What do private investigators, Scottish football, and trips to the casino have in common? More than you might think.
A recent episode of BBC Radio Scotland’s podcast Sacked in the Morning sheds light on this connection. Host Craig Levein has managed Dundee United, Leicester City, and Heart of Midlothian, as well as the Scottish national team. In the episode broadcast on 21st October, he described how football clubs use private investigators to monitor potential new signs.
Reaction to Player Investigations
The episode of the podcast focused on the trials of signing new players, and it discussed the potential rewards when a club gets it right. Levein’s co-host, Amy Irons, seemed surprised. When he explained that clubs were going to these lengths to make sure that their players were of good character, she asked him:
“So you could have somebody following you before the signing goes through?”
Although this may be a shocking notion to someone unfamiliar with the industry, pre-employment investigations are relatively commonplace, particularly in high-stakes hiring. Some publications have claimed that clubs employ private investigators to “spy” on players. This isn’t technically untrue, but it makes the practice of surveillance sound a lot more foreign and exotic than it really is.
Understanding the Role of PIs in Football
While he joked that he is glad that it wasn’t commonplace when he was a player, it appeared that the former Scotland boss was careful not to over-sensationalise the practice. He told BBC Radio Scotland:
“There are clubs now, who employ private detectives, who go and research and find out everything they can about the players.”
Fundamentally, this is what private investigators do. We’re primarily interested in research, not espionage, although covert operations are often necessary for achieving our goals. Levein wasn’t explicit about whether the practice was found in the English Premier League or the lower leagues of Scottish football.
Still, he strongly implied that multiple Scottish Professional Football League clubs often use PIs to investigate new players. Additionally, he described the investigative strategy as “quite common now”, suggesting that player investigations happen across the football world.
What Are Private Investigators Trying To Find Out about Footballers?
Private investigators seek to find out information for their clients in all investigations, and football investigations are no exception. Generally, the directive is to ensure that new signs are of good character. Footballers are high profile figures in society, so their behaviour has to be of a certain standard to avoid scandal
Prevention is definitely better than cure when it comes to PR. Players engaging in immoral or unhealthy behaviours reflect poorly on the club. With such vast amounts of money at stake in the world of football, conducting surveillance helps to mitigate the risk of signing new players. Levein gives the following example:
“If somebody’s in the casino until 3 o’clock in the morning most weeks, you’d want to know about that.”
Investors, advertisers, and supporters need to be confident that players are taking care of themselves to the best of their abilities. Staying out late, indulging in excessive drinking, and gambling are red flags for players who don’t take their place at the club seriously enough. Surveillance is the best way to find this out, and ultimately, this is why clubs are turning to PIs for help.
The brief discussion in the podcast does a reasonable job of explaining how and why private investigators are helpful to football clubs. It can be tempting to leap to the dramatic world of detective fiction when our industry is mentioned. We commend Craig Levein for painting a realistic picture of our work and our industry.