One of the most wanted men in football may not be the most familiar.
Sporting director Luis Campos has unearthed over £500m worth of footballing talent during his time at Monaco and Lille, and in an exclusive interview with Sky Sports, gives a fascinating insight into his methods.
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His CV is quite something, helping unearth Kylian Mbappe, Nicolas Pepe, James Rodriguez, Anthony Martial, Fabinho, Bernardo Silva and Benjamin Mendy.
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The 55-year-old has been sporting director at Lille since 2017, helping them return to the Champions League after discovering some of Europe’s best talents while at Monaco from 2013.
Here, he talks through the key players he found, how he is determined to see players live – even for a few minutes – and whether he could be tempted out of Lille, having been linked with a number of European clubs over the summer, including Chelsea.
Liverpool’s midfielder had a fine first season after arriving from Monaco in 2018, and Campos recalls how he came across the Brazilian by accident back in his youth career.
“I remember I go to the Copa Sao Paulo (Junior Football Competition) to see Fluminense who had a top team, some very good players. Now heʼs champion of Europe. It’s amazing.
“I went to Brazil to watch Fluminese because they had some good players, they played Paulinia, the first team of Fabinho. Paulinia lost three or four-nil. I went there to see Fluminese players, but in the end I signed Fabinho. The talent is forever there, and sometimes you have an early opportunity.”
The Manchester City midfielder has been a revelation at the Etihad since arriving at Monaco, but Campos remembers his early days.
“I remember very well the first day of Bernardo in Monaco, he is small and people said: ‘Who is this player?’ He had been playing in the second division in Portugal, the Benfica B team.
“But he made an amazing season with us. Now he’s a top player in England and one of the top players in the world.”
The Manchester United forward, signed from Monaco in 2015, took only eight minutes to impress Campos while he was a youngster at Lyon.
“He had played only eight minutes for Lyon and they needed the money, so I told my CEO I need this boy. He said: ‘Are you sure he could be a striker for us?’ I said: ‘We need to work with him but I believe he will become the best striker in France’. I bought him for 4m and sold him for 60.
The PSG striker lit up the World Cup in 2018, and describes here how he helped get Mbappe back on track in 2013 before he was eventually sold for £166m.
“The day I arrived in Monaco – Kylian wasn’t happy at the club. I remember meeting his family and the family saying he is not staying, he’s not playing, we don’t understand. So I watched him play for 10 minutes and I thought, ‘He is an amazing player, he needs to stay in the clubʼ.
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“So I put him in the B team and within two months he made a difference. So he soon needed to be in the first team. In my opinion he’s the next best player in the world.
The Arsenal winger, signed from Lille in the summer, is a “fan of football”, something Campos believes is vital.
“In my opinion one of the characteristics of a top, top player is that they like football. I remember working with Cristiano Ronaldo and Kylian Mbappe. They know everything about football. Mbappe knew all the results of the second division in France.
“Nicolas Pepe is like that. Heʼs another example of the importance of a player liking football. After a game he watches the whole game again two times, to make himself more perfect.”
His latest find, 20-year-old Nigerian forward Osimhen, has scored seven in 10 games for Lille, including against Chelsea last week.
“I went to Lagos to see the U17 World Championships. After one match I wanted him. But his price was very expensive for a 17-year-old. I spoke to my CEO. I called him every night saying, ‘Please give me this player, he is amazing. In two years he will be one of the best in Europe’.
“In the end the player went to Wolfsburg. I went to Wolfsburg just to see him play. Sometimes he only played for five minutes, sometimes only two. I was crazy for him! Then he had a virus and had five or six months not playing and went to Charleroi in Belgium. Two months later I signed him. So itʼs a nice story. I lost the player but then got him back.
“If all is normal at the end of the season there will be a big move for him because he’s like a cat. You know, if you have a cat and give it a ball! Heʼs unbelievable. In the last 20 metres he attacks every ball. Every ball. Like a cat.”
Campos’ £500m talent Player Cost Sale price Kylian Mbappe £0 £166m Nicolas Pepe £9m £72m Thomas Lemar £0 £63m James Rodriguez £38.4m £63m Anthony Martial £4m £57.6m Benjamin Mendy £11m £49.2m Fabinho £0 £43.7m Bernardo Silva £12.1m £43m Tiemoue Bakayoko £0 £40m ‘Only a special situation would tempt me’
Having helped Lille return to the Champions League, Campos says the project with the French club is giving him enough pleasure at the moment. However, he would not rule out a move to another club if the situation was “special”.
“Of course I want to work with a big club one day. But the Lille project gives me big pleasure because when I arrived we were in difficulty.
“Two years later we are in the Champions League and we made money too and we have very good young players too, so I believe in this project – I am happy here – so only a special situation will make me change a project.”
‘Travelling to the moon’
Campos explains how he travelled so much in one year, that an airline gave him a certificate for spending 20 days in the air, and travelling the equivalent of earth’s distance to the moon.
“Last season was a particular season. We were at the start of the project and the club is not in an economically good situation. We needed to have a good team with five experienced players and three “electrons” – young, energetic, fast, strong players, and to find these players I had to travel a lot.
“The airline gave me a certificate. Twenty days in the air, 10 times around the world! I go to the moon in one year! I go to Africa and see street football and I see amazing players or I go to the Premier League.
“This difference is very important to me because I gain strength from the energy. So I travel the world because I want the top young players, not very expensive. I need to go there. For me the stats are important. The video is important but seeing live, the emotion the sense of the player, it makes the difference.
“Thatʼs why I travel a lot. In football you have to have the ball and you have to have the man to play the ball and you need to understand the man. You need to have this sensibility. For example, to understand the speed of maturation of a small boy or the speed of adaptation from another club or another country.”
The next step in scouting?
Campos used his time at Real Madrid to develop a new piece of scouting software, Scouting System Pro, and was never afraid to offer an opinion.
Now, he is developing a tool to help clubs form a picture of potential targets through analysis of their social media.
“At this moment I am developing software because itʼs very important. Sometimes we make mistakes, we take a guy with top technique or who is very strong and physical but they are not a good person. I believe, and the top university psychology department I am working with also believes, that itʼs possible to use social media as a photograph of the mentality of a player.
“When we finish this software we will surprise everyone. For example, if at the moment a player has a problem he sends an aggressive tweet very fast, this is an emotional player, a player who canʼt stay calm.