Training Ground Guru | Ex-Scotland Yard detective helps clubs protect signatures

Written by Simon Austin — April 27, 2022

NEIL WHITBREAD is a former Scotland Yard detective with over 20 years’ experience leading international investigations into serious crimes.

Now he’s helping football clubs do their due diligence on potential signings, which might seem like a strange career move until you consider the money involved in transfers and wages. In almost all cases, these will make up the largest portion of a club’s total expenditure.

“In 2021, Premier League expenditure on transfer fees was around €1.7 billion,” said Whitbread, who works for the international security and investigations solutions consultancy. silver sealtold TGG Screening and Recruitment Webinar.

“Traditionally, in football, the first question was: ‘How is he?’ You ask someone you know, but thorough due diligence must be done when signing players to maximize return on investment.

“We go much further, conducting an independent, impartial and thorough intelligence-gathering process that gives the club enough information to be at the forefront.”

There are many examples of clubs do not have carried out their due diligence.

We’ve seen players banned for historic discriminatory social media posts that their new club were unaware of, such as Andre Gray at Burnley in 2016 and Jonson Clarke-Harris at Peterborough at the start of this season. Each time, the player was banned and the club forced into firefighting mode.

“If you do your due diligence, you can be on the cutting edge,” Whitbread said. “The club can say, ‘We knew that and we acted. We discussed it with the player, put him in an education program and he is much more mature and aware now.”

There have been instances where a new player’s lifestyle has hampered his performance, unbeknownst to the club.

“There was a club where two French recruits traveled by Eurostar to Paris every week to go clubbing and take an English player with them. They all came back exhausted on Monday morning,” Whitbread recalled.

There were even examples of ongoing criminal cases that the clubs were unaware of.

“There was a player who went from one Championship club to another and had an ongoing drunk driving case which ultimately meant he couldn’t drive, but the buying club didn’t had no idea!”

Many players come from difficult backgrounds and environments and some have relationships with unsavory associates. others have dubious representatives.

“Registering a private investigation firm with an industry pedigree such as Silverseal can identify and mitigate many of these risks,” Whitbread said.

It may seem like subterfuge and spying on behalf of the club, but the former Scotland Yard man argued it was about being professional and prepared – and benefiting everyone involved, including the player.

“If you are aware of all the information, you can manage things, mitigate risks and put measures in place and even educate the player,” he said. “You can say, ‘Yes, we knew that and we did.’

“We use our expertise to help clubs make informed decisions. It could be putting some support around a player or helping them get out of a damaging environment.

silver seal are able to gather a range of information about potential signatures, going into great detail.

“There are a lot of things we’re looking at and it would take too long to talk about them all,” Whitbread said. “We use our investigative expertise and unique skills to examine a player’s lifestyle, where they are from, their relationship status and their media coverage, both positive and negative.

“Most of the football agents and agencies are reputable, but some people representing players have questionable backgrounds, so dig deeper and find out who they are and if they are legit as well.

“With players from South America there have been third party ownership issues in the past so we are looking at that. The last thing you want in your recruitment meeting with the player is that he’s sitting with three people that you didn’t know were involved with him, so it’s a question of who represents him, who got the investment.

All of this information is thoroughly assessed and ranked for reliability and accuracy before a “threat matrix assessment” is compiled. It does what it says on the tin, gathering all the information and using a traffic light system to assess the level of risk posed.

“For most players, there’s not too much potential risk and the boxes will generally be green,” Whitbread explained. “And even if they’re red, it doesn’t mean ‘Don’t sign this player.’ It just means there is something you need to be aware of and deal with.

At the end of the process, a paper file, which is usually at least 40 pages, is given to the club. They also get a digital slideshow of “key takeaways” pointing to different parts of the report.

Some clubs say they don’t need services like Silverseal because they have everything covered. After all, many people consider themselves amateur sleuths with enough investigative skills to carry out their own due diligence.

“Quite often I get people at clubs saying, ‘I do a little bit of this, I do a little bit on Google,'” admitted Whitbread. “Google won’t give you the answers to everything, certainly not in terms of in-depth intelligence gathering. We are experts in our field and know where to look and how to get the right information.

“Similarly, scouts are extremely good at assessing a player’s technical, tactical and physical abilities and they often speak to family members and associates, especially when it comes to a promising player. Thus, they have an idea of ​​their personality and their background. But conducting this kind of in-depth research isn’t something a scout would necessarily have the time or expertise to do.

The word seems to be spreading, as more and more football clubs are now using Silverseal’s services.

“Confidentiality is very important to us and our customers so I would never release the names of any of our customers,” said Whitbread, “but we do work with a number of Premier League and Championship clubs, as well as with several overseas, including MLS and South America.

“We’re customer-driven, so there’s no one-size-fits-all survey. We are always happy to discuss ways forward with clubs of all sizes and levels, to see where we can improve their recruitment processes.

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