For more than a decade, Walter Steenbok has been associated with two of South Africa’s top clubs – Kaizer Chiefs and Mamelodi Sundowns – but not many people can put a face to the name.
This is because it’s his job as a football player scout – not him in person – that is often reflected in the composition of the two local football powerhouses.
Steenbok, in his second spell at Chiefs as the head of scouting, assesses the skills of potential signings, and he also evaluates their general attitude.
Thanks to the experience he has acquired over the years, the 49-year-old has penned The Football Scouting Bible, a book that redefines the art of scouting in the local game.
Former Chiefs coach Steve Komphela, now with Golden Arrows, wrote the foreword.
The book is split into 11 chapters in which Steenbok gives a practical guide, from the operations of scouting to the administration that comes with it. It also covers women’s football.
The 224-page guide comes with a supplementary notebook with a ready-made scouting template.
“The idea was to put the [scouting] narrative in the South African context, while using trends in Africa and Europe to write about something that is so dear to my heart – scouting,” he told City Press.
“Scouting is an area in our game that we have not really exploited. So it was important that I leave a legacy,” Steenbok said.
Baresi, as the scouting guru is known among his peers, boasts a unique record of having coached at all levels in the domestic game, including stints at the now defunct Benoni Premier United and Basotho Tigers.
Every story has its own humble beginnings and Steenbok’s love affair with scouting started nearly two decades ago.
He had a hand in the scouting of Reneilwe “Yeye” Letsholonyane from lower division side PJ Stars to Benoni Premier United.
Letsholonyane later turned out for Jomo Cosmos, Chiefs, SuperSport United and, most recently, Highlands Park.
The midfielder, who is now 38, was part of the Bafana Bafana team that represented the country in the Fifa World Cup hosted on these shores in 2010.
But Steenbok refuses to take full credit.
Instead, he puts the emphasis on “a collective” whenever he gives out details on a scouting of a particular player. This point is also highlighted in the book when he talks about the importance of getting a second opinion about potential decisions.
This was the case when he was checking out one-time Chiefs fan favourite Knowledge Musona in 2009 and Sundowns’ Brazilian defender Ricardo Nascimento in 2016.
“Four people were involved in the scouting of Musona – Ace Khuse, Tinashe Nengomasha, Bobby Motaung and myself.
“We opted for Musona at that time because we felt he was stronger and ready, even though we had also spotted Khama Billiat,” recalled Steenbok.
“So, it was more of a collective approach. Even if you see something [in a player], you still need a second opinion.
“So we must move away from creating celebrity scouts and people who will always say ‘I spotted this and I did this’.”
In Nascimento’s case, Steenbok said the Brazilian had four of the five qualities he was looking for, but then Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane convinced him to overlook the missing quality.
“This was another example of the importance of a second opinion,” Steenbok pointed out.
He had travelled with Mosimane to watch Nascimento in action for his former club Académica in Portugal.
In the second chapter of his book, Steenbok addresses the question of why some players flop while playing in the top clubs. This is something that supporters often believe, that not just any player can play for Chiefs, Sundowns and Orlando Pirates.
“The scouting operation is informed by lots of factors,” he said. “So scouts are always influenced by the strength of the league, the culture of the club, the playing model, the owner and the supporters.”
Steenbok pointed out that big clubs were often where supporters demanded instant success.
“Patience for a player at a bottom-four team is different from the one in a top-four team.”
The approach is different at the youth development level, he said.
“You are essentially looking for two things: technique and personality. Personality can involve things such as intelligence and attitude.”
He warned, however, that scouts must always have “an open understanding policy that sometimes you might not get it right”.
He intends to publish a more advanced manual next year, which seeks to establish scouting as one of the pillars within football and coaching development.
“As we move on, we’ll have a little bit on data and performance analysis.”
Apart from having a vast contact database, Steenbok – who holds various academic qualifications – advises aspiring scouts to have “the right personality and be humble”.