Son Heung-min could be facing the world’s first international found by artificial intelligence when South Korea play their next World Cup qualifiers.
The AiScout app, which Burnley have announced they are using to find talent for their Academy, was behind Reef Peries getting a call-up to the Sri Lanka squad, who are scheduled to face Son during March’s break from club football.
Peries’ father, Darren, has spent the last three years developing the technology after his son was released by Tottenham Hotspur, with young players submitting individual trial footage to AiScout and getting assessed using their artificial intelligence.
Darren Peries has worked with Chelsea on the platform but the partnership with Burnley is a big breakthrough in what he sees as the future of scouting, particularly in a global pandemic where trials and practice matches have been put on hold.
“At the moment there is no grass-roots football, there is no scouting going on, but clubs still need players on board for their Academies to fulfil their next intake,” he said. “How do they find them? Do they go through lists from last year? We’ve looked at what they do in a six-week trial and moved it forward. So the trial is before the scouting and then they get invited to a location-based trial.”
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Could this be an end to those understated heroes who watch game after game to unearth the next Wayne Rooney? No. But Peries believes technology can streamline the operation of finding talent.
“There are many things that cannot be quantified through technology and you need to see that person in a game,” he said. “However, there are different elements we are bringing into the platform where you could scout from your desk. That is where the whole thing is going, the real gamechanger.
“What we have brought out with AiScout is an early part of the system. It works and it has been successful, but where we are going is going to take scouting to another level. It will not replace the scouts. I believe we are there to support them. Rather than sitting in the rain for four games on a Sunday morning looking for a player, they can target a player through the data.”
Burnley are on board. Following their takeover, new chairman Alan Pace is thought to favour a data-based approach to recruitment and has launched a global search for players using AiScout.
“With the pandemic currently leading a suspension of youth football in Lancashire and across the UK, this trial represents an open and inclusive opportunity for football players to complete a set of drills in their own environment that could end with them being scouted by a Premier League club,” said Pace.
Peries is from an ice-hockey background and is a former player with Guildford Flames and Chelmsford Chieftains, with help for AiScout coming from former Chelsea players Gareth Hall and David Lee. Hall is a coach at Gordon’s School in Surrey and secretly sent Reef Peries’ AiScout stats to the Sri Lanka Football Association.
Covid-19 permitting, Sri Lanka are scheduled to face South Korea and Son in March during the international break.
“Gareth took Reef’s data, saw he was eligible for Sri Lanka and filed it to the Sri Lankan FA and they wanted him over for a trial,” Peries said. “It was my father’s funeral over there a month later so it was a bad time for us but at the same time Reef was selected for Sri Lanka which is a nice twist to it.”
Other Premier League clubs have asked to get on board after 6,500 players joined as word spread on social media. Other FA’s who have contacted AiScout include the Faroe Islands, Cook Islands, Anguilla and Pakistan, all looking to unearth talent.
“We’re mindful of the lack of money in football at the moment and clubs letting scouts go,” Peries said. “We’re a business at the end of the day but we’re also mindful that we support the smaller clubs because if they find a player who can be found by another club, it’s a great eco-system.
“We’ve met smaller, Step 4 and 5, clubs with no scouting budget but it can provide a good revenue stream by finding players using technology. It’s helping the top, the middle and the bottom.”