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Something big is coming: The Technical Area, August 2023
This month at SCOUTED, we laid plans.
It’s been a slow month at SCOUTED.
I crossed England’s borders for the first time since Covid-19 and remembered the world is more than just grey skies and neoliberal decay. Steve overcame his deep-rooted fear of Sydney only to watch his beloved Matildas get battered around the place by Alessia Russo’s right boot. Llew has been herding cows.
In football media, a slow month can mean death. The sport doesn’t stop, even when it does. And we’re very aware that hundreds of you are paying hard-earned money to read our stuff.
Subscribe now to get ahead of the curve on the future of football.
To repay your faith, this month’s Technical Area is going to be a little different. There’s not much to report on the metrics side: our subscriber numbers are steady, but we haven’t yet made the push to 500.
Instead, I’d like to pull back the curtain on what we’re working on. Our biggest project since the Handbooks is on the way and it’s only right our subscribers learn about it first.
This piece serves several purposes: first, to assure you your subscriber fee is helping us build the kind of exceptional youth football resource you’ve come to associate with SCOUTED. Secondly, to help me get my thoughts in order. As such, it might read a little dry. Things might be a little jumbled and incoherent and are most definitely subject to change, but hopefully, you’ll find our plans exciting and a glance into our creative process at least a little interesting.
So. What’s on the horizon? Something big, ambitious and definitively SCOUTED.
Here we go.
£5 a month is a lot of money in 2023. We don’t take that lightly. To justify such a fee, we have to deliver something unique, focused and exceptional. So let’s define our lighthouse, as Mikel Arteta might say: the central idea that will help us navigate the rocky waters of internet publishing.
I want anyone who subscribes to Notebook to understand their money is buying two things:
Entertaining and insightful writing from the best minds in the game. SCOUTED’s narrative and opinion offering should make it the perfect reading companion for any lunch break, commute or morning coffee. You should be able to open the Substack app and expect long-form breakdowns of deeply original ideas waiting for you every week.
The best resource for discovering new talents on the internet. Subscribers should expect to be introduced to the next big thing before anyone else. They should have access to detailed reports on these players, created and curated by real human beings, synthesising stats and eye-test profiling to deliver the definitive take on a breakthrough talent’s potential.
While publishing the Handbooks, we were crushing it on the latter statement. Every quarter, our readership understood they could pick up the latest copy and discover 25 players, intimately detailed by some of the best analysts and scouts around.
Since switching from print to digital, I’ve felt some of that focus slip from the second bullet point towards the first, so much so that the ratio has become skewed.
Llew and Stephen did an incredible job detailing the breakout players of this summer’s international youth tournaments. Since those tournaments ended our output has shifted towards narrative and opinion pieces. I love this stuff, and it’s essential to our health as a publication, but our core offering - the promise of discovering new players before anyone else - has faltered.
Our new project is an attempt to remedy that. We want to deliver on the second point again, to offer you a unique and peerless resource for your monthly fee.
So we’re working on a successor to The Handbooks that will live here, on Notebook. It’s called SCOUTED50.
Fifty of the best
SCOUTED50 will be a ranked list of the 50 best young talents to watch in world football during 2023/24.
I know that does not sound immediately different or interesting - bear with me.
It’s going to work like this:
Our in-house team decide on the criteria under which the list can be selected. This is not going to be an age limit or some other arbitrary metric through which the obvious names can slip; Jude Bellingham and Bukayo Saka will not be on SCOUTED50. As you’ve come to expect from us, we’re going to deliver the obscure and unexpected. The list will be curated partly on, for lack of a better word, SCOUTED vibes.
A preliminary list is selected. Fifty names, fifty players. This is what we’re working on right now.
Our panel of nerds is consulted. We’re putting together a supergroup of our friends, contributors and colleagues, consisting of faces you know and respect from our publication and across football media. Each will submit a ballot of their top ten players from our curated list, which we’ll tot up and use to weight our ranking process.
We’ll curate and rank a final list. Obviously, ballots are a deeply imperfect way of ranking obscure players against each other - we can’t expect every ballotee to have watched every player extensively. So our in-house team will gently guide the final order. We’ll make sure to point out how many votes each player received, and where we’ve made changes.
We’ll publish the list, our panel will share their ballots, and everyone will argue about everything. That’s the point of ranking players, right? To get called a stupid idiot by a guy with eight Twitter followers?
I hope you appreciate this brand new, revolutionary ‘top 50’ concept we’ve invented. Time to take a big sip of coffee and Google the phrase ‘football tier list’ just to make sure we’re definitely the first.
Life starts at Fifty
I mentioned before that SCOUTED50 is, in my head, a digital successor to The Handbook. So far I’ve described something unoriginal and perhaps more…clickbaity than you’ve come to expect from us.
Yes, ranking players against each other is designed to get people talking. That’s the nature of publishing on the internet: if people aren’t at least a little bit incensed, they’re not going to pay attention.
If the ranking is what draws people to SCOUTED50, we aim to keep them here by making the list the single best resource for following youth football anywhere on the internet. This is where, I hope, we introduce a little originality.
When we publish SCOUTED50 on Notebook, it immediately becomes a living, breathing document. It will be pinned to the top of the Notebook homepage. We will return to it constantly throughout the year; it will become an anchor for our efforts, and evolve and grow consistently as the season develops.
It will not be a one-and-done piece. It will grow over time in detail, complexity and information. It will be a companion you’ll want to come back to over and over again, until the last ball is kicked and the final whistle breaks shrill through the early summer air.
Here’s what I mean:
We will publish regular updates as we watch the players on the list. The ranking will change and evolve as they perform - or don’t. These updates will come in the form of regular, external articles that go into detail on our thinking but are collated on the central SCOUTED50 list.
We will consistently output Handbook-style profiles on SCOUTED50’s best-performing players throughout the year. These profiles will hit your inbox as separate articles, but be collated on the SCOUTED50 list. This means SCOUTED50 will grow as a detailed resource throughout the year.
At the end of the season, we will collate and edit a final, definitive version of SCOUTED50 2023/24 and offer it as a beautifully designed, collectable PDF for subscribers. Being a digital, online resource allows it to reactive during the season in the way a print Handbook couldn’t; but once the season is done, I’d like to find a way to preserve it in amber. This is a long way away and most definitely subject to change.
We have so many more ideas for SCOUTED50 and what it could become over time. I want to host a community ballot and post a second list, for example, voted by subscribers; I want to get you guys involved with the monthly updates and build a community of youth football enthusiasts around this one central document.
At the end of the day, all I want you to understand right now is this: your subscription to SCOUTED is once again going to buy the definitive resource on breakout youth footballers.
I’ve talked enough. I hope this was successful at describing what we want SCOUTED50 to be. You’ll understand once we’ve made it, of course, but you all deserve to know what your money is being spent on building.
I’ll open community chats as we approach launch so we can discuss the features you think could make SCOUTED50 the best resource possible - then, of course, your opinions on the list itself.
Thank you for reading. Now we shut up and deliver.
G’wan, subscribe. You’ll love it.