UTD Podcast: Scouting the world's best
The start of a new week means the arrival of a fresh UTD Podcast episode, and this week's edition is a cracker, as we speak to the man responsible for scouting some of Manchester United's brightest and best talents.
Jim Ryan was appointed by Sir Alex Ferguson as the manager of United's youth team in 1991 and, after serving that role for 10 years, went onto become director of youth football for a further decade.
During that time, Ryan oversaw the progression of the famous Class of 92, and would go on to scout and recommend many up-and-coming players in England and abroad.
The Scotsman, who had a brief playing spell with the Reds in the 1960s, sat down with Helen Evans, Sam Homewood and David May to reveal the thinking behind recruiting greats such as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and current stars like Paul Pogba.
“I thought he was a certainty,“ Ryan said, when asked about the signing of Pogba. ”He came to us in a funny way. We used to go every year to a tournament around Paris. It had international teams playing in it. So, you had to drive back and forward. You had to drive round the outskirts of Paris, find the ground, get in, get a teamsheet and, just in time, you could watch the game.”
“But you had to leave five minutes before the end to get to the next one because they were dotted round [Paris]. He was playing for one of those teams, he was playing for the French team, just doing what he does.
“The other thing was that I thought: ‘He looks a bit lanky’. I think he’s more filled out now, but then he was kind of skinny. So watching him I thought: ‘He’s definitely got something’.”
Ryan's time as youth-team manager in the 1990s, meant he had an integral role in the development and rise of one of United's best-ever group of young players, however in the eyes of the 75-year-old, there was one that stood above the rest.
“I think probably Paul Scholes,
“ he said. ”Scholesy is really tough and physical but it’s his skill that gets him most of the rewards. It’s the nice touch on the ball or it’s that he receives a pass nice or he makes the pass nice or he hammers it in from whatever distances. He’s a talent. That’s what I call talent.”
Previously on UTD Podcast, Solskjaer revealed that Ryan was in attendance in Norway to watch his future team-mate, Ronny Johnsen in action, but it was the conversation with a fellow Scot, who was also on a scouting mission, that led to Jim recommending the signing of the deadly striker.
“I was with the ex-Aberdeen player, who was the coach at Wolves [Mark McGhee], and George Graham. We were together in the same hotel and went to the game together. I was supposed to look at Ronny (Johnsen) and weigh him up.
“So I went to the game and watched Ronny. It was too easy for Ronny. They ended up winning 5-1 or something.
“Once my eyes had adjusted to watching a schoolboy play in the game [laughs], which was what Ole looked like to me. He looked like a 15-year-old. I’m sitting next to Mark McGhee who keeps telling me: ‘I need a centre-forward. I’m desperate for a goalscorer’. He was at Wolves then. And, as the game goes on, I’m thinking: ‘He’ll be watching this lad now’. I think he scored two goals plus hit the bar and all the rest of it, the typical things you see, that makes you think: ‘This guy’s a goalscorer’.
“So we went and had something to eat and then we came home the next day. And, all the way back, I’m thinking: ‘I'd better do something about this.”
“So I came back and I couldn’t get a hold of Les, Les Kershaw is the one I normally spoke to when I had seen a player. He was in Portugal. There was no-one here except the manager [Sir Alex Ferguson] but I thought: ‘I don’t want to disturb him’. It was a Sunday, but it’s bugging me all the time. I'm thinking: ‘Wolves will be speaking to him or one of the German teams that were there’. Eventually, I just thought: ‘I’ll just phone the manager’. So I phoned him up.
“He said, ‘What about Johnsen, what do you think?’ I said: ‘Yeah, he looks alright but they have got a young centre-forward, who looks a real goalscorer’. So I talked to him and talked to him and I told him what had happened. I said: ‘I’m worried that Mark McGhee is at the game, and he’s telling me he needs a centre-forward, so you might lose him’. He said: ‘Okay, leave it with me’. I didn’t know he would do anything.
“Next thing I know we had signed him. I went to training, start of the new season, first day, and he’s there. Someone had told me we had signed him. Brian Kidd comes up to me and said: ‘You’ve done it now, haven’t you?’ I replied: ‘What?’ He said: ‘You’ve signed a schoolboy’, because Ole looked like a little boy. I thought: ‘Oh, don’t tell me I’ve made a mistake’.
“Anyway, I don’t think it was a mistake in the end. He did alright, didn’t he?”
You can listen to the full Jim Ryan episode of UTD Podcast from Monday, on iTunes, Spotify, Deezer and all of your favourite podcast platforms.