In the future: the wisdom of the crowds will decide who gets picked
Ten years from now, football clubs will rely on social media as an essential tool for talent identification and recruitment, much in the same way many employers today are moving away from scanning hundreds of paper resumes and more toward professional networks like LinkedIn.
Today when we think of social media, we think of the endlessly updating social feeds like Twitter and Facebook. Good for the odd hilarious GIF or breaking news updates perhaps, but limited as a professional tool. Yet it doesn’t take a big leap of the imagination to see the possible benefits of leveraging social networks for talent recruitment, particularly in a sport like football.
We can use the music industry as an analogy. Today, we’re in the pre-iTunes era of talent spotting. Much in the same way musicians were once at the mercy of record labels if they wanted to break out from obscurity, prospective footballers entrust a small group of connected agents to secure them the best possible deal for any interested club.
In an ideal world, teams would simply identify talent suited to their needs and then make a reasonable bid in the transfer window. Yet as many clubs will attest, it’s not what you know, but who you know that counts.
What appear to be routine transfers on the outside are often the result of a flurry of fraught phone calls with agents and club representatives. Many players opt for non-exclusivity clauses with their representatives, meaning clubs must deal with an ever-changing array of third parties claiming to represent a single client, sometimes at the same time. It’s a messy business. This is one of the reasons why some clubs are opting to move the responsibility for recruitment from the manager to the Director of Football, often a former player with powerful connections.
There are some obvious drawbacks with the status quo. For one, it distorts market value. Powerful agents can pressure clubs into recruiting their clients in order to maintain good relations down the line. Some less scrupulous reps can also encourage transfers for younger players that may be lucrative but not in the best long-term career interests of their client. The current system also encourages potential third party investors to speculate on player transfer values, further encouraging agents to secure the biggest, but perhaps not the best, deal. Finally, it greatly reduces the available pool of players to interested clubs, further driving up competition (and transfer fees) for known commodities.
How will social media turn the current system upside down?
Well imagine a social network for professional footballers (or athletes). Players would be able to post contact information, indicate their club associations, their coach, player, and agent connections, their team selections, their trials, their national team caps, stats, highlight videos, etc. These players could connect with teammates, coaches, agents, recruiters, analysts, any potential social influencers, who would also post their career bona fides, each able to vouch for each other. A tool that would allow clubs, at a glance, to see whether a player has been endorsed by key influencers with a proven history of recruiting talent. A network that would allow clubs to approach players directly, even outside their traditional player markets.
Much in the same way the digital era levelled the playing field for musicians seeking an audience, in the future social networks will allow younger players struggling for exposure more direct access to prospective customers, or in this case, recruiters. As Rob Daniels, founder and CEO of Isolation Network, once said of iTunes:
“Apple was the great equalizer. With iTunes, it was a meritocracy. You couldn’t buy shelf space like you had to with all the other retailers. If you presented great music, iTunes would give you promotional space right alongside the major labels. They made it possible for independent labels and artists to compete with the majors.”
For clubs too, it will become a means to seek out potential talent for below market value, whether for recruitment to the academy side or for international tryouts. And for agents, it will provide a database of prospective clients, and the ability to play social media influencer.
If it seems far-fetched, then you should look up Create.it – a US-based company which uses proprietary algorithms to scour networks, pre-qualify applicants, and serve up skill-specific talent for brands and sports teams. Partners of 21st Club, Create.it have already helped, amongst others, the US Ski Team and the US Women’s Volleyball teams widen the net and discover a talent pool that would previously have been overlooked.
As football clubs come under increased pressure to cut down player costs, and as transfer fees continue to sky-rocket, the power of social offers savvy teams a major market advantage. Recruiters will leverage the wisdom of the crowds in an online community to validate new potential players. As for footballers, rather than waiting to be picked, players will pick themselves and – in the future – anyone will be able to get discovered. ‘Going viral’ won’t be just for cat GIFs anymore.