The football world is obsessed with transfers and possible surprise moves; it all boils down to multi-million dollar pay cheques, club rivalries and a never-ending flow of players. Often, we only see the sport from the perspective of the premiere leagues and forget that the large majority of transfers occur in the lesser known divisions. There is a soccer transfer being made every five minutes that you won’t read about. It’s not just the big teams that are looking for new talents all over the globe. Today, almost every team has to compete with the rest of the world to find the right balance of players and hopefully discover a future star that will help them reach a new playing and financial level.
The “Age of the Internet” has literally changed the game and embracing new technologies has transformed all spheres of the sports industry. In one case, the so called “Moneyball” phenomenon entered sports lexicons in 2003, changing the emphasis on talent “variables”. Scouting is now focused on the analytical, evidence-based, sabermetric approach to assembling a competitive sports team. In the case of a disadvantaged revenue situation, this type of scouting turns out to be more successful than making decisions than on the basis of collected, subjective and often flawed wisdom of football insiders.
Social media has the potential to provide players, agents and clubs with content to assert their skills and industry analysis at their specific competitive levels. It transcends solely reporting on the sport, but developing the industry by evolving with its players. Essentially, it is building on trends as a response to the global community. Player talent is a limited resource, and the only way to protect capital is to find the right market for its development and success and since the sport pervades every continent’s culture, the market for talent should do be exactly that. Scouting new talent is all about pulling ranks. You chose the best to improve with the best. The player no longer exists in isolation but through a network of social and professional dimensions that shapes the identity of a modern athlete: locally sourced and globally based. The scouting paradigm is shifting in a way to provide the transparency that players need to exhibit their skills and the visibility that agents demand for talent recognition.
Locating new talent, considering the latest progress, will unify the experience and essentially enhance the development of soccer as a sport and industry. It will propel it forward in such a way that every advancement will make its way towards football’s defining trait: focus. While it expands the growth and force of an industry, it in turn shapes previously inaccessible contacts into a community-centred business opportunity. The internet is no longer only a reference in facilitating player development and club acquisitions, but is also a guide as to how social media and the sports industry shapes individual and team promotion. The evolution of the industry is dependent on enhancing the ways in which the modern player and agent communicate.
Due to the next wave of scouting, future professional players are the ones that are able to execute and merge a variety of styles and technical skills, giving rise to the ‘International Athlete’ versus the ‘European Star’. Trends point that the scouting in the next few years will encourage two-way communication between intermediary and player to encourage each other’s relevance in the industry. Players no longer wait for the ‘approach’, but take the initiative at shaping their own career through opportunistic ventures.
Scouting is not just a source, but a resource as to the aspects of players that the industry is focusing on. As a global industry, every dimension of soccer demands the placement of specific talent in the most exclusive market opportunities. Globalisation of the sport leads to the globalisation of the market and the only way to act and behave in this context is through a network of players, agents, clubs and market opportunities. Top world clubs are joining tournaments in Asia and USA to gain new audiences, while Nigerian kids are playing football in the streets of Lagos wearing FC Barcelona shirts. Players and clubs are desperate to stay in contact with fans (and stakeholders) all over the world, with new technologies as a channel to remain available at all times. The most creative teams use social media, breaking record after record on their Instagram and Facebook accounts. But do clubs use new technologies to stay in touch only with the fans? Not anymore.
The cliche of football scouts being veterans with notebooks following obscure youth leagues is nothing but that – a cliche. For the past few years, various companies started offering online databases of players all over the world being updated hourly. The metrics becoming more and more detailed – from heat maps to speed profiling. But this is just a fraction of the data that can be collected during a match. Sports statistics companies are recording around 1,500 “events” from every fixture. By understanding every facet of a player’s technical qualities, this ultimately lowers the risk in player acquisition. Having all the data located in a virtual hub assists clubs, scouts and agents pull the right choices on the modern football market for a smaller amount of money. But the online scouting business is very one-sided and the players haven’t had the chance to become an active part of the scouting process. Video scouting also became a very widespread and important source of information for a modern scout. Several companies collect and sell databases of around 160,000 players and you can receive clips of players in an instant. The problem is that videos don’t give scouts the full picture or context and once again, the players are left out of the process.
That was up until 2013 when one company, Fieldoo, recognised the potential of including the football players into the social aspect of online scouting. This was the first time that players, scouts, agents and clubs were put on the same level – a type of democratisation of the system. Players can present themselves and search for agents and clubs without representatives and free of charge. Clubs and agents on the other hand gain the ability to view the global talent pool, creating a knowledge base that in the past would have taken much longer to acquire. More than 200,000 users make Fieldoo a unique place where players, intermediaries and clubs are moving the boundaries of how the football industry works. In other words, Fieldoo is redefining the power structure where the emphasis shifts from a ruling elite of agents to the democratisation of player opportunity. What has so far been typically a behind-closed-doors affair of secrecy, strategy and skills, is now available to the masses.
U.D. Almeria, a second division Spanish team, realised the advantageous nature of social media scouting and partnered with Fieldoo to scout their next player in “The Fieldoo Challenge”. By creating a free membership and a thorough “football CV”, amateur and professional players are eligible to advance through multiple virtual scouting rounds based on their technique and talent. The panel of experts (U.D. Almeria’s directors and coaches) will select the finalists to receive an all expenses paid trip to Spain for a week-long trial with their premier team. Should their skills be exceptionally demonstrated, U.D. Almeria will offer them a professional contract. The competition is open until 20 December 2015, with the trial taking place in January 2016. You can apply here: www.fieldoo.com
The only way to compete with big clubs is to adapt to the new playground and turn into your advantage. “We need to be trend-setters in the digital world to be able to compete with giants such as Real Madrid and FC Barcelona,” says U.D. Almeria’s digital communication manager Cesar Hernando. And the same goes for the players. To be able to keep up with the industry that is developing as fast as the technology it incorporates, they need to take matters in their own hands. There may be no scouting worries for Neymar or Hazard, but to get there you need to have the same tools as their main competitors. It’s time for the players to be heard and for them to become an integral part of the scouting process.