12 October 2023

AI scouting app gives footballers chance to be noticed in the professional game

12 October 2023

Artificial Intelligence can help talented players who might never normally be noticed get a chance in the professional game.

Premier League clubs Chelsea and Burnley – as well as a host of MLS teams – are using an app, created by ai.io, that allows footballers around the world to complete specifically-designed drills and upload match footage of themselves.

Using computer vision and deep-learning machinery, which can recognise and evaluate a player’s movement, each user receives a score and then scouts are alerted to anyone that matches set criteria.

The aiScout platform is the only digital scouting product invited into the FIFA Innovation Programme and already has several success stories, with Burnley signing Jez Davies and Chelsea handing a 10-week trial to Ben Greenwood, having discovered them on the app.

Not every budding footballer will be visited by a scout, but almost everyone will have access to a smartphone and that provides the player with a unique opportunity.

“It gives the power to the player,” ai.io COO and director of sports science Richard Felton-Thomas told the PA news agency. “You are always waiting for a scout to come and watch you, you can’t just ring them up and ask them to come.

“This just puts power into the players’ hands.

“We are really democratising that scouting process. Normally you go and watch and then go and collect more information afterwards, which is just inefficient.

“You can’t replace the fundamentals a scout brings of going to a game, seeing how a player deals with adversity, how they transfer those raw skill sets to a match and taking instructions from a coach.

“Our tech is there to do the early talent detection but then scouts have to ID that talent with the traditional method.

“We give them the efficiency of enough information to say, ‘Don’t wait until the weekend to watch them’, because someone else might be doing that already.

“We don’t make the future decision of the player. The scout and the recruitment do that. I don’t think anyone wants AI to decide their fate. We are there to say on certain metrics, players are worth a look.”

Davies joined the Clarets when he was spotted on the aiScout app shortly after being released by Tottenham and they quickly signed him up.

This just puts power into the players' hands

Greenwood had a 10-week trial at Chelsea before earning a permanent deal at Bournemouth, going on to feature in the Carabao Cup and represent Republic of Ireland at under-19 level.

There has also been huge success in India as players using a shared community phone have been scouted.

“We have had players trial and sign for Chelsea and Burnley and in India players who have downloaded our app from a shared community phone are now in football programmes,” Felton-Thomas added.

“If it wasn’t for a mobile phone they would never have the exposure. They were not playing registered football so a scout would never have found them but we are changing those lives through those opportunities with a phone.

“Jez Davies signed at Burnley. He was released at Tottenham. We didn’t know about him but he entered our app uploaded his reels and you can imagine being 18 and just coming out of Tottenham, his drills were incredible. Burnley saw that and within two weeks he was signed.

“The first player we trialled was a player called Ben Greenwood. He had brilliant stats, he was at a football college and had never been scouted by any team, he lived two miles away from Chelsea’s training ground in Cobham and they thought if he was that good, how come our scouts had missed him.

“They brought him in for a day, just to validate our data, but he ended up staying for 10 weeks. He scored on his under-19s debut but he didn’t get a contract.

“He was signed by Bournemouth and is on his second contract and played in the Carabao Cup for them. This is a player who had never once been scouted, so that was a huge success story.”

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