By Simon Evans
MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - They used to be spotted in the directors' box, notepad and pen in hand and with a face familiar to supporters in the stands.
The presence of a scout at a game, usually a former player or ex-manager, either observing future opponents or eyeing possible new signings, would start tongues wagging, but fans would struggle to spot many of those in the role now.
With the huge increase in the use of video and data, the modern scout, more likely to be called an analyst, needs a very different skill set to the men in sheepskin coats.
Analysts at the ground can be seen rushing from the stands to the dressing room at halftime with a tablet or laptop in hand but others work remotely, analysing video and complex data.
In this world of ultra-specialised, data-focused analysis, a new path into the game has opened - one more likely to involve blogging for a tactical website than 20 years playing as a pro.
"A blog post providing real insight into an opposition's tactical approach or behaviour in key game situations will be noticed and shared among the coaching staff at a club," one staff member at a leading European club told Reuters.
Jack Lyons was a 19-year-old Celtic fan who provided detailed articles with video graphics about the team to the German website Spielverlagerung, which has gained a reputation for cutting edge analysis of European football.
The then-Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers read the pieces, called Lyons in for a chat and offered him a part-time role.
Such was his influence on Celtic's title-winning performances that when Rodgers moved to Leicester City in 2019, he took Lyons with him.
Lyons, like many who follow this path, keeps a low profile; some, such as coaching student Ben Hall, are asked to not even mention which club they work for.
Hall studies at Leeds Beckett University but his self-published articles led to him securing a role as a performance analyst for a professional club in Sweden.
"There are a lot of people who weren't a player who have an incredible skill set to offer to professional teams and there are a lot of different routes into the game. Writing is a huge one for a lot of people," he said.
"Sharing articles gets you well known. Just because we don't have the credentials doesn't mean the knowledge isn't there."
While many senior analysts at big clubs have had academic training, the founder of Spielverlagerung, German journalist Constantin Eckner, says the changing structure of clubs, with more specialised staff, has altered the culture radically.
"To make full use of analytics you need people with deep knowledge. The people who do blogging and online analysis are usually young, hungry and smart," he says.
"Instead of playing professionally, they spend their teens and 20s dissecting the game from the sideline or in front of their computer screen.
"They're obsessed with football and try to find new analytical angles. There’s a genuine quest for knowledge."
Some can be found on social media, sharing their content and making observations on televised games. Many more stay out of sight, logging into platforms such as Wyscout to carry out analysis.
The level of detail would leave most fans scratching their heads but there is certainly a hunger for the analysis among the informed and those involved in the game.
Spielverlagerung this week published an 11,000 word collaborative analysis of Manchester City's evolution under manager Pep Guardiola and, given the site's influence, it would be a surprise if the Spaniard has not digested it.
But the rise of blogger-analysts might not completely shut down a path into scouting for ex-players.
Many players are obsessed with their stats and some take that interest beyond their immediate use to them as players.
"Former professionals who simply rely on their playing background might not be good enough as football analytics advances," says Eckner.
"That said, there are also increasingly more players who put in the time to study and get familiar with analytics".
They will have some catching up to do.
(Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Ken Ferris)