Artificial Intelligence is helping the scouting process of young soccer players in Africa, Europe, and beyond. The Eyeball system, which uses high-resolution cameras and AI software, enables scouts to watch and analyze every single player on a youth team from the comfort of their laptop. This system has been used by several European clubs, including AC Milan, Lille, and Benfica, to recruit more than 150 youth players.
Before Eyeball, the cost of scouting youth players meant that only top clubs like Arsenal could sign players directly from youth teams like ASEC Mimosas in Côte d’Ivoire. Now, any club in Europe can do their due diligence on any player in ASEC Mimosas for less than the cost of a return plane ticket.
Eyeball works by providing a high-resolution camera that is raised high enough above the pitch to provide 180-degree views and create an angle for AI software to work. This software tracks each player and creates individual clips of all the actions they are involved in, as well as statistics similar to those used by OPTA. Scouts can then use the system to search for key attributes they are interested in, such as age, height, or speed, and watch that player’s recent games. They can also find out who is responsible for the player so they know who to speak to about them.
Twenty-five of the leading academies in West Africa are among the clubs on the system, meaning their matches this weekend, complete with full data, can be watched by scouts from Liverpool or Manchester by Tuesday. Scouts can then watch all of these games before making a decision on a player, so if the player isn’t what they are looking for, they haven’t wasted several scouting trips to find that out. This also means that signing players from such clubs no longer requires a personal connection or a huge scouting budget of a top Premier League club, according to Eyeball Director David Hicks.
Eyeball’s system is in place across several other countries, including France, where it records all the youth clubs in the top regional and national leagues, allowing other teams to search for the best youth players that were not picked up by the academy system. In Iceland, a Champions League club in mainland Europe used Eyeball to scout a top youth player, branching out from their usual scouting grounds.
In the UK, Hicks says professional clubs are rather secretive about their youth players and unwilling to use the system, which he says could help youth players who get released find a new club. After the heartbreak of being let go, players often only have a short time at trial matches to impress other clubs. But Hicks says having all that player’s youth matches on an easily searchable database could help clubs decide whether to sign players who have been released from their rivals.
In addition to improving scouting, this technology is also helping youth clubs improve their own standards. In Côte d’Ivoire, for example, it can be used to help improve training and coaching sessions and get players used to the sort of data analysis of their game that is commonplace at top tier clubs in Europe. Hicks says in the future, comparing players across leagues will be even easier, so clubs in one country can see which specific areas where they need to improve to match the youth players on the other side of the world.
However, in England, Brexit has meant that clubs cannot easily sign youth players from many of the countries mentioned. The Eyeball system is present in Northern Ireland and will soon go online in Scotland, two areas where English clubs are more interested in scouting following Brexit.
Eyeball’s technology is a significant breakthrough for soccer scouting, opening up a world of opportunities for both professional clubs and youth academies. It enables scouts to watch every single player in detail on their laptop, search for key attributes they are interested in, and make informed decisions about whether to pursue a particular player. With Eyeball’s system in place, youth players from all over the world can now dream of being scouted and recruited by top clubs, regardless of their location or personal connections.