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This AI Scouting Platform Puts Soccer Talent Spotters Everywhere

It was the biggest match of Andre Odeku’s career. A week earlier, the 18-year-old forward had been playing in the seventh tier of the English soccer pyramid. Now, he was lining up for Burnley’s Under-23 side in a trial game, with a view to signing for the then-Premier League club’s academy.

“Their scouts invited me for a week’s training,” explains Odeku. “I’d never really been on those kinds of pitches before: the grass was so lovely and flat; the ball moved so smoothly and intensely; there were Premier League players training right next to us. They liked what they saw, so they wanted to see me up close in a game.”

In footballing terms, Odeku had been plucked from relative obscurity: He’d been discovered while putting in Erling Haaland–like numbers for the development team of semi-professional north London side Haringey Borough; he would go on to score 25 goals in 18 games from the wing and win the league’s golden boot in the 2021–22 season.

But Odeku hadn’t been spotted in the traditional way. Weeks before, in the mud of his local park in East London, he'd docked his phone, hit Record, and begun doing as many push-ups as he could in 30 seconds. As parents and dog walkers strolled by, he sprinted 10 meters, launched into standing jumps, and completed a chest-thumping set of explosive lateral rebound hops.

Watching it all was AiSCOUT, a platform that enables footballers to go through virtual trials. Players perform athletic and technical drills on the app, then are rated via an AI scoring system built by data specialists and leading scouts from the game. It’s these talent spotters who decide which few prodigies will fulfill their childhood dream of becoming a professional footballer and which won’t end up having a football career at all.

The founder of AiSCOUT, Darren Peries, began developing the app following his son’s release by Spurs, aged 16. “Scouts from elsewhere had nothing on him in terms of information, game footage, or training metrics,” explains Richard Felton-Thomas, the platform’s COO and director of sport science. “While there is much data collection in the senior professional game, there isn’t the same infrastructure in youth football—even at the elite level.”

Following seven months of live testing, and the analysis of millions of data points, AiSCOUT machine learning is now able to measure players’ biomechanics, technique, and athletic prowess down to the minutiae; feedback is automated and delivered via the app within the hour. After players perform core athletic drills, the best are invited to show off their on-the-ball skills: Odeku’s virtual Burnley trial included an agility dribble and seven-cone weave in the park; his blistering speed and ball control earned the teenager an invite to the club’s Barnfield training center in Lancashire.

In a game that’s often ruthless in its discarding of young footballers, AiSCOUT offers a second chance—to both players and scouts. Odeku was released from Arsenal aged 11, then Brentford when he was 13; his diminutive size was cited as a factor. “Academies have a ‘win now’ mentality, so smaller players yet to mature are often let go,” says Felton-Thomas. “Once that happens, there are no eyes on them, even if they’ve had a growth spurt. Now, players can be back in the system via AiSCOUT, with clubs able to keep tabs on their progress.”

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Spotting a future Premier League superstar typically involves club scouts spending long hours on the road, traveling to half-empty community grounds and mud-caked Sunday League pitches. Relying upon an expert eye and word-of-mouth, there is more hope than expectation that they’re about to unearth the next footballing gem.

Felton-Thomas says the data-driven platform, founded in 2018 and now an official academy partner of both Burnley and Premier League giant Chelsea, could become an invaluable tool in youth player recruitment. “We help identify talent the scouts never knew existed. There are too many great young footballers slipping through the system. The technology helps target the right players faster, with data and insights to make better decisions and recruit down to Under-8 level based on whatever metrics a club is prioritizing.”

Odeku got an assist in his trial game with Burnley. He’s subsequently been invited back for another match. From doing sprints and jumps in his local park to landing a Premier League academy trial, he says AiSCOUT has given him the gift that every young, promising footballer craves: confidence. “I came away believing I could make it,” he says.

The technology has also offered Odeku and many other young players an opportunity. “Normally, it’s based on luck whether you’re scouted: You’ve got to have consistently unreal performances and stats, hope the right people hear about you, then wait for them to watch you play live—if you even have a good game,” says Odeku, who is now in Haringey’s senior side. “Now, with this technology, it’s facts- and stats-based: It’s another avenue for young players to be seen and have a chance of making it in professional football.”

This article first appeared in the January/February 2023 edition of WIRED UK.

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