You can fly to a whopping 288 destinations from Schiphol Airport. Marcel Bout will already be well-aware of that, of course. It will be from this base in his homeland that Newcastle United’s talent spotter will look to find the ‘new Haaland, Bellingham and Musiala’ before they are worth £100m-plus.
Eddie Howe called Bout a ‘welcome addition’ and that view is shared by Andries Jonker, the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich assistant and ex-Arsenal academy manager, who knows the Dutchman from ‘head to toe – and what he is capable of’.
“Marcel knows all those players between 16 and 24 in Europe who have potential,” he told ChronicleLive. “If they play for Barcelona already, they won’t come to Newcastle so you have to be there in time and he knows where to go and where to look.”
Bout’s background certainly gives him an edge in that respect when it comes to his contacts, knowledge and experience. As well as holding major scouting roles at some of the world’s biggest clubs, Bout has worked in a host of positions over the years, including as a head coach, assistant, youth team coach, head of youth and chief match analyst, giving him a unique understanding of players, their traits and what to look for.
It said it all that Bout spent eight years at Manchester United under three very different managers and that the Red Devils even felt the need to release a statement following the head of global scouting’s departure to pay tribute to how he ‘strengthened’ the club’s ‘scouting capabilities’ after making a ‘significant contribution’.
That was one of the rare instances Bout was named in dispatches. This is someone, according to Jonker, who has preferred to operate in the shadows.
“If he can, he is at games every day,” he said. “He is very dedicated to his job. He loves football so it doesn’t feel like it’s work for him. He’s doing what he likes to do.
“He is someone with a lot of old-fashioned energy who likes to spend his days in the stadiums or writing reports when he’s not. He’s a hard worker and he delivers quality.
“We worked closely with each other for almost 30 years and I know for sure he doesn’t want to stop, but continue in a challenging job with perspective. He didn’t want to do everything, but the flame is still burning in him. He wants to perform. He wants to do a good job and be successful with the people around him.”
The question all Newcastle fans will understandably be asking is can Bout really ‘deliver quality’ when Manchester United’s transfer record has been so poor in recent years? Yet it is a little more nuanced than that.
In truth, Bout grew frustrated with the chain of command and the time it would take for Manchester United to act on recommendations. In the Dutchman’s own words: “Other top European clubs now have top players that we had seen early on with the scouting staff.” These include Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt.
That eye for talent at an early age has piqued the interest of Newcastle whose recruitment set-up is more streamlined than the one Bout encountered at Manchester United. Given Bout’s ‘anger’ over his departure from Old Trafford, it might not be a stretch to say the new arrival is more determined than ever to find the next superstar for Newcastle.
To do that, Bout ideally watches a target several times – home and away – and sees how they measure up against seemingly more straightforward opposition as well as difficult opponents. Character, more than anything, is the most important trait he looks for, which fits in with Newcastle’s approach.
“He is the kind of guy who tells you that a player in the very last minute did something, maybe in the behaviour he was not supposed to do,” Jonker said. “Many scouts leave the stadium 10 minutes before the end because they don’t want to be stuck in the traffic, but he will tell you what happened in the 97th minute because he thinks important things could happen in the very last part of the match.
“He also is quite convinced that those are important moments as well. He has a huge eye for detail. He wants to know everything he can.”
That is still true today. Even after his departure from Manchester United, you could still spot the white-haired Bout watching games. Van Gaal was even sat alongside Bout on one such occasion at the Amsterdam Arena and that should not come as a surprise. You only had to look at the team photographs at Manchester United and Bayern Munich down through the years to realise how integral Bout was to van Gaal with the Dutchman never too far from his countryman.
When Bout was not in the stands in stadiums across the country, the scout could occasionally be spotted in his kit. During van Gaal’s first pre-season tour at Manchester United, for example, Bout was there dishing out instructions during an open training session at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. It was a similar story a few days later in Denver when Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata, Ander Herrera and Jonny Evans were among those gathered around Bout as van Gaal listened intently.
Even the day before van Gaal won the FA Cup at Manchester United, in what proved to be the manager’s final game in charge, Bout was on the training pitches working with the players at Carrington. Van Gaal was sacked just a few days later, but Bout was asked to stay on at Manchester United in a scouting role – just like at Bayern Munich.
“That’s something to be proud of,” Jonker added. “It says a lot about him that he’s not just a part of a Dutch staff coming in – he also managed to be really appreciated by both clubs. They wanted him in a different way separate from the other managers.”
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