I recently caught up with Alan Naigeon, a certified FIFA agent, after he returned from scouting at the MLS Combine. I worked with Alan when I interned at MLS while he worked in the Player Development Department where he was an instrumental part in helping form the FFF (French Football Federation) and MLS partnership that is still growing today. Alan grew up in France where he played soccer at both the PSG and AS Cannes academies. He realized how tough it was to break into professional soccer and instead opted for the track that many talented European soccer players now explore, the American collegiate soccer system. He was recruited by Florida Atlantic University where he played D-I soccer and got his MBA in Sports Management. After college he went on to form A&V Athletics (www.avathletics.com) which is a college recruiting company for international athletes. His company had great success recruiting over 60 athletes and earning over $800,000 in scholarship money. After having much success in college recruiting, Alan turned over ownership to his managing partner and started U-Scout (ww.av-uscout.com) to focus on professional sports. In order to start his agent career, Alan passed his FIFA agency certification test in October 2013 and although he is relatively new to the business, I expect to see be big things from Alan. Therefore, I caught up with Alan after he got back from the MLS Combine to learn more about the process and his thoughts on the state of the MLS Combine and the quality of the players attending it.
- Are you a FIFA certified agent?
Indeed, I am licensed by the US Soccer Federation since October 2013.
- Do you currently have any clients either here or abroad?
Yes I have a couple a clients back in France and Belgium. Most of these guys are still very young and play for professional academies overseas. Our agency, who also represent a couple of top players who plays in EPL and French Ligue 1 is looking to enter the US market and wants to start representing US players in the coming months. Our goal is to represent the 4 or 5 best young American players in the next few years by generation. Personally I don’t want to be seen as an “agent”. I don’t want to be the guy who will just help a player finding a club and signing a good contract. My goal is to create a real relationship with them and become a true advisor for these kids even in some areas that aren’t related to soccer…
- What credentials do you need to attend the MLS Combine?
None. The entrance was 10$ per day for any person who were not a MLS employee/team member. It’s funny but some NASL team members had to pay to watch the combine. They were probably here to scout players in case they don’t get picked up at the draft.
- What type of events does the combine consist of? How long does it last?
It lasts 5 days. Thursday everybody arrives at the hotel, players play 2 games on Friday, Saturday and Monday and there is one day of interviews with the teams on Saturday.
- What tests do the players perform to test their ability?
I’m not 100% sure but I think they perform some health exam and athletic tests (speed, jump…) on the first day and also a couple of psychological exams on Saturday.
- Do agents get any time to socialize with the players during the combine?
Not really. 95% of the players have usually already signed with an agent before the combine. This is crazy by the way. Especially knowing that players are not supposed to sign with an agent while they are still in college. It would supposedly mean that all theses kids have signed agency contracts in the 3 weeks-period between the NCAA Cup (last game of the season) and the MLS combine… I don’t really buy that!
- Do the teams interview each player?
No. Teams make a list of players they want to interview. Usually they interview players that they don’t know very well or that they were not able to scout at the collegiate level. Some of the teams had only 4 interviews scheduled while from what I heard, one of the teams had more than 14 interviews.
- Are there players from outside the US college soccer system that are invited to the combine?
Yes there was 2 players invited from a Caribbean combine, which was held a couple of days prior to the MLS Combine. Andre Lewis, one of the best player at the combine, in my eyes, was actually one of them. A couple of others international were also invited to the list. For those players the choice can be somewhat surprising. One could ask why these kids and not some others?
- Which players most impressed you/least impressed you?
The most impressive players were the 2 Jamaicans, Andre Lewis and Andre Blake. Watching them play you could see right away that they were psychologically mature and technically ready to play at a higher level. A good surprise was Teshon Akindele from Colorado Mines. It’s not a surprise for to see him at the #6 draft spot. He was one of the best player at the combine even if he’s not coming from a big school. Personally I really like Ahodan Quinn, which is a player that I’ve scouted at the collegiate level (Akron) and who’s a player that has all the tools to be successful in Europe…
On the other side, it might be surprising but I thought that the overall level of defenders was really poor at the combine. I know that most of the players who got drafted yesterday were defenders but it might mean something regarding the overall level of the draft this year.
- Do you think the MLS Draft system is effective or outdated?
Outdated for sure, but that’s a good thing for MLS. Now most of the best players are coming out from professional academies or sign Homegrown contract as soon as they are done with college. That’s a path to follow, similarly to what is done in Europe.
- What changes would you make if it’s outdated?
My biggest issue with the combine and draft system is the way players are chosen. Overall, I’d even say that collegiate soccer is outdated and not efficient enough to develop better players. As an example, when a 19-20 years old practice twice a day and play every weekend of the year in Europe, an American kid who goes to college can only practice and play during 4 months because of the NCAA rules. That means that instead of having 4 full years of soccer, a player of this age which is still developing his ability only get 12 months of soccer during this 4 year-period. This is just insane and clearly not enough to develop technical player…
- Is it difficult to pickup/evaluate clients at the MLS combine?
Yes, anybody can have a bad day or a bad week at work. It probably happen same to some of those kids. You can have a very good player who just don’t show up and has a couple of bad games. That happens, but does that mean you shouldn’t draft him? Good question…
Obviously there are always a couple of players who standout right away… That’s the ones you want to sign with. But like I said it is usually too late for that. At the combine I was scouting a couple of players that interest us but like a lot of agents I was also meeting with MLS teams in order to discuss their recruiting process and priorities for the future…
- Are there foreign scouts/agents/teams at the MLS combine?
That’s a good question. At the combine a lot of people are trying to hide. I’m sure that a couple of scouts and agents from overseas where there just to make sure there wasn’t a special player that nobody knew or that they may have forgot about.
- Is the combine a good way to pickup clients or are there more effective events/places to pickup MLS clients.
It’s not the best place to pickup clients but a good indication of what’s coming in our league. For me it’s always interesting to evaluate the level of incomers and compare it to the guys that we have. Overall it’s also a great place to connect and understand the way the league is developing.