There are very few people that can have more experience in football than Blues' chief scout Malcolm Crosby.
In a career spanning over 40 years, he has worked at the top level in almost every aspect of the game from playing, coaching and managing to scouting.
In this interview with Malcolm he talks about his role as the club’s chief scout.
You've been in football for a number of years; could you give us a brief overview of your career to date?
As a 16-year-old I joined Aldershot as a player and I was there for ten years. I then joined York and played for them for nearly five seasons before going into coaching in 1984. I spent two years coaching in Kuwait before joining Sunderland as their youth team coach and then ending up as manager. After that I had coaching or management roles at Oxford, West Brom, Middlesbrough and Northampton. Before Lee brought me to Birmingham I was the chief scout at Oxford United.
Did you know Lee Clark ahead of joining him here at Birmingham?
I only knew Lee to speak to from when we played against his teams or I’d met him at a match or whatever. When I was youth team coach at Sunderland, Lee was a young player at Newcastle so I was also aware of him then.
How does the relationship between you and Lee work when it comes to scouting players?
He’s great to work for and lets me get on with the job. He may say to me that he needs a specific position and I will then send out the scouts to look at players who play in that position. I think he trusts my judgement. We’re looking at a different market at this moment in time, which are Bosmans, loans and free transfers and we accept that.
How does the scouting network at the club work?
We’ve got a scout in Hull and he does the north east right down to the midlands. I’ve also got scouts in the north-west, one in Scotland, two in the south, plus myself. If I know of a player I like or I’ve heard good reports of I’ll go or send one of the scouts. I went up to Scotland last year and I recommended Darren Randolph and Andrew Shinnie to Lee and he supported me on that and went with them. John Vaughan went up and had a look at Darren as well. I think we’ve been really lucky to get him in because I think he’s a very good goalkeeper. I haven’t got any scouts abroad because we haven’t got the finances to have people abroad, although we do have players from Europe recommended to us and we have had a look at some of them.
How important are contacts in the game?
They are very important. There are lots of people that you speak to and you know and you can trust them, but there are also a lot of people that you get emails and phone calls from that you don’t know who they are, where they’re from or what they’ve done. Lee also has a lot of contacts because he has been at big clubs and he has met a lot of people in the game who are quite high profile. I know a hell of a lot of people because I’ve been in the game a long time and Terry McDermott and Derek Fazackerley are the same. So between the four of us, plus Steve Watson, Richard Beale and John Vaughan there are a lot of people that we know and it does help.
With so many players leaving in the summer and so many coming in it must have been an incredibly busy time?
Yes, it was busy. Lee had planned that certain players would be moving out, so we knew what we had to try and bring in, in terms of positional relationships to the ones that would be leaving. It is tough trying to recruit but we did it to the best of our ability and I think we’ve been fortunate with the players we were able to bring in.
How happy have you been with the quality of the players we have signed?
It’s early in the season and you can’t really make a judgement until players have played at least 10 or 12 games. When you’ve made quite a few changes like we have it’s not easy for everyone to settle in straightway and be flying.
How difficult has it been to work within such difficult financial constraints?
It’s not been difficult for me because I know what players we can look for. It’s pointless me going to look at somebody that is four or five million because we couldn’t do it. It’s hard for the manager because he’s restricted as to what he can bring in at the moment, but we don’t feel sorry for ourselves on that score. We just get on with it and try to get players in that suit our cloth.
When you are scouting a player, what sort of due diligence do you carry out?
I’m a big believer in finding out about people and if they’re a decent person at their club. Everybody is great when things are going well at a football club but when it’s not going so well are they going to be the same person and will they fight for the manager in terms of trying to get results? I think you have to look at the characters of the people and the ability and then it’s the finance. Sometimes you might have to take a chance the on a bit of a rebel character because he is a really good player. You have problems with some players but if they’re good enough you have to try and work it out.
Do you think there are still many hidden gems in lower league and non-league football waiting to be discovered?
Yes, I definitely think there are players in the lower league that can play at a higher level and make a career for themselves. For example Matt Green had a couple of good seasons at Mansfield and Lee was prepared to take a chance with somebody like Matt because he has got good pace. It’s just a case of giving him time to settle in to a different standard of football.
Finally, in your dealings with trying to attract players to the club how much of a draw is Birmingham City still?
It's still a big club. From a personal point of view it’s one of the best clubs I’ve ever been in, in terms of the people that work here. They really want to help and do everything they can for you. I've been at a few clubs and they’ve been good – Middlesbrough, Sunderland, West Brom and Derby but Birmingham is as good as any I’ve been to. When a player comes in to this club they really do try very hard to accommodate them and make them comfortable. It is excellent the way they do things. It’s not all about money, because obviously we haven’t got the money at the moment.