Coach Development

Alastair McLae and Russ Gurr

I recently had the fantastic opportunity to chat with Alastair McLae and Russ Gurr from the Samoa Football Federation. They discussed their backgrounds, their current roles and how their recent project is helping Samoan footballers across the world.

Can you tell me a little about your current roles?

Alastair: I am currently the Head of Scouting and Recruitment for Samoa and have been in this role for 2 years. I was brought in to build an international scouting programme which Samoa didn’t previously have in place.

We aimed to create a strategy to improve the quality of the National Squads and have spent a lot of hours on the project for the federation, almost becoming a full time commitment  due to limited resources in Samoa. 

Russ: My background is mainly video analysis in Scotland with various clubs as well as opposition scouting roles and I am now working with Alastair on this project and moving into a new role of Head of International Scouting.

What attracted you to the role with Samoa? Is it still rewarding?

A: It initially came about during my sports coaching degree in New Zealand where I needed an internship, so approached Jess Ibrom who had just been appointed as the Technical Director and asked to help with Samoa. I asked if there was an opportunity to ‘fill gaps’ and was told that it would be great if I could help with the scouting and recruitment.

I gained a huge interest in the project and wanted to be part of the bigger process of helping individuals to represent their country. This was a great challenge for me and allowed me to implement theory from my degree and combine it with the practical nature of the project. It ended up as a job rather than a short term internship, which I am truly grateful for.

We created a blue print by having regionalised scouts across the world and we have so far created amazing opportunities just by searching for players with Samoan heritage.

Some highlights of the scouting process include:

  • Full International database in place
  • Over 200 new players found based outside Samoa for both men and women (Juniors, U16s, U17s, U19s, Seniors)
  • 15 territory scouts placed worldwide
  • Formed worldwide ID talent partnership communities
  • Two players have transferred from other member associations
  • 75% Senior Women’s OFC Nations Cup 2022 squad were from this project, one scouted player received golden boot
  • As a result, Senior Women’s one of the highest climbers in August’s FIFA rankings (now top 100)
  • 70% U19s Men’s World Cup 2023 Qualifying squad were also from this project as they reached the quarter finals for the first time ever
  • Enhanced Member Association reputation and credibility

This blueprint has been huge for us and we would love for other countries to be wanting support so we could take this to other nations to help them, so this is still hugely rewarding.

R: During the height of the pandemic I was in discussions with various nations, primarily around video analysis opportunities, which unfortunately didn’t work out ..  I then saw a post by Alastair on LinkedIn offering an opportunity with Samoa. We shared some thoughts and ideas and I loved the vision of Football Federation Samoa and wanted to get involved in such an exciting project. Going forward, if there is a chance to share our knowledge by helping other nations in their scouting and recruitment, then great!

So how is football perceived there and what’s the current structure like?

A: If you look at Samoa there are 200,000 people but only 3500/4000 players and this is fighting against other sports for recognition so growing the game is tough. There is no specific idol despite Tim Cahill being Samoan origin, so we needed to create a proper structure which is now starting to help the game have a better reputation. 

There is something to show players as a good pathway due to better performances and something to look up to with people realising that there are genuine opportunities to represent Samoa and be a part of the nations community.

The game is rapidly growing through word of mouth too with the worldwide bases of players that we now have as well as through u17 games, WC qualifiers next year which are being promoted better than ever before.

We really do have a blank canvas as we can grow from nothing so can almost trial and error with the Federation of Samoa backing the project. Due to the good worldwide network, we now able to hand pick the best rather than just taking anyone who is of Samoan origin. 

What’s next for you both? What about next for the nation?

Both: We’re actively in discussions with other ambitious nations to support their scouting and recruitment strategy and infrastructure, but we do also have 3 years left of the Samoa project and wish to push it further. 

We also aim to help to grow the womens team in Samoa through the recruitment strategy which is currently happening too! 

Do you guys have any tips for anyone wishing to work for nations such as Samoa?

R: Network as much as possible. Speak to people from different areas of the game to find out their background, support staff and how you can help them. Also, be in it for the long haul and see the bigger picture and embrace the challenge as you will likely build from the bottom up which can be hugely rewarding as you see the project fully come to life. But be prepared to help out where needed – you will probably need to wear different hats!

A: Realise your own motivation levels and realise why you are doing it and what you want to get from it. Don’t just do it because it’s something to do. Be part of the wider project and fully embrace it. 

@footcoaching (Alastair)
@russgurr (Russ)

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