The story of Hugo Alvarado: From 10-year passion project to national team scout
Hugo Alvarado: football's unconventional scout
Full-time work in football isn't easy to come by. On some occasions, a form of volunteering work is necessary to 'get your foot in the door' - and even then, nothing is guaranteed.
Many people are so desperate to work in the football industry that they will often dedicate a significant portion of their spare time to working for a club, often without financial reward, all on the off-chance that they might get a job someday.
Many will carry on until they get their break. For Hugo Alvarado, 37, that break took a decade.
More than 10 years ago, Mr Alvarado began searching the internet to find football players who he believed could help his national side - El Salvador - improve and better compete in matches and tournaments.
Why? Because he had become so frustrated with El Salvador's record on the international stage and thought that he could make a difference.
A footballing diaspora
In the 1980s, many Salvadorans left the country due to a civil war that had left their nation devastated.
At the age of nine, Alvarado and his family emigrated to the United States of America, but their love and pride for the country that they were raised in never changed.
While he had become a US citizen, the Salvadoran never lost his national pride.
For three years, he had already been thinking of ways that he could try and help the national football team improve - taking on the underdog tag and using it to his advantage.
"For people like me, who were born in El Salvador but were pretty much forced to leave, we carry a sense of national pride," said Alvarado.
"Football is one of the main sports and since I arrived in the United States, whenever there was a match in Los Angles, my father would take me and my brother to the game.
"Every time I was there, we would lose most of the time. I was always wondering how I could help.
"Even at nine, I was already thinking that way. Yes, I was a kid, but my mood depended a lot on how well the national team did.
"When you would go to school and all of your Mexican friends were happy because Mexico were doing so well, and El Salvador was doing so poor, they make fun of you.
"You kind of become the underdog, so I think that’s where the passion grows from, you want to better your national team."
As he grew older, the passion and objective never changed for the now 37-year-old - it simply grew stronger.
Despite working a full-time job, he was still keen to help his national side, and began to do so by creating a website that allowed him to identify members of the vast Salvadoran diaspora, but also players with Salvadoran-sounding names or Salvadoran-looking faces on professional club rosters.
As well as this, he was able to examine MLS academies and US university programmes.
If that part can be considered the 'easy' aspect, then the 'hard' task came when he had to track down all of the potential players one by one.
What's the approach?
So how did he connect with them, speak to them and then ask them if they were interested in playing for El Salvador, or if they were even eligible?
Those that were would be added to a growing list on Alvarado’s website.
Alvarado admits that while some of his approaches deviate from the norm, the end result still remains the same - finding high quality players who can improve the already existing squad.
"A lot of my approaches aren’t traditional, I combine a lot of technology and social media," he said.
"Once I've found a player and confirmed they're eligible, if they tell me they are interested I start doing video research and analyse the footage.
"I then send information to the national team coach and that’s how the process goes."
He continued, detailing the different criteria for senior and youth footballers: "For me, if I’m looking for a player for the youth squad I require that they play for an academy or equivalent.
"For the senior squad they have to be in a professional league.
"If someone from Sunday league contacts me, I know that they might want to play for the national team, but I just can’t, my reputation is on the line."
A family affair, sort of
The amount of hours he was spending searching for eligible players could have potentially started to annoy his family. After all, Alvarado would spend between 3-5 hours scouting, editing, analysing and networking after work.
He would then pass on any information to the relevant coach - whether that be the El Salvador senior coach, or the U17s coach.
Despite his gruelling workload, he insists that, throughout the years, his family remained supportive of what he was doing - even if they didn't completely understand it.
"My family have been very supportive, all my family support the national team," Alvarado said.
"I don’t think they understood much about what I was doing but I think they saw that what I was doing was pretty impressive and that I was getting the attention from a lot of people."
Not only was his wife - who was his girlfriend at the time - supportive of what he was doing, but she also played a crucial role in launching his website and consequently allowing him to monitor certain players.
He says: "I told her I had an idea but I don’t know how to make a website and she was like, 'I can give you a few hours to show you how to make one', so she’s been a witness to how everything started and how everything is currently going."
Not all plain sailing
Throughout the years of scouting, Alvarado has enjoyed a number of memorable moments, though that's not to say that speed bumps along his journey haven't forced him to consider stopping all together.
In September 2013, the Salvadoran Football Federation banned 14 Salvadoran players for life, and three other players for shorter periods, due to their involvement in a match fixing scandal while playing with the national team during a two-year period between 2010–2012.
In total, eight of the country's first-team players fixed a result which saw El Salvador lose 5-0 to Mexico.
"I think, us as fans, we were disappointed that we were following this team and were so passionate about them, to find out a game that you were doing so well against Mexico and then in the second half they score five goals and it was fixed," said Alvarado.
"I think that was a time where I considered not doing what I did anymore."
Despite the pain caused by the scandal, Alvarado just couldn't stop, saying: "This is a way of living for me - I wake up and I’m thinking about it, I go to bed and I’m thinking about it.
"It's just become part of my identity almost."
It's important to note that Alvarado was still doing all of his scouting, analysis and networking without any real recognition from the football federation.
This is because, despite helping to improve the national team's fortunes by sourcing eligible players, he did not work for the El Salvador national setup.
He actually had no authority to recruit players into the national teams and consequently, he was technically just a fan who wanted a better team to support.
Finally gets the job
In October 2020, however, that all changed.
El Salvador had hired a new sporting director, who gave an interview in which he stated, "we are going to try and find the best dual national players".
Understandably, Alvarado thought that he possessed all of the qualities that the new sporting director was looking for - on account of the fact that he had been doing the job for free for over 10 years.
Rather than rush in and apply, he decided to play the waiting game to see how the situation developed, despite much speculation that he would be the one who was offered the job.
"I immediately thought that I was the best person for that and he said in an interview that 'we are going to be reaching out to a number of scouts', but I knew I had enough preference already within the El Salvadorian football world," he said.
"But given my experiences, I did this for 10 years and no one really was serious about it, I took it with a pinch of salt and I was like 'I’m gonna wait'.
"Then another friend of mine, who is involved in the football world in El Salvador said, 'I know him and he wants to set up a meeting with you to work for the federation'."
To be told that he was going to be offered the official position and become the first ever full-time scout in El Salvadoran football history was a moment he had been dreaming of since he was a kid, as well as recognition for the years of work he has already put in.
Alvarado said: "I got very excited obviously, I met with him and he said 'we want you on board, we have been following you and we know that you have been doing this for 10 years and we want to bring the best players from around the world so we want to make you the official scout'.
"It was a very happy moment because I have been working for this for many years and still I couldn’t believe it.
"It was a dream come true, I’m not going to deny it.
"Although I had been doing it and will continue to do it no matter what, it was a dream come true to say I am the scout and to be able to introduce myself as the scout, which makes a big difference in the way players perceive me."
Satisfaction of results
Even before he was made the official scout, the 37-year-old had built up a strong portfolio of success stories.
In the current El Salvador men's first-team, there are eight players that Alvarado scouted - many would argue nine, but he is a modest man, so he sticks with eight.
One of the players who he scouted - Enrico Hernandez - plays for Vitesse and is currently on loan with FC Eindhoven in the Keuken Kampioen Divisie - the second tier in the Netherlands.
He is dubbed as El Salvador's newest star and scored a wonder goal - his first for the national side - against Panama earlier this month to secure a vital 1-0 win in the CONCACAF World Cup qualification.
— SelectaTalent (Hugo Alvarado) (@SelectaTalent) September 13, 2021
Clearly, Alvarado takes a lot of pride in seeing Enrico and the other players he has recruited doing well, and the relationships he is able to create with the players makes it even sweeter.
"The entire nation of El Salvador has a lot of hope for him [Enrico] and we hope that he can be the player that represents us at a top club in Europe for a long time," he said.
"I have been building a pool of players for 10 years, so that’s part of the reason that there is eight players I scouted.
"Some people may not know that I put them out there because other media outlets started talking about them once they began playing.
"But I feel very proud, obviously going from a fan to be able to text a player after a match and say 'hey, good job, I’m happy you made your debut' is a very satisfying thing.
"It's a very proud moment for me and it makes me want to keep doing it more."
Hopes, goals and what comes next
The Central American nation last qualified for a World Cup in 1982. In that tournament, which was played in Spain, El Salvador played three, lost three and conceded 13 goals - scoring just once.
And yet, whilst there is a recognition that they are unlikely to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the hope of qualifying the 2026 World Cup is strong, and is the target that everyone - including Alvarado - is working towards.
"The goal since I was brought in is the 2026 World Cup, to qualify for that World Cup," he said.
"Everyone obviously wants to qualify for Qatar, but we know that if we want to be realistic, the 2026 World Cup is more doable for us and the plans are there for us for 2026."
As well the entire country sharing the common goal of making it to the 2026 World Cup, it is going to be somewhat easier to qualify for, considering that Canada, USA and Mexico all qualify as host nations.
With that, though, comes added pressure and Alvarado understands that if they do fail to qualify, it will become even more difficult in the future.
He said: "If we really work hard we can get there, if we don’t qualify for 2026, it's going to be so much harder.
"My dream is that, with what I do combined with the local talent, that we can qualify to that World Cup."
It is often under-appreciated what it actually means for some countries to even qualify for a major international tournament, and yet, for El Salvador, the goal has never been clearer.
Believe in yourself before anybody else does
Alvarado is the first person to admit that he is an unconventional scout. His initial methods include finding people who look Salvadoran, speaking to their family and friends, and then attempting to communicate with them.
Despite this, his results speak for themselves, and his belief has always remained the same: believe in yourself before anybody else does.
"I'm not a conventional scout, it's been a very different path for me," said Alvarado.
"But if you have a passion for something and you are really dedicated and you believe in the work you are doing - you can achieve whatever you want.
"It might not be a one-time try but just keep going, don’t give up, at some point somebody is going to listen to you.
"You have to convince yourself first that what you are doing can make a difference in order to convince someone else."
Since the age of nine, Hugo Alvarado has believed that he could make a difference. Now, at the age of 37, he is El Salvador's first full-time scout and is, quite literally, living his dream. Next stop? The 2026 World Cup.