Steve Marsella was saying a fond farewell to an old friend today. For the past three years they’ve been practically inseparable, spending hours together as they’ve travelled the length and breadth of the UK, although their final destination has often been far off the beaten track.
But now, with a spanking new club car sitting outside his home in North Berwick, it’s time for Hibs scout Marsella to bid goodbye to the motor which has also been a mobile office and, on a number of occasions, a makeshift hotel room as he’s grabbed a couple of hours’ kip on the long journey home.
Bought with only 11,000 miles on the clock three years ago, the BMW’s odometer now shows an astonishing 179,000 miles, testament to Marsella’s dedication to his job as are the seemingly never-ending string of players he managed to lure north to Inverness Caley Thistle.
Think Gary Warren from Newport County, Billy McKay who was playing for Northampton’s reserves, Marley Watkins at Hereford United, Aaron Doran from Blackburn Rovers reserves and Dean Brill, Luton Town’s reserve goalkeeper, to name but a few.
An impressive list in anyone’s language, players who have helped Caley rise to second place in the Scottish Premiership with a second successive League Cup semi-final to look forward to, but for Huddersfield-born Marsella the search for fresh talent goes on, the only difference being since moving to Easter Road to be reunited with Terry Butcher and Maurice Malpas he no longer has to negotiate that final lap up the A9. Combining his scouting duties with being goalkeeping coach to Ben Williams, Sean Murdoch and Paul Grant, Marsella’s role is possibly the most unconventional in Scottish, if not British football. He explained: “After a game on a Saturday I am down south to England as there’s always a game to watch.
“I can take my time coming back up on Monday morning because we don’t train until noon, I coach that afternoon and the Tuesday, but then it is back in the car to watch a Tuesday night game then two more on the Wednesday. I leave Yorkshire at four on the Thursday morning to be here at eight for training and that’s me until after the game on the Saturday.”
This week’s routine, however, changed slightly. Having taken in an unspecified match last night, Marsella was leaving his car to be auctioned down south before enjoying the luxury of a train journey home – but it won’t be long before he’s back behind the wheel seeking out those rough stones which can be polished into diamonds.
He said: “In the past two seasons at Caley I did something like 117,000 miles, but without that mileage we wouldn’t have got the players we did. Of course, there are wasted journeys, but it’s far less costly to spend money on a tank of fuel.
“Now I don’t have to travel as far. I can finish watching a game in Birmingham at ten and be back to North Berwick in four hours, whereas at Inverness I’d be getting back at six ready for training at eight. That’s not good.
“I think in the last three years I’ve probably slept in the car about 30 times. If I was leaving London for Inverness I’d stop at Perth for a kip, have two hours sleep, get back to the club, have a shower and then go training. I lived an hour past Inverness so there were times it was easier to stop at the club and have a few hours sleep on the sofa in the office than go home.”
Unsurprisingly, Marsella, who has spent the past 22 years coaching at clubs such as Huddersfield, Barnsley, Grimsby Town, Notts County, Brentford, Crewe, Accrington Stanley and Queens Park Rangers, as well as in Iceland, has built up a massive list of contacts, revealing he has the numbers of more than 400 agents on his phone while, of course, he finds himself rubbing shoulders with managers, coaches and fellow scouts from all over at matches, whether they be in non-league football, League One or League Two.
And since he arrived in Edinburgh, he disclosed, he’s had more than 100 emails from players in England asking if “there’s any chance” he can get them up to Hibs, on top of the 40 plus texts from footballers congratulating him on his new job, with many of those messages ending “keep me in mind.”
Not that he’s yet been ordered by Butcher to find him new players with the January transfer window now only a few weeks away. Marsella said: “The manager has not said ‘I am looking for this or looking for that’. He’s giving everybody here the opportunity, saying ‘This is what we are doing, are you going to buy into it?’.
“The ones that do will stay, the ones that do not might have to move on. That’s the way it is at every football club when there is a change of manager, but at the moment I am not going down looking at players for certain positions.”
Marsella, however, will have a list of names between three and five for each position at his fingertips should Butcher ask although, as always, affordability will be the key word. Revealing he’d managed to lure the likes of Watkins, Vincent and Draper to Caley without a penny being paid in transfer fees, he said: “There’s a couple of players I have enquired about on loan at a League One club who, between them, are on £7000 a week.
“You have to be realistic. There’s no point going looking at a player four times to then find out he’s well outside my price range. I don’t think the chairman would be too happy if I asked him if I could bring in a couple of players, but it would cost him seven grand a week.
“I have a budget, how much I have for a certain player and if I can save a couple of quid on that player I have a bit more for the next one and that goes on and on.”
Marsella, though, insisted that sometimes it wasn’t simply about hard cash. He said: “At Inverness when I sat down with a player I’d tell him: ‘I’m going to offer you less money than you are on’ and they’d be looking at their agent, looking at their wife. But I’d say if they were to sign for the other team in League One or Two then that would be the wage they were going to be getting for the next four or five years.
“However, sign for one year at Caley, have one good season playing against Celtic, Hibs, and Rangers at the time, and it’s a great shop window and there’s a few who have since moved on.”
Hibs’ budget will allow Marsella to target players “with a bit more experience” than he could at Caley, but having revealed the obvious interest already from players elsewhere, he said: “It’s not just a case of ‘he is available, why not go for him?’ Are they the right players for Hibs?
“If I say to Terry ‘I want to sign Joe Bloggs’, he would look at Joe Bloggs, then probably ring ten different people and if he were to get bad vibes from one or two of them then that is a ‘No’. But to be fair, I think every player I have brought in for him he as got good vibes.
“And here at Hibs, I’d make sure that if the player’s wife was in the car, we’d take a detour through the town centre, stopping at every traffic light to let her have a good look and then take him down to East Mains where the facilities are absolutely brilliant, the chef turns out amazing food and what the people in charge of the kit don’t have you don’t need.”
Some of Marsella’s gems:
Billy McKAY: Northern Ireland internationalist McKay, right, is undoubtedly Steve Marsella’s best find. Languishing in England’s League One with Northampton Town, McKay turned down an offer of a new deal and joined Inverness after Marsella recommended him to Terry Butcher. Has scored 37 goals in 74 matches for the Highlanders and won a first full cap for his country when at Inverness.
Jonny HAYES: Winger arrived at Inverness after meandering around several clubs in lower leagues of England, including Reading, Forest Green Rovers, MK Dons, Leicester, Northampton and Cheltenham. Became one of the most threatening players in Scotland’s top flight and won a move to Aberdeen last season.
GARY WARREN: Ever heard of Mangotsfield Town? Well, that’s where Inverness’ strong defender Warren started his career. The 29-year-old also starred for Team Bath and Newport County before pitching up in the Highlands.
AARON DORAN: Now one of Inverness’ key men, he was mooching around in Blackburn’s Reserves and going on loan to Leyton Orient before Marsella spotted him.
JAMES VINCENT: Finding a replacement for Andrew Shinnie was never going to be easy, but Vincent, previously of Kidderminster and Stockport, was a revelation for Caley early on this season before injury struck.