You have been living under a rock for the better part of a year, then you would not know the enormous impact artificial intelligence (AI) is having on film, music, everyday life and especially sports. 

Whilst AI has been slowly developing behind the scenes at football clubs, its rapid development is unlocking new opportunities for teams and players to reach the next level. 

Speaking to Richard Felton-Thomas, COO of, Insider Sport explains why FIFA has been supportive of the company’s work to lead clubs, leagues, national teams and football academies into the future of youth player development. 

Firstly Richard, can you briefly outline’s role in sports. From its initial entry into sport and how the technology has evolved in the current day? 

Going back to the beginning, the problem we identified for young talent, playing sport and particularly football, was there were no clearly defined pathways for how they get spotted. In particular, how an aspiring player gets a trial with their favourite club – or any club. 

The talent ID system is still fairly manual, scouts have to go out on a weekend to watch talent based on very little information, and a player has to hope there is a scout watching them. So, we wanted to provide pathways for players who previously would be restricted in their opportunity to break into the elite level of the game.

Players are starting to adopt technology more. They are getting their phones and recording footage and putting it on LinkedIn and YouTube, hoping that it’s going to get them talent spotted. This type of footage isn’t meaningful for scouts, just having video with no context – you can’t really use that – so we learnt that the way the world was going where players were getting this video, but crucially we knew we could analyse it. takes mobile phone footage of players doing drills, which we can analyse, score, rank and rate before giving to a club. The club will be notified of any talent whose scores are at the club’s standards. The end result being that if you are good enough and your scores are good enough then you can get scouted from a mobile phone.

By utilising our AI technology, players download our app, participate in pre-defined drills and then those drills go to our cloud for our AI models to run over the top to track, score and rate them in relation to the club or organisation they’re trying to get a trial for. 

The AI piece has started to evolve a little bit more to player development as well. We have got the talent identification side, where anyone anywhere in the world can download the free-to-use aiScout app and get talent spotted. 

But additionally, once you’re in the club, you can use the same technology to constantly monitor players every week, every month. Coaches can choose drills and get players to do the same drills from their phone at home or within a training session by just using a tablet. 

There has been a proliferation of AI-backed firms entering football, what do you believe brings differently to leagues and clubs?

There is a lot of AI in the football industry and there’s no getting away from that. However, there’s no one at the moment other than working with AI in grassroots and talent identification. 

There are other companies that have scouting apps, but they don’t track any footage, have any scoring model or any AI which is the key component to our success for both athletes and partner clubs. There are obviously other AI companies that have tools for other areas such as ticketing, game day management, managing your staff, content generation, etc. but there’s no one doing it on the recruitment side, so that is exclusive to us. 

It’s two-fold for in the way that we are finding talent that we didn’t know existed, but also once we have found that talent, managing that talent and hopefully developing them into professionals for the future.

Can you give an overview of’s involvement in the FIFA Innovation Programme and how this has impacted countries who are typically underserved when it comes to these types of technologies?

Initially FIFA reached out to us. I don’t know how they originally knew about us, I think it came through women’s football. The FIFA Innovation Programme is a programme that is designed for technologies that FIFA believe are going to impact the whole game, so areas such as goal-line technology and VAR have come through the programme, as well as other products such as the ball sensors. 

Ultimately, it’s technology FIFA looks at that they think is probably going to have an imprint on the game forever and for everybody.

The conversations with FIFA around the women’s game were interesting because they didn’t want to start an antiquated scouting model which was very manual orientated, expensive and not particularly sustainable.

If you think about international teams and organisations, we, for example, have had two players in the UK that have gone on to play for the Sri Lanka football team. Sri Lanka never would have known these two players existed without the app because they were just two kids playing amateur or semi-pro football in the UK, but they were good enough to represent their country. 

What FIFA saw was outside the top 20 nations in the world where there’s not a lot of budget for scouting internationally, countries don’t know where their entire talent pool is. Using Sri Lanka as an example again, there’s going to be players that can represent them, who live in America, live in Australia, who live in the UK. 

You can’t put scouts in all these countries to try and find eligible Sri Lankan players. So, the ability to use our technology to do that, and to let the talent come to you, is the other reason is included in the FIFA Innovation Programme.

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How much of a commercial and revenue benefit can AI have on a football league or club when implemented properly?

There’s two parts to this, and I can only talk in the context of our specific tool. The most obvious one is if a club is the first to find talent that nobody else has seen and you find that undiscovered talent, I don’t think it’s lost on anyone that players ultimately get sold in the future for transfer fees. 

Even if a player doesn’t make the Chelsea or Burnley first team, they might get sold to another club because the club found this talent really early with the help of AI. They’re also using AI to develop the talent to make them more valuable football players and more valuable sports people, by utilising products such as ours to develop their talent. 

Ultimately the first use of utilising is uncovering potentially financially valuable talent of the future who could bring in a transfer fee or play a role in your own first team.

Additionally, it’s how we are activating sponsorships for brands and bringing them closer to their target consumer. Brands are always looking for ways of maximising their partnership with football clubs and working out how they engage with the club’s audience. 

We’ve got a platform where, very quickly, you can put some football drills in and now you can trial for Chelsea, which can also be co-branded and sponsored by a commercial partner. Therefore, the brands are using that to build their brand awareness, providing an opportunity to their fans as well as helping to discover talent.

Have you identified a willingness from football fans to engage with AI and if so, in what respect?

The first club test trial that we launched in the app was with Burnley. They then went on social media and promoted that anyone can trial for Burnley just by downloading the aiScout app. 

We expected a few kids in the Burnley area to enter, but we did not expect huge volumes because it’s such a new way of trying to get a trial. But we ended up having players enter from 125 different countries which was incredible to see and really highlights the willingness for players to engage in talent identification and AI.

It surprised us how quickly, without a lot of marketing or communication, that amount of people came and downloaded the app to participate in the drills. We now have something in the app called aiScout drills, whereby if you don’t meet the criteria for what our partner clubs are looking for, anyone of any ability, age, gender and background can give the pre-set drills a go. We see people of all genders and backgrounds participating from the ages of six to 60! 

For the user it’s really interesting just to try the drills and discover your score. These users are engaging with us and AI without having to be attached to a specific club opportunity. We’re seeing great adoption and engagement which is exciting to see.  

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How will AI regulation impact the technology’s role in football and wider sports? Do you believe it will become the catalyst for further adoption?

I don’t have all the answers for that, but as a business we keep an eye on AI regulations across different countries. There are working groups that come from different governments and different organisations all the time, who look at new regulations and the impact it has on all sectors of the industry.

The good thing for and our specific tools, is that because we’re giving the user an opportunity to gain something rather than taking something away from them, we’re quite protected from some of these regulations. You’ve got some AI tools now that are really there to almost disregard the human aspect, for example fields such as financial recruitment have tools where there’s no human involvement in the process.

With the human is still involved, the scouts still have to make the final decision, we’re not telling anybody who they should sign, not being absolute in recommendations. is just signposting club scouts directly to the talent and letting the scout/club make the decision on whether to sign or trial them. We feel sport will always need that human touch.

Lastly Richard, and thank you for your time, will AI soon become the predominant method for all aspects of player development, training, scouting etc., and in turn, will we see football usher in a new golden age? 

I think what we will see is evolution rather than revolution when it comes to AI’s use in football. There are lots of AI tools out there, including ours which help you be more efficient. With it will help clubs get to the point of a decision much faster but also be more informed in their decision, whether that’s in talent identification or player development.

It’s important to highlight that AI is a tool to use as another source of data. You’re going to get lots of information from lots of sources. It could be an interview with a player, it could be watching match footage, it could be our drills, it could be anything, but it’s a tool in the arsenal to make better decisions. 

I think AI and AI-based tools will be in every club and organisation at every level of the game, but whilst they might be there, they won’t be ‘the tool’ or the singular thing you should use to make decisions on talent. It’s critically another tool in your toolbox to make the most informed data-led decisions.

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