal defender and Northern Ireland international Daniel Ballard. Ballard is currently enjoying a loan spell at Millwall having recently returned to the side following an injury. His Millwall spell may be extended longer than just this season however as he is now 22 years old and looking for first team opportunities that could arise at Arsenal or outside north London, in the Premier League or Championship.
“The strange thing about Dan was that I didn’t actually go to watch him, someone said to me there’s a kid out on another pitch that’s doing really well so I went over and Dan was playing two years up for a team called Fairlands FC. He played in midfield then, It was only later in his career at Arsenal that they put him back to centre back.
He was running the show like a James Ward Prowse. He was taking the freekicks, he was up and down the pitch, he was unbelievable. 100% every time he played that kid.
He had a great brain for passing, he was up and down like a terrier, reminded me of Peter Reid.”
Ballard’s future may however be away from Arsenal with a lack of first team opportunities or chances, could his future lie elsewhere?
“I’ve watched him a few times over at Millwall and they love him over there. I don’t know but maybe his career could be away from Arsenal. He’s had a brilliant first half of the season at Millwall before his injury but, I think you’ll see a stronger Dan now when he comes back. He played through a lot of pain before he got injured at Millwall too. I think he’s got a good career in the game.”
A player that may not be as well-known of a name around Arsenal is Kido Taylor Hart, a 19 year old attacking player who until his recent injury had made a positive impression on the Arsenal academy scene.
“One of the first times I saw Kido it was his feet, very quick feet and very similar to Omari Hutchinson. When I saw him as a kid, he’d take people on and beat them. He was like a ballerina on the football field, brilliant with passing and moving and so comfortable and sweet on the ball, he used to float across the pitch. He’s progressed really well Kido has. You might not see him in the game but all of a sudden, he’ll pull something out the bag.”
This campaign so far, Taylor-Hart has only managed two goals in eight Premier League Two appearances but, there is hope that when he returns to the side, he can kick on and show the academy league what he is truly capable of.
Stapleton is still involved in the industry and currently works as a part time Football Consultant for New Era Global Sports Management, alongside Head of Group Development and FA Registered Intermediary Mark Gottlieb. New Era represent and look after 95 players (Some of which are academy) and aim to look after every aspect of their players’ lives – on the pitch, off the pitch and after the pitch.
Part of their responsibility looking after the players they represent includes mentoring from some of their elite ex players involved at the agency including Rio Ferdinand, Anton Ferdinand and many more former professional footballers from the very highest level. Stapleton uses his scouting talent to identify players that could be of interest to the agency, all this alongside his job at Royal Mail. Despite the former Arsenal scout having only ever worked part time in the football industry, he says the job itself is not part time hours at all, constantly working and striving to be the best and promoting the highest standards through his work.
20 year-old aspiring football journalist, studying at Southampton Solent University. Have been an Arsenal fan since 5 years old!