You can’t really go wrong with a Michael Calvin book. In recent years, he’s produced something of a mini-series exploring the depths of the game: No Hunger In Paradise examines the harm done by the academy system, in Living On The Volcano he bears witness to the unexamined trials of professional management, and The Nowhere Men is a firsthand account of that most underexplored world: the life of a scout.
Which you prefer is really a matter of personal taste, but the characters portrayed within The Nowhere Men are really the most interesting – if only because they represent a culture which is almost always hidden from public view.
And, let’s be honest, everyone who watches the game thinks that they could do that job. They imagine bright sunshine and youth games in Spain, Italy or South America, and envisage themselves plucking the next Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi out of obscurity.
The truth is different – it’s less paella in Andalusia and more a lukewarm cup of tea in Kettering. One of Calvin’s great strengths is his ability to put the reader in his position, sitting alongside these men and watching them go about their craft. Being a scout is not glamorous. In fact, it seems tenuous, at odds with almost any form of normal existence and, because of the nature of the game, an extremely precarious way to earn a living.
The Nowhere Men is a few years old now, but it was written at an important time. It offers a reminder of the processes and diligence which underpin the profession at a time when, regrettably, its worth is being eroded. The contemporary fashion is for data and analytics and, quite unnecessarily, for disparaging scouts as antiquated “eye test” merchants who operate on little more than a hunch-by-hunch.
Whether it’s intended to serve that specific purpose or otherwise, this is a very strong rebuttal.