‘I would say there has been a major change in the last 3 to 4 years whereby I think now we need to look a lot more at the psychological aspect of the player, the attitude of the player, the mentality of the player on the pitch than we used to… before, it was all about the talent and the physical ability and I think now probably with the style of play of the likes of Barcelona and Arsenal… I think we are now more orientated towards the attitude of the player. Is he a team player? Is he intelligent enough that he puts himself at the disposal of the team? The first thing we used to look for is the talent, but not anymore. What we want, is a talented player but with the right attitude and intelligence.’ Comolli explains further and continues to champion the notions of attitude, respect for the team and intelligence, ‘You can sense from what he (the player) does on the pitch, his intelligence and practical awareness can usually be seen without having to meet the player, you want players to be able to use that talent for the team and to be a team player… Obviously, when you work in the Premier League you need to look out for physical attributes because it’s physically very demanding, you need to be strong, you need to be quick. But coming back to the talent, how do you use it? How does the player use the talent they’ve got?’
Comolli on dealing with young players who lack in a good attitude-
‘the younger you look at them the more difficult the scouting job is… it is so difficult to try to get a player who is (say) 12, and predict that he’s going to be a top player at 18. The older they are the easier it is from a scouting point of view. But in terms of what we are looking for in a player it is exactly the same thing; talent, attitude, intelligence, tactical awareness. We are taking more of a gamble because we don’t know how a player is going to change between 12 to 15 or 16 and 19 and also 17 and 19 or 17 and 20… you don’t want to sign a player who is 15 and fully matured because you know there is no room for development, from a physical point of view and sometimes from a psychological point of view as well, because sometimes the player will dominate his category at 15 but not so much at 20. So that’s the basic thing to take into consideration. But again, we tell the scouts to not just look only at the talent, but look at what the player is like with his talent and how he uses his talent, so it’s coming back, a little bit, to how we work with the first team.’ The judgement of talent in these early years appears more flexible. There also appears to be a sense of cultural congruence between the first team and the academy. Comolli reiterates his philosophy; talented players, with intelligence, a respect for the team, a sense of selflessness and an ability to develop and learn. At this point he recounts the words of Ernie Accorsi, the former General Manager of the NFL’s New York Giants football team, ‘He used to say that if a kid has had a good attitude in the past but lost his way, you can make him good again but if your kid has never had a good attitude then you’ll never make him good.’ The sentiment here refers back to attitude. Comolli describes his evolving experiences, ‘you think yeah his attitude is no good but we’re going to change him… you’ve got no chance…you always want to meet the player and sometimes you’ve got to make a judgement without really knowing the person personally. But if you think his behaviour is not right but you know he’s going to come into our environment are we going to make him better are we’re going to change him totally, it doesn’t work. In my experience it doesn’t work. You need to see some positive signs to be convinced that you are going to be able to change the kid, if you don’t see anything positive he won’t change.’ The psychologists reading this may contend Comolli’s stance. Most psychological literature tends to suggest that, with the correct support, anything is possible. Comolli disagrees. Top-level football is a tough place to be. Players with ‘attitude deficiencies’ can negatively impact the positive environment that you wish to create. Moreover, too much valuable practitioner time can be spent on and/or with them. They have no place in Comolli’s model.