How to spot young soccer talent? Finding the next Messi

Millions of people have played the video game Football Manager, where the role of the game is to be the coach and manager of a professional soccer team. Yes, it is fun to win trophies and have the best players. However, the best feeling is when you find a teenager that nobody has ever heard of for (almost) no fee and through the club’s academy make him a global superstar. While statistically impossible in the real soccer world, the game gives the player enough information for this to happen. Every team dreams of finding that diamond in the rough, that young talent who will lead them to glory. But how do you spot such a talent? I am here to guide you through the mystical world of talent spotting. So put on your detective hat and let’s uncover those budding soccer stars!

Who is the soccer scout at the grassroots level? The coach!

Oh, the coach, that wise and all-knowing creature on the sidelines of the soccer field. They may not have a magnifying glass or a pipe, but they certainly have the vision to spot young talent. These grassroots heroes dedicate their time to training the next generation of superstars, and they know a thing or two about identifying talent. So, if you want to find that young soccer prodigy, look no further than the coach!

The coach will need to know how to identify the talent and develop them, but who brings the talent in front of the coach in the first place?


If there is one group of people that is simply superior to others when it comes to recruiting, it’s the parents. First of all, they are adults and they want to have their kids play with other kids that have a good influence on them. Secondly, they talk to other parents all the time and can tell them to join your team. Thirdly, they love taking soccer videos of their kids playing soccer and share them with everybody. While you analyze your own players, you might spot a great talent on the other team. Unlike coaches that cannot “poach” players, parents don’t have that limitation. 


The players are a great option for recruiting, too. Your best players want to show off and if they are good, then other good players will want to play with them. Also, if other good players are already friends with your players, then they are more likely to join. However, if your players are frustrated with the team or are exploring other clubs, then the message sent is bad.


Fellow coaches in your club or even other clubs can be a valuable resource. They know a player from the neighborhood, or their sibling plays on their team, or they’ve seen them in the park. Whatever it is, they can be quicker and more impartial when they spot young soccer talent. The experience they have and being in the soccer world already leads them to be natural recruiters for your team.

What defines a young soccer talent?

When it comes to spotting a young soccer talent, we must first understand what makes them stand out from the rest. I mean, if the player plays two years up and scores 7 goals in a game, it’s easy that we got the perfect striker talent. However, most of the players don’t even play in that position, yet they might have talent. There are three key factors to consider: technical soccer abilities, physical characteristics, and psychological traits. Depending on the age of the players, we can think of what can be taught and what is beyond our abilities as coaches. After all, if I had the best sprinting coaches in the world from birth, I would have run faster than I can. But let’s be real, I would have never made it to the Olympics. 

Technical soccer abilities

A true soccer talent possesses skills that make even Lionel Messi raise an eyebrow. They have the ability to dribble past defenders as if they were mere holograms, shoot with pinpoint accuracy, and pass the ball with grace and precision. If you spot a player who can pull off these jaw-dropping moves effortlessly, congratulations, my friend, you might have just found the next Messi!

But what if they cannot? At what point do we transition from “potential” to “no skill”?

“If you have no technical skill at 14, you can forget it, you will never be a football player”. 

— Arsene Wenger

When players come for tryouts with no technical skills at ages 8, 9, and even 10, I always talk to the parents. If they ask me what kind of shoes to buy, then I know that the player has zero experience and any skills are self-taught. That is good news! Because technique is the one thing that we can teach at U10 and younger. However, if the parents tell me that the player has played in 3 different clubs and they’ve had private lessons, then I know that there is a problem.

Physical characteristics

While soccer may not be a sport solely based on brute strength, physical attributes do play a significant role. A talented player will have the speed of a cheetah, the agility of a cat, and the stamina of a marathon runner. Keep an eye out for those players who seem to cover every blade of grass on the field, leaving their opponents in the dust. They might just be the Usain Bolt of soccer!

But what if they cannot? At what point do we say that the player will never reach the required level to compete because of a lack of physicality?

Firstly, you have to define what the player can do. We have seen players that are physically small and slow but excel in other aspects, such as positioning and ball handling. Always think about where a player can play depending on their physical attributes. After all, somebody has to be the slowest or the smallest in any team.

Secondly, try to explain the physical attributes at a given age. Kids are developing and a sudden growth spurt or illness can cause physical imbalance compared to other players. However, projecting 1-3 years ahead, that might reverse itself. Furthermore, not all players live in an environment that is raising natural athletes. An overweight kid can quickly change their weight over one summer while growing up and playing sports every day. So, try to find the reasoning behind why some physical characteristics are jumping out.

Psychological traits

While it is the most important aspect, it is the hardest one to identify within the time allocated. After all, you can’t know what is happening in the mind of a young kid. It is a labyrinth of determination, focus, and confidence, packaged with impatience and doubt, bombarded with peer pressure and social media. Now try to figure out how they will develop and behave in the years to come.

When a player comes to tryouts, the most important thing is to see if they are comfortable or nervous. Your goal is to figure out a way to make them feel as comfortable as possible, so you see them for who they will be in a few months. More often than not, you need to actually remove the spotlight from them. Otherwise, you have to put some spotlight to motivate them. Once you figure that out, it’s time to identify the key traits:


Without this one, there is really nothing we can do as coaches or parents. Many other traits, such as grit or resilience, are actually taught. It’s easy to see if the player is giving it all when it’s snowing, but you rarely get that lucky. However, competitiveness is the prerequisite for them because it is the reason why somebody will learn how to handle losses and setbacks, then work their way through them. How to spot it? In 50-50 situations, the competitive players will go full throttle into them. Stronger and more skillful players will often shy away, but that shows more about their competitiveness or lack thereof. 


Soccer is a game that is played with the brain. Furthermore, soccer is a game that is practiced with the brain. So, lack of focus not only affects other aspects that don’t require ball mastery or physical attributes, such as communication to their teammates, positioning, and anticipation but also a player cannot develop technical abilities without deep learning. For that, they need to be able to focus. So, the amazing fact is that both performance and improvement depend on the ability to focus. That is a purely mental aspect and not something that can be spotted at a very early age.


This overloaded term basically means that the player is with the mindset to learn something. Often times a kid has played with soccer toys as a toddler and looks like a magician, but refuses to take any advice. Over time they will lag behind an attentive player that has no technical skill at the moment. Michael Jordan said that his best trait was that he was coachable, so let’s not underestimate the value of this characteristic. At tryouts, give them an unusual request in between sessions, such as “Try passing with your weaker foot” or “Do tight marking on defense”. If you immediately see they try to do that, it doesn’t matter if they fail to execute. You have somebody that can follow instructions and improve their game at every practice.

Steps to recruit the young soccer talent to your team

Congratulations! You’ve managed to spot a young soccer talent, but how do you ensure they join your team and not your rivals? Here are a few steps to help you recruit that budding star:

  1. Make your team appealing: Showcase the benefits of joining your team, such as a supportive coaching staff, top-notch facilities, and a strong winning mentality. This is not something that happens once in a while. You need to convince them every day at every practice. Same as any other brand, it takes lifetime to create trust and 5 minutes to destroy it, so be careful.

  2. Communicate with the player and their family: Engage in open and transparent conversations with the player and their family. Address any concerns they may have and show them that your team is the perfect fit for their aspirations. It’s way more important to maintain your best players than to recruit new ones. Yes, it can be annoying when parents believe that their kid is the next Ronaldo while you have to tie their shoelaces. However, the only way for the player to become that good is to have the belief.

  3. Offer development opportunities: Highlight the opportunities for growth and improvement within your team. Show them that you have a plan to nurture their talent and help them reach their full potential. Every club plans to do development, but very few really do. Make sure you record games over a period of time. They’ll be amazed with the progress of the players. If they are not, then maybe you need to really think how to improve the development in your club.

  4. Create a welcoming environment: Make sure your team has a positive and inclusive atmosphere. Showcase the camaraderie and friendship that exists among the players. After all, who wouldn’t want to be a part of a team that feels like a second family? Don’t forget that the team exists for the players not the parents or the coaches!

Building a network for talent identification

Spotting a young soccer talent is not a one-time endeavor; it requires a network of talent spotters to cast their watchful eyes over the soccer fields. Building a network of coaches, scouts, and soccer enthusiasts will increase your chances of finding that hidden gem. Attend local tournaments, interact with other coaches, and join talent identification programs to expand your network. Remember, the more eyes you have on the field, the more talents you’ll uncover!

Our favorite examples are when a whole family have been part of the same club. That usually means that we have done a great job across multiple teams and multiple coaches. These soccer families know they have options and they will not hesitate to explore them. However, when they stay in the club, they bring their other relatives, neighbors and friends to it. It’s such an amazing experience for everybody and really builds the clubs to have the family environment when people great each other and have fun together.

A world of soccer talent awaits!

Spotting a young soccer talent is like embarking on a thrilling treasure hunt. It requires a keen eye, a bit of luck, and a whole lot of patience. With this knowledge, you are now ready to venture into the world of talent spotting. Don’t forget that it is still a journey that you should embark on. The better you become at developing talent, the better you will be at spotting it. It’s a reinforcing cycle that delivers fantastic results. So gather your coaching staff, put on your detective hat, and get ready to uncover the next soccer superstar. The world is waiting for that young talent, and it’s up to you to find them!