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Hugo Scheckter, Player Care at West Ham United

About this Episode

Hugo Scheckter

Head of Player Care at West Ham United

Hugo Scheckter is the Head of Player Care at West Ham United, a dynamic, fan-focused football Club at the heart and soul of London since 1895. Scheckter is responsible for running West Ham United's Player Care Department, he has provided a high standard of initial care and ongoing support to some of the club's most high-profile players, helping them to not only relocate but also settle into their new lives in East London, ultimately ensuring they receive a well-rounded positive experience while at the club.

In this in-depth interview, Hugo explains the differences between footballers and normal assignees; reveals his belief that people forget that footballers are people; describes how they face the language challenge with international players; and admits that he treats footballers without sort of a sense of awe.

Full Transcript

Brian Friedman: Hello, and welcome to The View from the Top, a podcast series brought to you by Benivo. My name is Brian Friedman. I'm the strategy director of Benivo, the world's leading welcome-as-a-service mobility tech company. I'm delighted to say that today's guest on The View from the Top is Hugo Scheckter. Hugo is the Head of Player Care at West Ham Football Club. Now Hugo isn't your average global mobility professional, and certainly his expats are not your usual assignees. Some of our listeners handle hundreds or even thousands of moves each year, but Hugo only handles about 19 or so moves. But what moves they are. Hugo's expats come from all over the world. They're typically very, very young. They may not speak much English. They're paid salaries beyond the wildest dreams of most of us. His expats are under intense media scrutiny and intense pressure. They literally have to hit the ground running from the day they start. Some people would say that Hugo has the job from heaven, others, the job from hell. It all depends on your point of view. Hugo is on call 24 hours a day. He has to work every weekend. He rarely gets a holiday during the football season, and that season pretty much lasts 11 months a year these days. But on the other hand, Hugo gets to work in one of the most exciting sports and football leagues in the world. Hugo has worked in football, or soccer management, both in the US and in the UK, and he has worked with players from countless different countries, and indeed, many different cultures. So Hugo, welcome to The View from the Top. We're looking forward to hearing your views, and congratulations on your impressive achievements to date.

Hugo Scheckter: Thank you for having me. I'm really pleased to be here.

Brian Friedman: Oh, that's great, Hugo. Let's dive straight in. I'm a massive football fan, so this is a very, very special podcast for me. Let's talk about footballers. Your footballers, they're different to normal assignees. The people you deal with, as I said in the introduction, are young. Often they may not be very worldly-wise. They always have huge talent, but sometimes, they might have pretty big egos too. They come from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds. They're incredibly highly paid and hugely under the public spotlight. How do you even begin to look after them when they first arrive? Hugo Scheckter: I think, for me, the key is to put all of that aside and just treat them as a normal person because they have so many people sort of fawning over them and looking after them and sort of looking to see everything they're doing and treat them almost like they're on higher level. And so for me, it's really important to treat them as equals, as people, because I think people forget that footballers are people, and I think that's forgotten sometimes. And I think to treat them without sort of a sense of awe, I think is really important. But looking at the way we do things, you're right in the fact that the amount they can spend on a relocation is much, much higher. There really is no budget most of the time. It's just get it the best, get it the quickest. But also, I've gotta be sort of, I slightly worry that what we're doing, if we're moving someone that has not been announced yet, by booking a room in that person's name, that could maybe tip off a fan who works in the back office or something like that. So there's a lot of different things that we've gotta be aware of, but in terms of things like ego and all that, at the end of the day, we're there to help the players. So if they've some worries and don't wanna work with us, that's their prerogative, but I find that 99% of them are very, very easy to work with, very down to earth. Yes, the language is a concern, but in my department we have someone who's trilingual. So we try and cover all the bases, but for me, I think it's important to treat them as if they were any other person that we were working with.

Brian Friedman: And talk us through a little bit of the boring, the day-to-day logistics of it. So what do you do? Do you meet them at the airport? Are you showing them round houses and schools, if need be? Or, I suppose, not so much schools. But talk me through actually how it works on a day-to-day--

Hugo Scheckter: So yeah.

Brian Friedman: When they first arrive.

Hugo Scheckter: So we'll normally get between probably about 48 hours and about three hours' notice that someone's arriving. So currently we're in the transfer window, so myself and my team, one of us is on call, at least at the moment, and then on 24th of June, then all of three of us will be back in the office on call. But yeah, so we would get a couple of hours' notice, but the reality is that when they arrive in the country the first time, the contract's not signed, the medical's not done, so that's the priority. So we see him to the medical, be it a private hospital, either in central London or in Essex. They do their medicals, which can take between probably two and six hours, depending on what their history is and that kinda stuff. Then you're waiting for results. They'll go to the stadiums to do the contract negotiations, or normally, it's pretty much done at that point. So it'll just be signing the paperwork, maybe a couple of tweaks, depending on what's happening there, and we'll also kinda sit and wait. The media team, the internal media team, might do either some photos or some videos while they're waiting, and if the transfer doesn't go through, then they'll just sort of bin those, I guess. But the reality is is until everything is signed, we won't do any actual sort of relocation bits. We'll have sort of potential houses that we might show them, and it's almost part of the sales pitches that you're coming to us in West Ham, we're lucky to be in London, which is obviously a great city. So that's a selling point where hey, you can go and live here, you can live here. The shopping's here, it's great. The schools are great. So part of it is selling, but we wouldn't actually go and look at anything or sign anything or get anything sorted until the contract is signed. But once that happens, we can move very quickly. I mean, for instance, small detail, such as we have a stock of mobile phones and SIM cards in my office, which I can activate in 20 minutes. So within 20 minutes of the player signing, he has an English phone, an English number, and we've sorted an agreement with a company to allow us to do that. So it's little things like that where speed is the essence. It might not be the cheapest thing. It'd be cheaper to pop down to the high street and maybe get a phone from there, but the reality is is that when you're talking about a phone bill of 100 pounds a month, it's irrelevant cost. So the speed is of the essence there, really.

Brian Friedman: And do you tend to put them into, when they first arrive, hotels or serviced accommodation? I'm presuming there's a period before they actually find the property they want to move to.

Hugo Scheckter: Yeah, so we're looking at changing that. The standard has been a hotel, but it's quite tough for players with families if they've got the wife and two kids in a single or even sort of a connecting room. That can be quite tough. So there's a new apartment building, a serviced apartment building, that we're in negotiations with right now. That hasn't been agreed yet, so right now it will be in the hotel, but we'll probably put them in the hotel between two weeks and a month, depending on how long it takes to find something. But the players have, there's a certain level of hotel that the club will pay for, but we also have sort of a five-star plus hotel that's on standby if a player wants to upgrade themselves, which is obviously thousands of pounds a night. A couple of them will take advantage of that because it'll be a sort of two, three bedroom, five-star penthouse that, again, the salary is such that that's not an issue for them, or it's not a huge issue for them. So it just depends on the player. We have some young single players who are not interested in spending that money, or we have players with sort of three, four kids who actually need the space, so it actually makes a lot of sense. We kind of guide them with what we recommend, and then it's up to them to take their recommendations or not.

Brian Friedman: Okay, and presumably a lot of what you do is helping to get, to put it bluntly, getting inside the player's mind to make sure you've got their mental wellbeing sorted. And what I'm thinking is that you must get players, especially young players, who might become quite lonely or homesick, and I'm guessing that a lonely or homesick player, that's likely to translate to not-so-good performance on the pitch, and that could be a bit of a negative spiral. So what do you do to manage family support and to encourage a good, stable, and sensible social life, especially for the very young players? I'm guessing some of these players are sort of early 20s at best.

Hugo Scheckter: Yeah, so we always encourage the family to come and stay, if only for the first couple of weeks, if not more full time. I'm not sure that, I mean, off the top of my head, I don't think any of our players live fully alone. A lot of them will live either with a partner or a brother or sister or a friend or something. But you're correct, football is a very lonely business. I mean, I think a lot of our guys struggle. Whether they're from locally or from abroad is this idea where they're getting, why does someone wanna be my friend? And not in the sense that they're not a good personality, but a lot of times, people pop up from the past who are looking to get, you can get asked to get shirts or boots or tickets or money or whatever it is. And so obviously these guys are quite recognizable, so if there are people who sort of pop into their lives after they've signed, we've gotta be quite wary of them. If it's a lifelong friend, then it's kinda different. Obviously they've been there for the whole journey. But a lot of these guys are lonely because people are friendly to them because they want something, and that can be quite an exhausting and quite mentally tough to be in a position where you're having to sort of second guess every one of your friends or anyone who's nice to you. It's a why are they being nice to me sort of a thing. So we've made a big effort in the last year and a half since I've arrived to include the families more. So we've created a new family lounge at the stadium, which was a significant investment, but I think our family lounge is one of the best in the Premier League now. So the families are really welcomed on match days especially. From next season, we're gonna be rolling out a family program, so the wives and the partners and the kids are gonna get to know each other because really it's hard to understand even what the WAGs go through. I think some people dismiss that, but actually, you have a husband or a partner who is away for a good amount of the week, has no flexibility in their work time, can't just take a weekend off. Birthdays are missed, anniversaries are missed, Christmases are missed. And yes, a good lifestyle comes from that, but I think it can be quite lonely for them as well. So to have the support of the other families and so they know what they're going through, I think is really important. And that's something we had at Southampton, a very close, tight-knit family group at Southampton. And it's something we're looking to recreate at West Ham 'cause I think it can have a huge benefit because it really can be very isolating, especially in a bigger city like London where it's almost more anonymous. But again, we look at trying to find local communities. So if someone's from Portugal, we might say, well let's go to the Portuguese consulate and see if there's any sort of events where they can meet people from a similar background where they don't have try and think in English all the time. So there's certain little things we can do, but a lot of it's also quite organic. The niches within the group form and friendships form amongst players themselves.

Brian Friedman: Okay, we might just come back to that in a minute, but just moving on the conversation, the other issue that you have with footballers from all over the world is immigration and visas.

Hugo Scheckter: Yeah.

Brian Friedman: And I appreciate that's all sorted when they first arrive. Before they first arrive, their work permits are sorted. But what about when you're playing matches overseas, either in Europe or, I suppose even more importantly, outside Europe? Do you keep their passports? Do you handle all their visas themselves, or do they just sort of turn up and you rely on them to turn up with their own passports and visas?

Hugo Scheckter: Yeah, so I guess it's not just for visas, but logistically, all the time, we fly quite a lot, even with internally in the UK. We have a WhatsApp group which I'm the admin of, which they can't actually post in. They can just read it, and it's sort of constant reminders on that kind of thing. For example, going to China this summer, and we took all the players, and the staff, actually, to a Chinese visa center in London. We done all the paperwork. My department and I done all the applications for them. So all they had to do was show up with their passport, take the picture, do the fingerprints, and it was done. So we try and make everything as easy as possible, especially something like the visas, which, if we relied on them to do it, then half the squad would be missing in China. So it's our responsibility as a department to make sure that no player misses any game for anything other than injury or not being selected. If I had to tell the manager that three of the players couldn't go to China because we didn't sort their visas, that would be really bad. So we try and take everything out of their hands. They keep their passports because they're free to go on their weekends, not weekends, but days off. They're free to go home or go away, but there would be constant reminders probably five days before, three days before, two days before, one day before, on the morning, and then we'd have a car waiting to go and pick up a passport from a house as someone forgot it. So again, we try and take everything out of their hands because their skillset isn't often administration. It's playing football. So we gotta go play to our strengths and let them play to theirs.

Brian Friedman: Well I'm presuming that in some cases, I don't think this is applied, how much this applies in football, but I know in some industries, when you're moving people and they've gotta go one week to one location outside Europe, another week to another location, you end up with a practical problem that the passport is in with one consulate, one authority, and you need to get it back so you can put it in somewhere else. And I know some people actually make sure they have two passports for people. Do you have problems like that? Hugo Scheckter: To be honest, not really. I mean, we're not in Europe as West Ham have not qualified for Europe, either last season or this season. So we're not playing in Europe regularly. This year we have some pre-season tours which are two in Europe, and one's in China. So we've got one trip outside of the EU this whole year, so honestly, that's not a problem we've faced. With Southampton, we had a game in Israel in the Europa League, and there were some players who didn't want to have the Israelis stamping their passports, so we had to make other provisions for that. But that was a real sort of one-off. But no, we don't travel enough internationally, especially not outside the EU, that that would be an issue for us.

Brian Friedman: Okay, let's talk about language because that must be an issue. I mean, you've got players from Africa, from Europe, from other places, all speaking lots of languages. How does the manager manage his dressing room when many of these players speak different languages?

Hugo Scheckter: Yeah, I think there's a cliche that the world's language is football, and I think to some extent that is true, but obviously the nuances can get lost sometimes. We put the players on intensive English lessons when they first arrive, so most of them are doing four lessons a week at their homes. And these are with specialist tutors who we first do the football curriculum with them, so the football language, like man on, that kind of stuff, and then it will progress to more day-to-day English. The lads will then, I think just being around the other players, tend to pick it up, but also, as I said earlier, a member of my team who speaks fluent Spanish and Italian. The nationality or the language of the players tends to reflect the management team. So right now we have a Chilean manager, a Spanish-Argentinian director of football. So a lot of the players coming in are Spanish-speaking, so there's already a good core among the team of Spanish and English speakers, people who can translate. We've got the lad in my team who speaks Spanish fluently, but the emphasis on the player that they need to do these lessons. 90% of the time, they really wanna do the lessons because it's difficult for them to be in a country where they don't speak the language. They've gotta do interviews, they've gotta do media, and really, it's in the club's interest for them to speak English so they can the sort of commercial activations that we'd like them to do. Obviously, some players pick it up better than others. I always think it's quite funny when obviously we're in the East End of London and Essex and East End London, and you get foreign players picking up these East End, the sort of almost cockney phrases and stuff, and you're like, where have learned that from? And obviously they've been out and about in Hertz, some sort of phrase or some sort of term. You're like, it just feels very unnatural coming from a Portuguese-speaking Brazilian that is calling, "All right, pal. "You all right, mate?" So that's quite a little interesting point. But really, we encourage the lads to speak English. I think it would be rare for us to sign a player who speaks zero English at all. We find a lot of players said they don't speak English when they arrived, but actually, they have a base level of English and they just don't have the confidence in it. So I've had a player where he's like, "No, I need a translator every day." We've hired a translator and then three days later he's chatting away to his teammates in English. So it's kind of like he had the English. He wasn't confident with it, but then once he realizes that actually, a lot of people are in the same boat as him, speaking sort of slower, broken English, actually, he had the confidence that he could actually speak. So for us, it's obviously as an education piece. It's also a confidence piece where a lot of the players, some of the players will come to me and say, "Oh, I can't do this commercial appearance. "I don't speak English." And I'm like, "Yes you do. "I know you well enough "to know that you do speak enough English for it." But if it's something really important, we'll translate it. So in the WhatsApp groups, or on the noticeboards, we'll put it into English and Spanish. The French-speaking players tend to speak very good English. I speak basic French, so I can help translate. Even the sort of Portuguese speakers, they tend to understand Spanish enough, so by having it in English and Spanish, we cover a lot of bases. I think the difficulty will be if we signed like a Japanese player or somewhere where the language is completely different. I think we'd struggle a little bit, but that would be a challenge that we'd find a way around pretty quickly.

Brian Friedman: So talk me through, just bear with me here, we're in the dressing room at halftime, and you're two nil down. Obviously that never happened, but you're two nil down and the manager wants to give some pretty clear messages about how he wants to shake things up in the second half.

Hugo Scheckter: Yeah

Brian Friedman: Is he doing that in English or has he got translators? Hugo Scheckter: No, no, so the manager speaks fluent English. I mean, he's worked in England before.

Brian Friedman: But I was thinking more about the players, whether they're gonna understand, you can't say.

Hugo Scheckter: Obviously he speaks Spanish. One of the assistant coaches is Italian, who also speaks Spanish. We have, obviously, English speakers. So there's not a language that the coaching staff or backroom staff. So our head of medical speaks fluent French, Our team doctor speaks fluent French. I speak basic French. So between all the staff, there's not a language that we don't cover currently. However, if he's speaking one-on-one to a Spanish player, he'll speak in Spanish because there's no point him speaking English and them speaking in English, but he wouldn't do the team talk in Spanish. He would do it in English. But there might be individual instructions or one-on-one things that one of the coaches might call them and speak in their native tongue, though I have worked with managers who have spoken in their language through a translator, and it's very tough because a lot of the emotion gets taken out of it. A lot of the passion gets taken out of it, and sometimes the message is kind of lost a little bit. That is definitely not the preference at all.

Brian Friedman: Just sticking on this question of language and maybe broadening it out. I mean, it's not just language, it's also culture. There must, I'm guessing, inevitably be cliques within the squad and the cliques might be because people, I'm sure some of them are based on age and things, but also some of them are gonna be based on language and culture. What do you do to try and break down those sort of cultural, linguistic cliques that you might find, and how do you build a broader team spirit?

Hugo Scheckter: It's a good question. And I think you look at the teams who've been successful recently, a lot of them have had the great team spirit, whether that's Leicester or it's Liverpool or Man City, and I think it's hugely important. So we do basic things, like the family lounge on a match day. It's all-integrated. All the families are together, and we hire students from a local university who come in and meet and greet the families, take them round, and some of them are from different countries, speak different languages. But we have like a play area where there's like coloring tables and Disney films and stuff, and the kids just kinda run around and play with each other. And you might have a Ukrainian child with a Paraguayan child. They don't speak any of the same language, but they're having a great time 'cause they're drawing or they're playing football or they're watching a film or something. So that is sort of the basic level. On a team level, I'll work with the captain to try and do team meals. We're gonna in pre-season. We'll be away for four out of five weeks in pre-season, so that's a time when the new members of the squad will get integrated. You end up spending more time with them than you do with anyone else. So there is a feeling of team spirit. I think there's always gonna be cultural cliques, but the reality is is that a football dressing room is one of the most diverse places in the world. You don't really get that mix of nationalities in most friend groups, so it is quite diverse, but I think people always gravitate to those who are similar to them. But the reality is it's not a divisive clique. It's more just like people feel comfortable talking with people who are similar themselves. So for us, it's not an issue that there's a Spanish group and a French group and an English group. Everyone is friendly with everyone else, and when we get onto the pitch, it doesn't matter if you're French, English, whatever. You are gonna be playing as a team to get those three points. So right now, it's quite basic level, but certainly it's gonna be a focus for this next season to try and build that team spirit on a more regular basis.

Brian Friedman: Who would you say, or what would you say are the different challenges, and who are the harder ones to integrate when you got a new move? Is it the very young, maybe somewhat naive or not worldly-wise player coming to the UK for the first time, or is it the very experienced person coming, maybe with a wife and two kids and high expectations, and maybe previously they've been, whatever, captain of some other club and they come to the UK? I mean, I appreciate the challenges are very different at the two ends of the age and experience spectrum, but which would you find the more difficult to integrate into the club and into the team?

Hugo Scheckter: I don't think that that has as much of a background as it does on the individual personality. So one of our oldest players is the most organized, self-sufficient, low-maintenance player I've ever met, and then we've got young players who are also very self-sufficient, very cultured, very interested. So I think when you're talking about which are the difficult players, I think it's not down to age or experience. It's more down to the personality. And I think you can normally tell from within about 10 minutes of meeting someone is this gonna be somebody who's gonna be really easy? Is this someone that's gonna sort of push me? But the reality is it doesn't matter either way. We have a well staffed team who is used to coping with players. Some of our players are, I guess, notoriously in the media quite difficult, and actually, you treat them as a human being, you treat them as an equal, 'cause we're in a weird position in player care where you're subservient to them in the fact that you help them. You do what they tell you in terms of housing, cars, bank accounts, and that, but also, in my role, I'm a Head of Department at the club. I've gotta tell them to do things they don't wanna do, such as commercial appearances or media interviews or go and do this or you gotta wear this. And they're like, "No, I don't wanna wear it." And I've gotta have a conversation with them that actually, you've got to do this. So I'm in a position, quite an odd position, where it's going from subservient to sort of management of these guys. And so having a good relationship with them is important, but I don't think it matters so much on the age. It's more about the individual. Are they gonna be difficult? Do they wanna be difficult? And sometimes they start difficult and become easier, and sometimes it'll start easy and become more difficult. It's really not a one-size-fits-all answer on that question.

Brian Friedman: Okay, I said in my introduction that you're on call 24 hours a day.

Hugo Scheckter: Yeah.

Brian Friedman: Can you just explain a little bit more about what that means, what's it like being on call 24 hours a day, and what sort of surprises you might get during a typical day or week?

Hugo Scheckter: Yeah, so it's not that I'm on call to find a car at three in the morning. For me, there's an emergency cover aspect. So I think it's important for the guys to know that 24 hours a day, we will help them, but I don't expect a call after sort of seven o'clock or before 7 a.m. So after 7 p.m. or before 7 a.m. that's like something mundane can wait. And if that does happen, and it's happened before where I've had a call saying, "Hey, "can you get my car moved in three days?" And they're calling me at 4 a.m. and I make it very clear it's not acceptable. But we've had players being robbed. We've had family members collapse and have to go hospital. We've had car crashes. We've had all these sorts of things. That's the stuff that I would say is totally valid to be woken up at three in the morning. We had a player who was robbed, not at West Ham but at a different club. We were at away game. We were playing, I think, Monday night live on Sky. Obviously they knew who he was. They saw that he was playing away up north, so they knew he wouldn't be home. They robbed his home, and at one in the morning, we got home, and he realized he'd been robbed. He called me. I went straight out there. I'd literally just got home myself. Went straight back out there, put him straight into a hotel, or called the police, put him straight into a hotel, and he went to training as normal the next day. I was there 'til five, six in the morning dealing with the police, then did the evidence, getting the windows boarded up, et cetera, et cetera. But the reality was we had him play Monday. We played again, I think, Saturday. He needed to be focused and ready to train, so we were dealing with that. And that's something that's really important, again, if a player is out dealing with something like that all night and then can't train or is not able to train properly. That's a huge amount of money that we are losing as a club. If you say, for example, someone's paid 70 grand a week, and they can't train for a day, that could be 10 grand worth of our money that we are losing if they're not able to train for a reason relating to us. So that would be an example of something that I would consider an emergency and I would go and deal with, but that isn't to say that someone's hungry at two in the morning, that I will go and make them a sandwich. That's not the reality of it.

Brian Friedman: And how do you manage players who are injured? I appreciate that quite often you can have a player who might be out for six weeks, two months, or longer with an injury, and obviously that must be incredibly frustrating for them and those around them. How do you manage them and look after them, both their physical and equally their mental wellbeing during that period when they must be getting increasingly frustrated and probably despondent?

Hugo Scheckter: Yeah, I mean, we've had players injured up to nine, 10 months, and that can be really, really tough. I think the initial conversations with the medical team is to see are there any sort of physical adjustments they need to make to the property? For example, if someone lives on a two or three-storey house, and the bedroom's on top floor and they're on crutches, we might actually get movers to come move a bedroom into the ground floor, into the living room, and put the bed and cupboards and all that stuff down there so they're not going up three flights of stairs every day. So that would be a sort of first step. Again, depending on the injury, sometimes they'll go away. So if they're gonna have surgery, they might go for a sort of mental break with the family for a week and then have surgery, or have surgery and then go away just because there's nothing they can do while they're waiting for some healing time. But reality is is just keeping in touch with them. The injured players are brought in at the same time as the non-injured players so they are with their teammates. The training ground is designed in a way that they are in the center of the training ground. I think it's quite old fashioned that they'd be sort of isolated away down the bottom of the hill or in a different site or something like that. That's not the case anymore. They're in the team, they're part of the team, and they have their meals together. They're part of everything. So for us, it's important to keep them integrated, keep them relevant. We try and get them do commercial activities, again, to try and make them be able to stay as part of the team. But it's about conversations. And we've got some players who get injured quite a lot and so they're kinda more used to it, I guess. And then you've got players who've never been injured in their life and now they're out for 10, 11 months. They've never not played football, for that matter, a time since they were probably four years old. So then we need to talk to them. We've got psychologists on staff and all of that. But really, all the players are so different that it's just about keeping in touch with them, making sure that they are okay, but also seeing practically what we can do to help as well.

Brian Friedman: So let's just talk now about young players, and I'm thinking here of players who are essentially children, i.e., under the age of 18. And different laws apply, obviously, when we're talking about children as opposed to adults. How are you impacted by duty of care laws? I suppose duty of care could apply to adults, but I was thinking about, especially, laws that apply to children? That might even be child trafficking laws or just health and safety laws, and monitoring the fact that you've got players who may even be playing for the first team, but who are maybe 16 years old.

Hugo Scheckter: No, it's a difficult one, really. It's something that's really important. The child welfare is paramount, especially when you see some of the scandals that have come up recently. There's some really horrific events. We have an academy team who deal with that. So we have education, full-time education. We have full-time psychology. We have full-time safeguarding teams in the academy who will look after young players. And they are treated as sort of young adults. So they've got their football they've gotta do, but they've also gotta do education to make sure that if football just doesn't work out for them, then they are going to have a future as well. The difficulty can be when they come into the first team where we have a history, especially at West Ham, with our great academy, that we have a lot of players who do come into the first team at a very young age. So it's about speaking to the safeguarding officer, making sure we have the policies because you've potentially got a 16-year old boy, effectively, in the same changing room as a 35-year old man. So looking at things like that and making sure that whatever we do is appropriate, that they are well looked after. We had a young goalkeeper come on pre-season with us. He was 16 years old. I just made sure that the captain can keep an eye on him. Maybe some of the activities that we were doing wouldn't be appropriate for him. So it's just about trying to adjust, but also, you don't wanna make them feel too excluded where they're not getting involved in other things because they're too young, and that almost makes them feel more separated, which is not what you wanna do in a team environment. So the key priority is the safety first, and then second of all, to try and make them feel a part of the team and be able play the same as any other player, if needed to.

Brian Friedman: Okay, we're pretty much out of time, Hugo, but I've got one last question I wanted to leave with you. Footballers are very, very high profile, as we know. They're gonna be recognized. If the newspapers can run a story on them, they will.

Hugo Scheckter: Yeah.

Brian Friedman: What do you do to keep them out of the press? And by press, I'm talking both about the mainstream press but also inappropriate comments on Twitter or Instagram, and also, to keep them out of the hands who may be seeking to prey on them, some for a financial or personal gain.

Hugo Scheckter: Yeah, it's a tricky one. I mean, we have a couple of players in our team who are very high profile and a number of them who are not, and not high profile in the sense of they would not be recognized on the street by a non-West Ham fan. There are different players with international profiles, and those are the ones that are kind of more difficult to keep out the public eye because if they sneeze, there's a newspaper article in their home country. So for us, it's not about stopping that. It's about managing it. So we have a really good media team at West Ham, and they will be on top of everything. Every story that's coming out, they'll know about it. They'll let the player know. They'll try and manage that. But the reality is is that they're well educated now, whether it's through our own education program or through what they've experienced before on what to say and what not to say. And it's rarely issues we have with them. Like, social media's almost, I wanna say it's died now because players are so used to getting. I think the olden days, five, 10 years ago on Twitter, people would post what they were thinking, and now it's all very sort of stale where it's like, oh, looking forward to the game. And then we win, oh, great, great three points. If we lose, oh, not great, but we'll go again. And it's very stale right now because they're almost too scared of saying something interesting that will get picked up. So we don't a huge amount of issues with our players, but I think that the culture we breed is if you've made a mistake, or you think something might be a problem, let us know, and we'll try and deal with it. But when they try and hide it and they don't tell us, and then it comes out and we didn't know about it, then it's hard for us to deal with it. So we operate, in my department, zero judgment. If you tell me you've done anything, we will try and get you the best help we can, whether it's you've clipped a wing mirror and driven off, that's obviously not great, but we'll try and deal with that. Or it's something more serious. Again, we'll try and have a strategy in place where we can minimize the impact, not only on the club, but also on the families as well. There's a lot of times with social media these days, you can't control things, and we find out through social media about things before we do from the players. So we just try and avoid that as much as possible.

Brian Friedman: Okay, well I'm afraid we are out of time. Hugo, it's been fascinating chatting to you. I've worked in mobility for many, many years, and historically, the focus has been on large programs of either a VIP, might be a senior director of a company and then lots of middle managers. I don't think outside football there are many that deal with quite such an unusual and probably demanding population as you do. And I'm full of admiration for everything that you do, and I wish you all the best for next season and beyond with West Ham. So many, many thanks for being on The View from the Top, Hugo.

Hugo Scheckter: Yeah, I appreciate that. Thank you for having me on. Brian Friedman: Okay, and thank you to all our listeners. We hope you've enjoyed The View from the Top. We'll be back again next week, many thanks.

Episode Host

Brian Friedman Headshot

Brian Friedman

Strategy Director, Benivo

Special Guest

Hugo Scheckter Headshot

Hugo Scheckter

Head of Player Care at West Ham United

Episode Details

October 4, 2019

36 minutes

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Transcript

Full Transcript

Brian Friedman: Hello, and welcome to The View from the Top, a podcast series brought to you by Benivo. My name is Brian Friedman. I'm the strategy director of Benivo, the world's leading welcome-as-a-service mobility tech company. I'm delighted to say that today's guest on The View from the Top is Hugo Scheckter. Hugo is the Head of Player Care at West Ham Football Club. Now Hugo isn't your average global mobility professional, and certainly his expats are not your usual assignees. Some of our listeners handle hundreds or even thousands of moves each year, but Hugo only handles about 19 or so moves. But what moves they are. Hugo's expats come from all over the world. They're typically very, very young. They may not speak much English. They're paid salaries beyond the wildest dreams of most of us. His expats are under intense media scrutiny and intense pressure. They literally have to hit the ground running from the day they start. Some people would say that Hugo has the job from heaven, others, the job from hell. It all depends on your point of view. Hugo is on call 24 hours a day. He has to work every weekend. He rarely gets a holiday during the football season, and that season pretty much lasts 11 months a year these days. But on the other hand, Hugo gets to work in one of the most exciting sports and football leagues in the world. Hugo has worked in football, or soccer management, both in the US and in the UK, and he has worked with players from countless different countries, and indeed, many different cultures. So Hugo, welcome to The View from the Top. We're looking forward to hearing your views, and congratulations on your impressive achievements to date.

Hugo Scheckter: Thank you for having me. I'm really pleased to be here.

Brian Friedman: Oh, that's great, Hugo. Let's dive straight in. I'm a massive football fan, so this is a very, very special podcast for me. Let's talk about footballers. Your footballers, they're different to normal assignees. The people you deal with, as I said in the introduction, are young. Often they may not be very worldly-wise. They always have huge talent, but sometimes, they might have pretty big egos too. They come from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds. They're incredibly highly paid and hugely under the public spotlight. How do you even begin to look after them when they first arrive? Hugo Scheckter: I think, for me, the key is to put all of that aside and just treat them as a normal person because they have so many people sort of fawning over them and looking after them and sort of looking to see everything they're doing and treat them almost like they're on higher level. And so for me, it's really important to treat them as equals, as people, because I think people forget that footballers are people, and I think that's forgotten sometimes. And I think to treat them without sort of a sense of awe, I think is really important. But looking at the way we do things, you're right in the fact that the amount they can spend on a relocation is much, much higher. There really is no budget most of the time. It's just get it the best, get it the quickest. But also, I've gotta be sort of, I slightly worry that what we're doing, if we're moving someone that has not been announced yet, by booking a room in that person's name, that could maybe tip off a fan who works in the back office or something like that. So there's a lot of different things that we've gotta be aware of, but in terms of things like ego and all that, at the end of the day, we're there to help the players. So if they've some worries and don't wanna work with us, that's their prerogative, but I find that 99% of them are very, very easy to work with, very down to earth. Yes, the language is a concern, but in my department we have someone who's trilingual. So we try and cover all the bases, but for me, I think it's important to treat them as if they were any other person that we were working with.

Brian Friedman: And talk us through a little bit of the boring, the day-to-day logistics of it. So what do you do? Do you meet them at the airport? Are you showing them round houses and schools, if need be? Or, I suppose, not so much schools. But talk me through actually how it works on a day-to-day--

Hugo Scheckter: So yeah.

Brian Friedman: When they first arrive.

Hugo Scheckter: So we'll normally get between probably about 48 hours and about three hours' notice that someone's arriving. So currently we're in the transfer window, so myself and my team, one of us is on call, at least at the moment, and then on 24th of June, then all of three of us will be back in the office on call. But yeah, so we would get a couple of hours' notice, but the reality is that when they arrive in the country the first time, the contract's not signed, the medical's not done, so that's the priority. So we see him to the medical, be it a private hospital, either in central London or in Essex. They do their medicals, which can take between probably two and six hours, depending on what their history is and that kinda stuff. Then you're waiting for results. They'll go to the stadiums to do the contract negotiations, or normally, it's pretty much done at that point. So it'll just be signing the paperwork, maybe a couple of tweaks, depending on what's happening there, and we'll also kinda sit and wait. The media team, the internal media team, might do either some photos or some videos while they're waiting, and if the transfer doesn't go through, then they'll just sort of bin those, I guess. But the reality is is until everything is signed, we won't do any actual sort of relocation bits. We'll have sort of potential houses that we might show them, and it's almost part of the sales pitches that you're coming to us in West Ham, we're lucky to be in London, which is obviously a great city. So that's a selling point where hey, you can go and live here, you can live here. The shopping's here, it's great. The schools are great. So part of it is selling, but we wouldn't actually go and look at anything or sign anything or get anything sorted until the contract is signed. But once that happens, we can move very quickly. I mean, for instance, small detail, such as we have a stock of mobile phones and SIM cards in my office, which I can activate in 20 minutes. So within 20 minutes of the player signing, he has an English phone, an English number, and we've sorted an agreement with a company to allow us to do that. So it's little things like that where speed is the essence. It might not be the cheapest thing. It'd be cheaper to pop down to the high street and maybe get a phone from there, but the reality is is that when you're talking about a phone bill of 100 pounds a month, it's irrelevant cost. So the speed is of the essence there, really.

Brian Friedman: And do you tend to put them into, when they first arrive, hotels or serviced accommodation? I'm presuming there's a period before they actually find the property they want to move to.

Hugo Scheckter: Yeah, so we're looking at changing that. The standard has been a hotel, but it's quite tough for players with families if they've got the wife and two kids in a single or even sort of a connecting room. That can be quite tough. So there's a new apartment building, a serviced apartment building, that we're in negotiations with right now. That hasn't been agreed yet, so right now it will be in the hotel, but we'll probably put them in the hotel between two weeks and a month, depending on how long it takes to find something. But the players have, there's a certain level of hotel that the club will pay for, but we also have sort of a five-star plus hotel that's on standby if a player wants to upgrade themselves, which is obviously thousands of pounds a night. A couple of them will take advantage of that because it'll be a sort of two, three bedroom, five-star penthouse that, again, the salary is such that that's not an issue for them, or it's not a huge issue for them. So it just depends on the player. We have some young single players who are not interested in spending that money, or we have players with sort of three, four kids who actually need the space, so it actually makes a lot of sense. We kind of guide them with what we recommend, and then it's up to them to take their recommendations or not.

Brian Friedman: Okay, and presumably a lot of what you do is helping to get, to put it bluntly, getting inside the player's mind to make sure you've got their mental wellbeing sorted. And what I'm thinking is that you must get players, especially young players, who might become quite lonely or homesick, and I'm guessing that a lonely or homesick player, that's likely to translate to not-so-good performance on the pitch, and that could be a bit of a negative spiral. So what do you do to manage family support and to encourage a good, stable, and sensible social life, especially for the very young players? I'm guessing some of these players are sort of early 20s at best.

Hugo Scheckter: Yeah, so we always encourage the family to come and stay, if only for the first couple of weeks, if not more full time. I'm not sure that, I mean, off the top of my head, I don't think any of our players live fully alone. A lot of them will live either with a partner or a brother or sister or a friend or something. But you're correct, football is a very lonely business. I mean, I think a lot of our guys struggle. Whether they're from locally or from abroad is this idea where they're getting, why does someone wanna be my friend? And not in the sense that they're not a good personality, but a lot of times, people pop up from the past who are looking to get, you can get asked to get shirts or boots or tickets or money or whatever it is. And so obviously these guys are quite recognizable, so if there are people who sort of pop into their lives after they've signed, we've gotta be quite wary of them. If it's a lifelong friend, then it's kinda different. Obviously they've been there for the whole journey. But a lot of these guys are lonely because people are friendly to them because they want something, and that can be quite an exhausting and quite mentally tough to be in a position where you're having to sort of second guess every one of your friends or anyone who's nice to you. It's a why are they being nice to me sort of a thing. So we've made a big effort in the last year and a half since I've arrived to include the families more. So we've created a new family lounge at the stadium, which was a significant investment, but I think our family lounge is one of the best in the Premier League now. So the families are really welcomed on match days especially. From next season, we're gonna be rolling out a family program, so the wives and the partners and the kids are gonna get to know each other because really it's hard to understand even what the WAGs go through. I think some people dismiss that, but actually, you have a husband or a partner who is away for a good amount of the week, has no flexibility in their work time, can't just take a weekend off. Birthdays are missed, anniversaries are missed, Christmases are missed. And yes, a good lifestyle comes from that, but I think it can be quite lonely for them as well. So to have the support of the other families and so they know what they're going through, I think is really important. And that's something we had at Southampton, a very close, tight-knit family group at Southampton. And it's something we're looking to recreate at West Ham 'cause I think it can have a huge benefit because it really can be very isolating, especially in a bigger city like London where it's almost more anonymous. But again, we look at trying to find local communities. So if someone's from Portugal, we might say, well let's go to the Portuguese consulate and see if there's any sort of events where they can meet people from a similar background where they don't have try and think in English all the time. So there's certain little things we can do, but a lot of it's also quite organic. The niches within the group form and friendships form amongst players themselves.

Brian Friedman: Okay, we might just come back to that in a minute, but just moving on the conversation, the other issue that you have with footballers from all over the world is immigration and visas.

Hugo Scheckter: Yeah.

Brian Friedman: And I appreciate that's all sorted when they first arrive. Before they first arrive, their work permits are sorted. But what about when you're playing matches overseas, either in Europe or, I suppose even more importantly, outside Europe? Do you keep their passports? Do you handle all their visas themselves, or do they just sort of turn up and you rely on them to turn up with their own passports and visas?

Hugo Scheckter: Yeah, so I guess it's not just for visas, but logistically, all the time, we fly quite a lot, even with internally in the UK. We have a WhatsApp group which I'm the admin of, which they can't actually post in. They can just read it, and it's sort of constant reminders on that kind of thing. For example, going to China this summer, and we took all the players, and the staff, actually, to a Chinese visa center in London. We done all the paperwork. My department and I done all the applications for them. So all they had to do was show up with their passport, take the picture, do the fingerprints, and it was done. So we try and make everything as easy as possible, especially something like the visas, which, if we relied on them to do it, then half the squad would be missing in China. So it's our responsibility as a department to make sure that no player misses any game for anything other than injury or not being selected. If I had to tell the manager that three of the players couldn't go to China because we didn't sort their visas, that would be really bad. So we try and take everything out of their hands. They keep their passports because they're free to go on their weekends, not weekends, but days off. They're free to go home or go away, but there would be constant reminders probably five days before, three days before, two days before, one day before, on the morning, and then we'd have a car waiting to go and pick up a passport from a house as someone forgot it. So again, we try and take everything out of their hands because their skillset isn't often administration. It's playing football. So we gotta go play to our strengths and let them play to theirs.

Brian Friedman: Well I'm presuming that in some cases, I don't think this is applied, how much this applies in football, but I know in some industries, when you're moving people and they've gotta go one week to one location outside Europe, another week to another location, you end up with a practical problem that the passport is in with one consulate, one authority, and you need to get it back so you can put it in somewhere else. And I know some people actually make sure they have two passports for people. Do you have problems like that? Hugo Scheckter: To be honest, not really. I mean, we're not in Europe as West Ham have not qualified for Europe, either last season or this season. So we're not playing in Europe regularly. This year we have some pre-season tours which are two in Europe, and one's in China. So we've got one trip outside of the EU this whole year, so honestly, that's not a problem we've faced. With Southampton, we had a game in Israel in the Europa League, and there were some players who didn't want to have the Israelis stamping their passports, so we had to make other provisions for that. But that was a real sort of one-off. But no, we don't travel enough internationally, especially not outside the EU, that that would be an issue for us.

Brian Friedman: Okay, let's talk about language because that must be an issue. I mean, you've got players from Africa, from Europe, from other places, all speaking lots of languages. How does the manager manage his dressing room when many of these players speak different languages?

Hugo Scheckter: Yeah, I think there's a cliche that the world's language is football, and I think to some extent that is true, but obviously the nuances can get lost sometimes. We put the players on intensive English lessons when they first arrive, so most of them are doing four lessons a week at their homes. And these are with specialist tutors who we first do the football curriculum with them, so the football language, like man on, that kind of stuff, and then it will progress to more day-to-day English. The lads will then, I think just being around the other players, tend to pick it up, but also, as I said earlier, a member of my team who speaks fluent Spanish and Italian. The nationality or the language of the players tends to reflect the management team. So right now we have a Chilean manager, a Spanish-Argentinian director of football. So a lot of the players coming in are Spanish-speaking, so there's already a good core among the team of Spanish and English speakers, people who can translate. We've got the lad in my team who speaks Spanish fluently, but the emphasis on the player that they need to do these lessons. 90% of the time, they really wanna do the lessons because it's difficult for them to be in a country where they don't speak the language. They've gotta do interviews, they've gotta do media, and really, it's in the club's interest for them to speak English so they can the sort of commercial activations that we'd like them to do. Obviously, some players pick it up better than others. I always think it's quite funny when obviously we're in the East End of London and Essex and East End London, and you get foreign players picking up these East End, the sort of almost cockney phrases and stuff, and you're like, where have learned that from? And obviously they've been out and about in Hertz, some sort of phrase or some sort of term. You're like, it just feels very unnatural coming from a Portuguese-speaking Brazilian that is calling, "All right, pal. "You all right, mate?" So that's quite a little interesting point. But really, we encourage the lads to speak English. I think it would be rare for us to sign a player who speaks zero English at all. We find a lot of players said they don't speak English when they arrived, but actually, they have a base level of English and they just don't have the confidence in it. So I've had a player where he's like, "No, I need a translator every day." We've hired a translator and then three days later he's chatting away to his teammates in English. So it's kind of like he had the English. He wasn't confident with it, but then once he realizes that actually, a lot of people are in the same boat as him, speaking sort of slower, broken English, actually, he had the confidence that he could actually speak. So for us, it's obviously as an education piece. It's also a confidence piece where a lot of the players, some of the players will come to me and say, "Oh, I can't do this commercial appearance. "I don't speak English." And I'm like, "Yes you do. "I know you well enough "to know that you do speak enough English for it." But if it's something really important, we'll translate it. So in the WhatsApp groups, or on the noticeboards, we'll put it into English and Spanish. The French-speaking players tend to speak very good English. I speak basic French, so I can help translate. Even the sort of Portuguese speakers, they tend to understand Spanish enough, so by having it in English and Spanish, we cover a lot of bases. I think the difficulty will be if we signed like a Japanese player or somewhere where the language is completely different. I think we'd struggle a little bit, but that would be a challenge that we'd find a way around pretty quickly.

Brian Friedman: So talk me through, just bear with me here, we're in the dressing room at halftime, and you're two nil down. Obviously that never happened, but you're two nil down and the manager wants to give some pretty clear messages about how he wants to shake things up in the second half.

Hugo Scheckter: Yeah

Brian Friedman: Is he doing that in English or has he got translators? Hugo Scheckter: No, no, so the manager speaks fluent English. I mean, he's worked in England before.

Brian Friedman: But I was thinking more about the players, whether they're gonna understand, you can't say.

Hugo Scheckter: Obviously he speaks Spanish. One of the assistant coaches is Italian, who also speaks Spanish. We have, obviously, English speakers. So there's not a language that the coaching staff or backroom staff. So our head of medical speaks fluent French, Our team doctor speaks fluent French. I speak basic French. So between all the staff, there's not a language that we don't cover currently. However, if he's speaking one-on-one to a Spanish player, he'll speak in Spanish because there's no point him speaking English and them speaking in English, but he wouldn't do the team talk in Spanish. He would do it in English. But there might be individual instructions or one-on-one things that one of the coaches might call them and speak in their native tongue, though I have worked with managers who have spoken in their language through a translator, and it's very tough because a lot of the emotion gets taken out of it. A lot of the passion gets taken out of it, and sometimes the message is kind of lost a little bit. That is definitely not the preference at all.

Brian Friedman: Just sticking on this question of language and maybe broadening it out. I mean, it's not just language, it's also culture. There must, I'm guessing, inevitably be cliques within the squad and the cliques might be because people, I'm sure some of them are based on age and things, but also some of them are gonna be based on language and culture. What do you do to try and break down those sort of cultural, linguistic cliques that you might find, and how do you build a broader team spirit?

Hugo Scheckter: It's a good question. And I think you look at the teams who've been successful recently, a lot of them have had the great team spirit, whether that's Leicester or it's Liverpool or Man City, and I think it's hugely important. So we do basic things, like the family lounge on a match day. It's all-integrated. All the families are together, and we hire students from a local university who come in and meet and greet the families, take them round, and some of them are from different countries, speak different languages. But we have like a play area where there's like coloring tables and Disney films and stuff, and the kids just kinda run around and play with each other. And you might have a Ukrainian child with a Paraguayan child. They don't speak any of the same language, but they're having a great time 'cause they're drawing or they're playing football or they're watching a film or something. So that is sort of the basic level. On a team level, I'll work with the captain to try and do team meals. We're gonna in pre-season. We'll be away for four out of five weeks in pre-season, so that's a time when the new members of the squad will get integrated. You end up spending more time with them than you do with anyone else. So there is a feeling of team spirit. I think there's always gonna be cultural cliques, but the reality is is that a football dressing room is one of the most diverse places in the world. You don't really get that mix of nationalities in most friend groups, so it is quite diverse, but I think people always gravitate to those who are similar to them. But the reality is it's not a divisive clique. It's more just like people feel comfortable talking with people who are similar themselves. So for us, it's not an issue that there's a Spanish group and a French group and an English group. Everyone is friendly with everyone else, and when we get onto the pitch, it doesn't matter if you're French, English, whatever. You are gonna be playing as a team to get those three points. So right now, it's quite basic level, but certainly it's gonna be a focus for this next season to try and build that team spirit on a more regular basis.

Brian Friedman: Who would you say, or what would you say are the different challenges, and who are the harder ones to integrate when you got a new move? Is it the very young, maybe somewhat naive or not worldly-wise player coming to the UK for the first time, or is it the very experienced person coming, maybe with a wife and two kids and high expectations, and maybe previously they've been, whatever, captain of some other club and they come to the UK? I mean, I appreciate the challenges are very different at the two ends of the age and experience spectrum, but which would you find the more difficult to integrate into the club and into the team?

Hugo Scheckter: I don't think that that has as much of a background as it does on the individual personality. So one of our oldest players is the most organized, self-sufficient, low-maintenance player I've ever met, and then we've got young players who are also very self-sufficient, very cultured, very interested. So I think when you're talking about which are the difficult players, I think it's not down to age or experience. It's more down to the personality. And I think you can normally tell from within about 10 minutes of meeting someone is this gonna be somebody who's gonna be really easy? Is this someone that's gonna sort of push me? But the reality is it doesn't matter either way. We have a well staffed team who is used to coping with players. Some of our players are, I guess, notoriously in the media quite difficult, and actually, you treat them as a human being, you treat them as an equal, 'cause we're in a weird position in player care where you're subservient to them in the fact that you help them. You do what they tell you in terms of housing, cars, bank accounts, and that, but also, in my role, I'm a Head of Department at the club. I've gotta tell them to do things they don't wanna do, such as commercial appearances or media interviews or go and do this or you gotta wear this. And they're like, "No, I don't wanna wear it." And I've gotta have a conversation with them that actually, you've got to do this. So I'm in a position, quite an odd position, where it's going from subservient to sort of management of these guys. And so having a good relationship with them is important, but I don't think it matters so much on the age. It's more about the individual. Are they gonna be difficult? Do they wanna be difficult? And sometimes they start difficult and become easier, and sometimes it'll start easy and become more difficult. It's really not a one-size-fits-all answer on that question.

Brian Friedman: Okay, I said in my introduction that you're on call 24 hours a day.

Hugo Scheckter: Yeah.

Brian Friedman: Can you just explain a little bit more about what that means, what's it like being on call 24 hours a day, and what sort of surprises you might get during a typical day or week?

Hugo Scheckter: Yeah, so it's not that I'm on call to find a car at three in the morning. For me, there's an emergency cover aspect. So I think it's important for the guys to know that 24 hours a day, we will help them, but I don't expect a call after sort of seven o'clock or before 7 a.m. So after 7 p.m. or before 7 a.m. that's like something mundane can wait. And if that does happen, and it's happened before where I've had a call saying, "Hey, "can you get my car moved in three days?" And they're calling me at 4 a.m. and I make it very clear it's not acceptable. But we've had players being robbed. We've had family members collapse and have to go hospital. We've had car crashes. We've had all these sorts of things. That's the stuff that I would say is totally valid to be woken up at three in the morning. We had a player who was robbed, not at West Ham but at a different club. We were at away game. We were playing, I think, Monday night live on Sky. Obviously they knew who he was. They saw that he was playing away up north, so they knew he wouldn't be home. They robbed his home, and at one in the morning, we got home, and he realized he'd been robbed. He called me. I went straight out there. I'd literally just got home myself. Went straight back out there, put him straight into a hotel, or called the police, put him straight into a hotel, and he went to training as normal the next day. I was there 'til five, six in the morning dealing with the police, then did the evidence, getting the windows boarded up, et cetera, et cetera. But the reality was we had him play Monday. We played again, I think, Saturday. He needed to be focused and ready to train, so we were dealing with that. And that's something that's really important, again, if a player is out dealing with something like that all night and then can't train or is not able to train properly. That's a huge amount of money that we are losing as a club. If you say, for example, someone's paid 70 grand a week, and they can't train for a day, that could be 10 grand worth of our money that we are losing if they're not able to train for a reason relating to us. So that would be an example of something that I would consider an emergency and I would go and deal with, but that isn't to say that someone's hungry at two in the morning, that I will go and make them a sandwich. That's not the reality of it.

Brian Friedman: And how do you manage players who are injured? I appreciate that quite often you can have a player who might be out for six weeks, two months, or longer with an injury, and obviously that must be incredibly frustrating for them and those around them. How do you manage them and look after them, both their physical and equally their mental wellbeing during that period when they must be getting increasingly frustrated and probably despondent?

Hugo Scheckter: Yeah, I mean, we've had players injured up to nine, 10 months, and that can be really, really tough. I think the initial conversations with the medical team is to see are there any sort of physical adjustments they need to make to the property? For example, if someone lives on a two or three-storey house, and the bedroom's on top floor and they're on crutches, we might actually get movers to come move a bedroom into the ground floor, into the living room, and put the bed and cupboards and all that stuff down there so they're not going up three flights of stairs every day. So that would be a sort of first step. Again, depending on the injury, sometimes they'll go away. So if they're gonna have surgery, they might go for a sort of mental break with the family for a week and then have surgery, or have surgery and then go away just because there's nothing they can do while they're waiting for some healing time. But reality is is just keeping in touch with them. The injured players are brought in at the same time as the non-injured players so they are with their teammates. The training ground is designed in a way that they are in the center of the training ground. I think it's quite old fashioned that they'd be sort of isolated away down the bottom of the hill or in a different site or something like that. That's not the case anymore. They're in the team, they're part of the team, and they have their meals together. They're part of everything. So for us, it's important to keep them integrated, keep them relevant. We try and get them do commercial activities, again, to try and make them be able to stay as part of the team. But it's about conversations. And we've got some players who get injured quite a lot and so they're kinda more used to it, I guess. And then you've got players who've never been injured in their life and now they're out for 10, 11 months. They've never not played football, for that matter, a time since they were probably four years old. So then we need to talk to them. We've got psychologists on staff and all of that. But really, all the players are so different that it's just about keeping in touch with them, making sure that they are okay, but also seeing practically what we can do to help as well.

Brian Friedman: So let's just talk now about young players, and I'm thinking here of players who are essentially children, i.e., under the age of 18. And different laws apply, obviously, when we're talking about children as opposed to adults. How are you impacted by duty of care laws? I suppose duty of care could apply to adults, but I was thinking about, especially, laws that apply to children? That might even be child trafficking laws or just health and safety laws, and monitoring the fact that you've got players who may even be playing for the first team, but who are maybe 16 years old.

Hugo Scheckter: No, it's a difficult one, really. It's something that's really important. The child welfare is paramount, especially when you see some of the scandals that have come up recently. There's some really horrific events. We have an academy team who deal with that. So we have education, full-time education. We have full-time psychology. We have full-time safeguarding teams in the academy who will look after young players. And they are treated as sort of young adults. So they've got their football they've gotta do, but they've also gotta do education to make sure that if football just doesn't work out for them, then they are going to have a future as well. The difficulty can be when they come into the first team where we have a history, especially at West Ham, with our great academy, that we have a lot of players who do come into the first team at a very young age. So it's about speaking to the safeguarding officer, making sure we have the policies because you've potentially got a 16-year old boy, effectively, in the same changing room as a 35-year old man. So looking at things like that and making sure that whatever we do is appropriate, that they are well looked after. We had a young goalkeeper come on pre-season with us. He was 16 years old. I just made sure that the captain can keep an eye on him. Maybe some of the activities that we were doing wouldn't be appropriate for him. So it's just about trying to adjust, but also, you don't wanna make them feel too excluded where they're not getting involved in other things because they're too young, and that almost makes them feel more separated, which is not what you wanna do in a team environment. So the key priority is the safety first, and then second of all, to try and make them feel a part of the team and be able play the same as any other player, if needed to.

Brian Friedman: Okay, we're pretty much out of time, Hugo, but I've got one last question I wanted to leave with you. Footballers are very, very high profile, as we know. They're gonna be recognized. If the newspapers can run a story on them, they will.

Hugo Scheckter: Yeah.

Brian Friedman: What do you do to keep them out of the press? And by press, I'm talking both about the mainstream press but also inappropriate comments on Twitter or Instagram, and also, to keep them out of the hands who may be seeking to prey on them, some for a financial or personal gain.

Hugo Scheckter: Yeah, it's a tricky one. I mean, we have a couple of players in our team who are very high profile and a number of them who are not, and not high profile in the sense of they would not be recognized on the street by a non-West Ham fan. There are different players with international profiles, and those are the ones that are kind of more difficult to keep out the public eye because if they sneeze, there's a newspaper article in their home country. So for us, it's not about stopping that. It's about managing it. So we have a really good media team at West Ham, and they will be on top of everything. Every story that's coming out, they'll know about it. They'll let the player know. They'll try and manage that. But the reality is is that they're well educated now, whether it's through our own education program or through what they've experienced before on what to say and what not to say. And it's rarely issues we have with them. Like, social media's almost, I wanna say it's died now because players are so used to getting. I think the olden days, five, 10 years ago on Twitter, people would post what they were thinking, and now it's all very sort of stale where it's like, oh, looking forward to the game. And then we win, oh, great, great three points. If we lose, oh, not great, but we'll go again. And it's very stale right now because they're almost too scared of saying something interesting that will get picked up. So we don't a huge amount of issues with our players, but I think that the culture we breed is if you've made a mistake, or you think something might be a problem, let us know, and we'll try and deal with it. But when they try and hide it and they don't tell us, and then it comes out and we didn't know about it, then it's hard for us to deal with it. So we operate, in my department, zero judgment. If you tell me you've done anything, we will try and get you the best help we can, whether it's you've clipped a wing mirror and driven off, that's obviously not great, but we'll try and deal with that. Or it's something more serious. Again, we'll try and have a strategy in place where we can minimize the impact, not only on the club, but also on the families as well. There's a lot of times with social media these days, you can't control things, and we find out through social media about things before we do from the players. So we just try and avoid that as much as possible.

Brian Friedman: Okay, well I'm afraid we are out of time. Hugo, it's been fascinating chatting to you. I've worked in mobility for many, many years, and historically, the focus has been on large programs of either a VIP, might be a senior director of a company and then lots of middle managers. I don't think outside football there are many that deal with quite such an unusual and probably demanding population as you do. And I'm full of admiration for everything that you do, and I wish you all the best for next season and beyond with West Ham. So many, many thanks for being on The View from the Top, Hugo.

Hugo Scheckter: Yeah, I appreciate that. Thank you for having me on. Brian Friedman: Okay, and thank you to all our listeners. We hope you've enjoyed The View from the Top. We'll be back again next week, many thanks.

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