Artificial intelligence could be about to change football player scouting
It’s a scout’s worst nightmare, spending half the day traveling to watch a football player who is recommended to them, only to find the player is way below the required standard. But soon, artificial intelligence could save the scouts from the trip.
From this season, several clubs including Chelsea, Nottingham Forest and Olympiacos will start using a mobile app called AiSCOUT to help them scout for new players.
The app provides scouts with data on football players‘ athletic, cognitive and technical skills so they can narrow their searches. Players upload videos of themselves performing drills defined by the club. These exercises were carried out by the club’s own players, so it has a reference to judge the players scouted.
AiSCOUT Chief Operating Officer and Head of Sports Science Richard Felton said that in the past Chelsea often received match footage, but such footage was basically useless without knowing the level of opponents the player was at. confronted. By comparing players already at Chelsea, the club can tell if the players in the app are worth a closer look.
He says professionals are signed for millions of pounds based on so much data, but that data is only collected when the player has already turned professional. This app will help provide scouts with data on amateur players so they can find anyone the current system has missed.
Exercises on the app can range from quick dribbling to cognitive tests that measure concentration or reaction time. All a player needs to complete them is a smartphone, a soccer ball, something to use as a set of cones, and a space to perform the drills. Felton says the app has been tested on a wide range of mobile phones and can compensate for different surfaces, from smooth artificial grass to dribbling around rocks and jumpers on sandy terrain.
Clubs using the app can decide exactly what attributes they are looking for, Chelsea, for example, focus on power and pace at this early stage in the scouting process. Players who don’t have these characteristics will never be a Chelsea player, but perhaps their other attributes make them a good choice for another club.
Besides acting as a screening tool, it can help scouts find players they might have missed.
Early testing of the app uncovered a player called Ben Greenwood who Chelsea then invited for a one-day trial. In the end, he stayed at Chelsea for ten weeks and is currently at Bournemouth, where he played with the first team and was capped at youth level for Ireland.
Greenwood lived just a few miles from Chelsea’s training ground, but had never been watched by Chelsea, or any other professional club, before using the app.
With all the talented youngsters at Chelsea, they probably don’t need much help scouting for new players. The real way AI could change scouting is to help teams without the same scouting resources.
Small international teams, such as the Caribbean islands that compete in CONCACAF, have many people around the world who are eligible to play for them, but lack the scouting resources to find those players. Even the likes of Chile only discovered Blackburn Rovers striker Ben Brereton Diaz after fans reportedly discovered his Chilean ancestry through the computer game Football Manager.
These national teams could use this app to find potential new players to invite to training camps. All over the world there are millions of talented youngsters who don’t play organized football but who might have all the attributes to succeed in the game. If artificial intelligence can tap into those places scouts would never look through themselves, who knows what talent she might find.
A cliché seen in many football films involves a player leaving an important event to rush to a match for a one-time chance of being seen by a Manchester United scout. If AI were to become mainstream in scouting, this player would already be on the club’s radar and would simply be given a tryout.