Leicester City the surprise package
Leicester City the surprise package

English Premier League is experiencing a season exciting like never before, as scouting moves to the fore in modern days and helps the so-called smaller clubs to thrive like Leicester City.

The infamous era of Russian oligarchs and Middle Eastern royalty in the top flight of English football is now over. The likes of Chelsea’s Roman Abramovich and Manchester City’s Sheikh Mansour will no doubt regarded as key figures in the league’s future, but utilizing their riches in a more proper  channel deep in the transfer market alone will no longer be enough to pave a path to glorious success.

New television deal and flow of money 

Football, more than any other sport on Earth, is actually driven by the utmost desire of capitalist principles, and the Premier League happens to be one of the game’s greatest ever poster children. Just think of Premier League as New York’s Times Square, or London’s Piccadilly Circus – an endless wall of attractive advertising boards and commercialization.

As time has passed on, the spotlight has continued to shine more bright upon the league, and money has also rolled in through the record-breaking broadcast contracts. When the EPL’s latest UK television deal was announced as amounting to over £5.1 billion, concerns were this would lead to the rich getting richer, and a greater divide and rule between the top five clubs and the rest. But surprisingly, the early returns seem to be resulting in a gradual ease of the stranglehold of Premier League’s marquee teams.

Having passed the halfway of this season, clubs who would generally be regarded as the minnows are thriving now, and could possibly be all set to initiate the greatest ever shift the landscape of English football has watched for many years.

Leicester City shows what competition can do

Money obviously plays a vital role, but it is those who somehow outwardly look to be the most diligent, creative and smartest of the 20 EPL sides that are enjoying the rewards right now.

Defying all the odds, Leicester City now in the heat of fierce battle at the top of the table, in only their second season since the much-talked promotion from The Championship, the second-tier division. Just one year on from languishing at the bottom of the league on Christmas Day, they enjoyed the 2015 holidays at the Premier League’s summit.

Then there is one team; Watford. The Hornets are actually spending their first term back in the Premier League after eight agonising years of absence, and look almost certain to cement their place in the top 10, bolstering with a unique approach to team-building and youth development in the first place.

You cannot forget the great performance of Crystal Palace, or the decent success of Southampton last season either, or West Ham’s re-emergence, or Bournemouth’s unexpected over-performing. So the list is too long proves the actual point.

New era of scouting around the world

The common agenda is scouting, and a unique edge when it comes to picking up undiscovered raw talent. For those who used to complain about the top clubs grabbing all the resources and holding all of the emerging talents in Europe, if there’s one simple way the increased TV money might have helped traditionally less successful teams to catch up, it was certainly in building up the strength of their recruitment networks.

For as much as discussed Jamie Vardy’s extraordinary season, and rise from non-league semi-professional football over the course of a few years, his success what it suggests may not even be the perfect example of the unbelievable shift in thinking in progress.

Vardy’s teammate Riyad Mahrez has netted 15 goals this term and added 10 assists for good measure. 25-year-old Mahrez is arguably Premier League’s current standout in the Player of the Year race, yet just two seasons ago he was playing for Le Havre in France’s second division.

Mahrez was not even on the radar of England’s elite clubs, in fact, he was not on Leicester City’s watch list when they found him. But the man known as Leicester City’s scouting genius; head of recruitment, Steve Walsh was digging a little deeper throughout Europe when he first scouted the Algerian sensation.

In Walsh’s job criteria, it is not always necessarily finding the talent that’s the hardest part, it’s actually casting the net wide enough in order to find jewels in the rough before they even emerge to stardom and command exorbitant transfer fees later. Bringing in Riyad Mahrez for £400,000 shows a home run for Walsh.

Leicester have achieved the chance to be active and aggressive when finding a talent with the bank balance that the Premier League affords, and they are making the system work for them quite well. With a combination of bargain signings who even escaped from everybody else’s radar and trust in young talents coming through their own academy, the Foxes ascent is so by-the-book idyllic that it becomes a subject for a fairy tale.

Unique network of club ownership

Leicester’s strategy is not the only method either, as shown by Watford. The Hornets have become a unique proposition as they are one of three clubs shared by the same ownership. That’s quite amazing. The Pozzo family own clubs which belongs to, in tradition European football’s three biggest leagues and that certainly represents Watford with a unique approach to team building.

Between Watford in the Premier League, Udinese in Italy’s Serie A, and Granada in Spain’s La Liga, the group have managed to create their own development network in European football.

Watford were actually promoted off the back of Udinese and Granada’s several youth talents thriving on loan spells with the EPL side. Though some say it was a controversial strategy, but it displayed the evidence of how the process of talent acquisition has changed interestingly in football.

The person responsible for scouting many of the players who now grace Vicarage Road is Udinese’s Andrea Carnevale, a man famous for searching across the four corners of the globe to pick up the best talent available.

The bright example of such a player is Watford’s star striker, Odion Ighalo. The 26-year-old Nigerian arrived at Udinese back in 2008. He enjoyed a loan spell with Granada (among others) which was moderately successful, before finding his stride with EPL’s Watford.

Ighalo has so far scored 15 league goals this season, placing him just behind Vardy and Romelu Lukaku at the top of Premier League’s goalscoring charts. It’s certainly an extraordinary rise for a 26-year-old striker who has only seven international appearances on his shoulder up until this point, yet it shows what’s the result to be pro-active rather than reactive in the transfer market.

Bringing in future stars giving new dimension

If money still speaks large, owners are now investing their own wealth, and utilizing the resources coming from their place to English football in a smarter way than we have seen in the past.

The thought process is gradually moving away from chalking out long shopping lists of players on the basis of the money in the bank, and it is shifting to move ahead of the game and discover raw talent. That’s how football used to be, yet now it happens on a larger scale.

If you want further evidence of that, see what 14th placed Bournemouth are doing. The Cherries signed highly rated young Argentine winger Juan Iturbe on loan from Roma in the January transfer window, and now they are trying to bring in Italian superstar in the making, Stephan El Sharaawy.

To recap that is a 22-year-old once regarded “the new Lionel Messi,” and a 23-year-old former Serie A Young Footballer of the Year who has already played for his national team 17 times, potentially gracing the 11,000 capacity Vitality Stadium.

Football has changed, and it has become more exciting.

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