Manchester United continue attempts to usurp City by poaching two of their top scouts
Manchester United have poached two highly-regarded academy scouts from Manchester City as part of a concerted drive to wrest back ground from their bitter local rivals in the increasingly competitive arms race for the best young talent.
Dave Harrison and Lyndon Tomlinson are currently on gardening leave at City and will begin their new roles across the divide at United on January 1.
Harrison and Tomlinson were instrumental in implementing a framework that has put City at the forefront of the search for the stars of tomorrow, both domestically and overseas, and left many of their rivals frantically trying to keep pace.
But United have struck a blow to City by recruiting two of their rival’s most valued assets as part of a drastic overhaul of the club’s academy set-up after an internal review, instigated by executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, concluded that that large scale improvements were required to the scouting, recruitment and coaching structures.
City have reacted to the departures of Harrison and Tomlinson by tying a glut of their scouts to new, improved contracts, eager to ensure there is not a further “brain drain” to United and other prominent Premier League rivals in the near future.
As well as new deals for certain full-time staff, large numbers of City’s part-time scouts have seen their wages double from around £10,000 to £20,000 a year as the club bid to stay ahead of the curve.
Harrison’s impending move to Old Trafford will mark the end of an eight-year association with City, whom he joined in January 2009 after leaving his post as head of recruitment at Leeds United. At United, Harrison will be tasked with overseeing the club’s recruitment drive from under-23 level down and putting in place a structure to rival the one he played a central role in helping to establish and cultivate at City.
Tomlinson, who has been a youth scouting and recruitment co-ordinator at City since October 2014, will assist Harrison with that process. Tomlinson, who graduated with a law degree from Newcastle University, previously worked for Birmingham City.
Harrison and Tomlinson will work closely with former Ajax scout, Henny de Regt, who arrived in February, and academy head Nicky Butt and his operations manager Nick Cox. United’s long-standing head of recruitment, Derek Langley, left the club after 16 years in July.
Nolan Partners, the sports headhunters, have been working with United for the past year on arguably the biggest recruitment drive in the club’s history, one that has already resulted in the appointment of more than 40 staff at academy and first team level.
Woodward has been eager for more joined-up thinking, communication and collaboration between the academy and first team talent identification operations and there has been a steady stream of new scouts at first team level, who have been charged with helping to reversing dwindling success rates in the transfer market.
Roland Janssen, Genk’s former chief scout, was this month appointed as United’s scout in Belgium and other arrivals have included Armand Benneker, Roy Beukenkamp and Tommy Moller Nielsen, all of whom are working across Europe. They report into United’s new head of global scouting, Marcel Bout, whom former manager Louis van Gaal originally brought to Old Trafford as opposition scout, and chief scout Jim Lawlor.
The changes being implemented have not been without their hiccups, though. Steve Hopcroft, West Bromwich Albion’s respected head of academy recruitment, turned down a similar role at United in September, in part because the money on offer was less than he stood to earn by staying at the Midlands club. In the event of Ryan Giggs getting a managerial job somewhere, United are also thought to be braced for Butt being offered the job of assistant to his former team-mate.
Harrison and Tomlinson like to fly under the radar but they are highly thought of in academy scouting circles and regarded as a considerable boon to United at a time when they have been struggling to fight off City’s approaches for their aspiring youngsters and falling behind in other key areas.
In the past 18 months, United lost James McAtee, a supremely gifted No. 10 who is regarded as one of country’s most exciting prospects, to City on the player’s 14th birthday. City, privately, wonder if that could prove to be their “Giggs moment”, since Giggs began his career at City but ended up joining United on his 14th birthday and went on to become the most decorated player in British football history.
But whether the recruitment of Harrison and Tomlinson and United’s wider bid to revitalise their famous academy signals the start of attempts to entice McAtee back and prevent others from departing in the future remains to be seen. United also lost Noah Ohio to City recently and City are known to have an interest in Mason Greenwood, another United youngster.
City’s aggressive recruitment strategies have caused disquiet among Premier League rivals and United and Liverpool have previously discussed refusing to play City at junior level after complaining of fixtures being swamped by opposition scouts.
Although the Premier League have not received any formal complaints, they are looking into City’s signing of 15-year-old goalkeeper, Louie Moulden, from Liverpool last summer.
Yet City are adamant that the Premier League’s investigation is a routine part of the new “Five Step Process”, which was formally introduced in March, in a bid to more rigorously assess moves between Category One academies and are confident the transfer will be formally ratified. Liverpool declined to comment.