Scouting Haaland, helping bring Saliba to Arsenal, and Celtic 'black ops': Hibs DOF Brian McDermott speaks on talent ID
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Easter Road CEO Ben Kensell announced that the incoming senior figure would ideally have a ‘recruitment bias’. As a former scout with Reading, Arsenal, and Celtic McDermott is well placed to cast an appraising eye over potential signings from all over the world.
After all, during his time at Arsenal he ran the rule over Erling Haaland when the Norwegian forward was on the cusp of becoming the hottest property in the world game. The 62-year-old has watched hundreds, thousands of players over the years. He could see the record-breaking Manchester City striker had something special about him when he was making waves at Molde.
‘They had it worked out’
“I watched Haaland three times and I was like, ‘Blimey, who is this kid?’. I met his dad [Alfie] and we had really good conversations, but I felt they knew the path they wanted for him,” McDermott told The Athletic in an interview last year.
“You can go to a massive club at that age and you can get lost. I’m not saying he would have done [at Arsenal], because he was outstanding, but I just sensed he and his dad wanted to do it differently. It was already written. He went to Salzburg and yes, I get that. Borussia Dortmund; yes, I get that. From there you can go to Manchester City, Real Madrid, wherever. They had it worked out.”
Among the players McDermott watched during his time at the Emirates were Francisco Trincão, currently on Barcelona’s books; Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who hit 92 goals in 163 games for the Gunners after signing from Borussia Dortmund, and Saint-Étienne defender William Saliba, now a regular starter under Mikel Arteta.
McDermott entered management first with Slough Town, initially as player-manager, and had a spell in the Woking hotseat after doing his coaching badges at the age of 28. Before his management experience started he had worked with Slough’s community programme, coaching young boys and girls – ‘unique in the 1990s’, he told World Football Index in a recent interview.
‘I became a manager by default… I loved finding players’
There wasn’t a carefully constructed plan to enter coaching, and when he joined Reading in September 2000 he took on a role as chief scout and the Royals’ under-17s, later taking charge of the under-19 and reserve teams, which allowed him to maintain his scouting activities and keep his hand in coaching. Among the gems he sourced for Reading were Kevin Doyle and Shane Long from Cork City in Ireland, who both helped Reading win promotion and went on to have decent careers in the top two tiers of English football.
He was thrust into management almost by accident when he took on caretaker duties at Reading when Brendan Rodgers left by mutual consent. His first game? A 1-1 draw with Gary Johnson’s Bristol City, with a certain Lee Johnson on the bench, and Jamie McAllister (and Liam Fontaine) in the defence.
“I wasn't looking to become a manager,” he said at his unveiling on Thursday. “I loved finding players, and we found so many good players and that's my thing. I did the same thing at Arsenal and really relish that. So I guess I became a manager by default. But I kind of did the director of football job between 2000 and 2009, just without the title. Nick Hammond was the director of football but I involved myself in every part of the football club because I wanted to. I was doing mad hours, it was crazy, but I loved it and I enjoyed it.”
Kensell and Johnson’s eyes lit up at those words. The CEO and manager aren’t beyond speaking to each other at ohmygod o’clock as they plot the next step in trying to take Hibs forward. Now they have a third person to involve in their conversations at unsociable hours.
‘When you don’t recruit well, you don’t do so well’
Sourcing the next Haaland or Saliba for Hibs might be a bit of a tall order but McDermott is approaching the transfer window having dealt with them as a manager and a scout. He knows what to do, and what not to do.
“I've recruited well as a manager, and I've recruited not so well,” he admits. “When you don't recruit so well, you don't do so well, so it's an important stage of the process. We're just trying to add to the good players we already have here.
"What we have to do is make sure that we go to the manager with our targets and say this is what we've got, these are the different options, and we'll talk through it all. That's the most important thing. I”m buzzing just at the thought of speaking about the process,” he adds.
‘I just want to make something happen and make people proud of Hibs’
He laughs off the implication that his years in England might make him unfamiliar with the Scottish game but his remarks should serve to reassure even the most sceptical of Hibs fans.
"I've scouted in this country many, many times. I've scouted at Hibs, I was at Celtic – I did it quietly – and did a lot of video scouting after Covid. I was at Arsenal for a long time, looking at players all over the world.
"All the players you see playing for Celtic now, I watched them. There's some good players they didn't get, that they didn't manage to quite get over the line, as well. I know this market really well, I know the country, and I know how it all works in this country as far as scouting is concerned.
"But it’s not about the title or me, it's about what's best for the football club. There are some really good people here, and you can tell there's a good vibe. At my stage in life, that's what I want. I want to really enjoy my time, work hard, and try to make something happen – and make people proud of their club."