AT the start of our interview, a rare opportunity to meet face-to-face in these Covid-affected times, Kieran Scott took his phone out of his pocket and placed it on the table in front of him. Ten minutes in, and it was vibrating so often, he moved it an arm’s length away. Ten minutes after that, and he was forced to admit defeat and transfer it to the seat next to him, with his coat placed on top of it. When you’re the head of football at a Championship club in the transfer window, you’re constantly in demand.

A vastly-experienced operator with a proven track record at Bournemouth, Burnley, Wolves and Norwich, 38-year-old Scott is adept at negotiating the twists and turns of the transfer market. This is his first window in charge of Middlesbrough though, with his appointment having been confirmed last September, and with the club in the midst of a promotion push, he finds himself driving recruitment policy at a crucial time.

He works under the title ‘head of football’, although it could really be ‘director of football’ or ‘sporting director’. In layman’s terms, they have become catch-all descriptions for pretty much the same thing. So, at a club like Middlesbrough, where manager Chris Wilder is heavily involved in transfer matters and both Neil Bausor and Steve Gibson also have key roles to play in the recruitment process, what are a head of football’s main responsibilities?

“For me, the key area for a director of football is the ins and outs of player transfers,” explained Scott. “You’ve got to look at the squad and be able to control what the future looks like.

“You’ve got players coming in from the academy and you’ve got to make sure the path stays clear for them, and then you’ve also got your sales and purchases. You’re trying to put square pegs in square holes all the time, whether that’s an internal player or an external player that you’re recruiting.

“In terms of signing a player, my role really comes in right at the end, and that’s the deal. Of course, I need to see the players and agree they’re right for the club and that the manager is on board, but the shortlisting and scouting, and the early part of the work, is done by the recruitment team underneath.

“We’ve started the process of appointing a new head of recruitment, and they’ll come to me for what will effectively be the end of the process, where we can then work together and make the deals happen.”

But does that system create the potential for conflict, most notably with a manager who has his own ideas about what recruitment policy should look like? Clearly, it can, and Neil Warnock’s parting shots when he left in November suggested he was not singing from the same hymn sheet as other senior members of the recruitment team.

Scott openly admits he was involved in the decision to change manager, and crucially, it was his analysis and research that played a major role in the appointment of Chris Wilder. As a result, he is confident the current set-up will not suffer from some of the tensions and conflicts that were apparent in the early part of the autumn.

The Northern Echo: Kieran Scott at the unveiling of new Middlesbrough boss Chris Wilder

“My first role at Middlesbrough was to identify the new manager,” he said. “It wasn’t necessarily a case of the previous manager leaving straight away, but it was clearly going to happen at some stage. It was my job to identify candidates and analyse whether they’d be a good fit for Middlesbrough.

“It was clear Chris fitted the bill as to what we needed. I’d witnessed what was going on, on the pitch and on the training ground, and by the end I think there was just an acceptance that it needed new blood and new energy. It needed some new life, and for me, that meant a new manager.

“We went through a thorough process – it wasn’t like a one-man shortlist – but as soon as I met Chris, I knew he was a great fit for the club. I thought his style of play would really suit us and I knew the intensity of what he would bring would be a huge lift for everybody. Without doubt, Chris was the right man for the job.”

As well as having a strong relationship with Wilder, Scott’s thoughts also need to align with those of Gibson, who remains the man who signs the cheques and therefore has the final say on major issues of expenditure.

“Steve’s a very active chairman and wants to be involved in a lot of the stuff that goes on, so clearly I have to have a strong relationship with Steve, but then I’ve also got a really strong relationship with Neil,” he said. “Neil’s worked with the club for 15 years or so, and he’s known Steve for even longer than that, so naturally Steve and Neil have a really strong bond. Neil is very much the conduit in the middle between me and Steve, which is a role he does really well.”

Prior to Scott’s arrival, Boro operated without a head of football, a void in their executive-level structure that perhaps explains why it can be argued that the club has suffered from a lack of stability in the last decade or so. When managers have come and gone, key members of staff have disappeared too and the playing squad has constantly been turned upside down. One of Scott’s key challenges is to try to deliver a much greater degree of continuity when change inevitably occurs.

“You’ve got to keep a balance between the staff that the manager brings in and the staff that are at the club and will stay whatever happens,” he said. “We all understand that if the manager changes, there’s a shift.

“If Chris does fantastic and Manchester United want to take him, he’s going to take key staff with him, there’s nothing you can do about that. But there has to be a nucleus of staff behind that stay and help build a mentality within the club, so if there is a shift, we’re just replacing certain key staff within a structure that remains constant. That’s definitely an area where I’m still working hard to get the balance right.”

In the more immediate term, the focus is on this month’s transfer window. The early arrivals of Aaron Connolly, Caolan Boyd-Munce and Folarin Balogun represent an excellent start to January business, with Boro also fighting hard to try to recruit Riley McGree.

The Northern Echo: Falorin Balogun joined Middlesbrough on loan from Arsenal earlier this week

Those deals have been in the pipeline for a number of months, so while much of Scott’s time in the next few weeks will be taken up with conversations with agents looking to move on their players before the window closes, planning is already well under way for the summer and beyond.

“The forward planning is a huge part of things,” he said. “When I first came in, the priority was always going to be January, and what would happen if the manager was to change. The manager changed earlier than anticipated, but it put us in a position where we could try to have a good January, and if we have a good January we’ve got a real chance to fight for one of the positions in the top six.

“That was the initial focus, but then you’ve already got your brain on potential free transfers for the summer. It’s one of the best free transfer lists I’ve seen in my career at the minute, in terms of who’s set to be available in the summer. But you can’t turn up in March, ring these players and expect them not to have spoken to loads of clubs. You’ve got to have spoken to their agents before that, and got yourself into a position where you’ve got a chance.”

At which point, his phone began to vibrate again. “Look at that,” he said at the end of the interview, pointing at his screen. “It’ll take me a good hour to catch up with all of those.” Deal or no deal? At Middlesbrough now, it is Scott that will help decide.