The art of scouting - How Groningen, Twente & Utrecht made millions on players such as Luis Suarez, Bryan Ruiz, Kevin Strootman and more

The Eredivisie sides have shown their excellent eye for talent in recent years as they've discovered a number of top class players before selling them with a healthy profit
By Stefan Coerts | Dutch Football Editor

At a time in which money is evidently playing a more important role in football, clubs have to find ways to remain competitive and to keep their heads above water. Whereas traditional Eredivisie powerhouses such as Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV usually generate plenty of income from gate receipts and merchandise to keep their books balanced, the somewhat smaller teams have to look at other methods to stay afloat.

Although there are several options for a team to muster funds, the easiest and most commonly used way is cashing in on your star player when a big money offer comes in. A club like Heerenveen for example received an astonishing €16.25 million for Miralem Sulejmani when they sold the attacker to Ajax in the summer of 2008, hardly 18 months after the Friezen paid Partizan Belgrade a fee in the region of only €300,000 for the Serbia international.

Heerenveen are not the only Dutch club that have successfully used the aforementioned strategy though and Groningen and Twente in particular have shown in the past few years that they have an excellent eye for talent.

Groningen's success on the transfer market started with the somewhat fortunate capture of Luis Suarez from Nacional in the summer of 2006. The Green-White Army travelled to Uruguay to scout an unnamed Nacional striker, but their actual target failed to impress at the time, while the then 19-year-old Suarez put in a man of the match performance. The club's scouts didn't hesitate and immediately told sporting director Hans Nijland to make a move and Groningen got their man for only €800,000. One year later, the Euroborg outfit sold Suarez to Ajax for a fee in the region of €8m.

 GRONINGEN | Top Transfers

The club had by then already appointed Grads Fuhler as their international scout to improve their network and they would not regret this decision in the years to come. He recognised Goteborg forward Marcus Berg as the ideal candidate to fill Suarez's boots following his move to Ajax in 2007 and the then Sweden Under-21 international moved to Netherlands for a record €3m. Two years later, Berg left the Eredivisie for Hamburg for a reputed €10m fee.

In the same summer in which Fuhler recommended Berg to Groningen, the scout also spotted promising youngster Tim Matavz shortly before the Slovenian caught the attention of bigger clubs. Groningen eventually beat Serie A side Fiorentina to the striker's signature for a €1.1m transfer fee largely thank to some excellent scouting work. Four years later, PSV paid Groningen an initial fee of €6.5m for Matavz's services.

Twente have also proven their nous on the transfer market in recent years and their successful scouting system has played a large role in their rise to prominence. Things kicked off for the Enschede side when they acknowledged the potential of Austrian youngster Marko Arnatovic in 2006. The attacker had failed to make it at Austria Wien and Rapid Wien, but Twente scouts felt that the 17-year-old had what it took to succeed as professional and gave him a chance. Arnautovic made his debut barely 12 months later and quickly developed into a key player at the Grolsch Veste outfit. Three years after leaving his boyhood club for Holland, Arnautovic was on the move again as Twente loaned him to Inter for a lucrative fee before eventually selling him to Werder Bremen in 2010.

 TWENTE | Cash Cows

The KNVB Beker holders also showed great insight when they lured Eljero Elia to Enschede in June 2007. The winger had attracted the interest of a number of Eredivisie clubs after a decent season at ADO Den Haag, but only Twente had the guts to actually snap him up for a fee of just under €1m. Elia immediately impressed at his new club and moved to Hamburg only two years later for an €8m profit. 

The transfer of Bryan Ruiz from Gent to Twente also turned out to be a huge success as the club made a €7m profit on the Costa Rica international in 24 months. Although Ruiz was already pretty well known when he moved to the Eredivisie in 2009, none of the interested clubs were willing to meet Gent's hefty asking price, except Twente. They had scouted the versatile attacker for several months and had little doubt that he'd add something to the team that Twente lacked before. One Eredivisie title, one KNVB Beker and two Johan Cruyff shields later, other clubs also realised that Ruiz is quite a special talent and Fulham were eventually the lucky ones to sign him.

The recently closed summer transfer window brought yet another club with a fruitful transfer policy to the fore as Utrecht sold three players for an impressive profit not long after signing the trio.

 UTRECHT | Summer Departures

The Galgenwaard side were willing to take risk in the summer of 2009 when they signed the 20-year-old Ricky van Wolfswinkel from Vitesse for a little over €2m, while they also secured the services of pint-sized winger Dries Mertens from Eerstedivisie side AGOVV for €600,000. Obviously, both players already plied their trade in Netherlands at the time and were no strangers to the scouts from other teams. Nevertheless, very few clubs were ready to go as far as Utrecht and the Domstedelingen have never regretted their decision to spend heavily for a single moment. They sold Mertens to PSV for €6m, while Van Wolfswinkel moved to Sporting Lisbon for €5.4m this summer.

However, their biggest triumph on the summer transfer market, selling Kevin Strootman to PSV for €7m only months after signing him for about €1m, was down to luck rather than scouting. Sparta, the midfielder's former club, were eager to cash in on the promising youngster in the summer of 2010 and offered him to several Eredivisie sides. No team took up the offer as they felt Sparta's €1.5m asking price was too high. They then significantly lowered their demands in January and this time Utrecht took the bait as they were preparing for life after Michael Silberbauer. Little would they have known that Strootman would break into The Netherlands' national team shortly after and would earn them a 600 per cent profit within six months.

The aforementioned clubs show the importance of a good scouting team for any ambitious outfit. All three have developed from anonymous mid-table sides into clubs that are serious contenders for, at least, the European places on offer in the Eredivisie. A large part of that rise to prominence is down to their outstanding worldwide scouting work.

Obviously, there will always be clubs around that care more for spending big and signing high profile names rather than investing in their internal organisation and scouting network. However, for others, Groningen, Twente and Utrecht are an example to follow.

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