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Burnley FC kicks off AI venture to scout new players

Image credit: Burnley FC

Burnley FC will use artificial intelligence to identify the next generation of football stars as part of a new partnership with talent identification platform AiSCOUT.

Burnley will be the first football club in the Premier League to launch an open global talent search to find players over the age of 14 who could join its Category 1 Premier League Academy.

Using the AiSCOUT mobile app, young players can upload their footballing performance for free, enabling them to try out for the Burnley Academy by undertaking specific football drills in their own location and filming themselves using a mobile phone.

The drills will be compared against other players using AiSCOUT’s artificial intelligence capabilities, which allow scouts to find, analyse, score, rate, benchmark and identify players’ technical, athletic, cognitive and psychometric ability.

Promising young footballers identified through the app will be invited to attend a formal academy trials day later in 2021, with the chance for eligible players to earn a coveted place in the youth system.

This is the first major initiative from ALK Capital, the new owner of Burnley FC, which took control of the club on the first day of 2021.

Alan Pace, Burnley chairman, said: “This is a first opportunity for us to introduce new data-led technologies and promote Burnley to the wider football world by giving aspirational young players across the world an opportunity. We look forward to expanding the programme throughout 2021.

“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.”

Jon Pepper, Burnley FC Academy manager, said: “We’re delighted to partner with AiSCOUT and this represents an exciting opportunity to expand our academy scouting network beyond Burnley and benefit from cutting-edge technology.

“I look forward to welcoming a selection of young players to the Barnfield Training Centre later in the year, assessing the talent on offer and hopefully ending the search by offering a place on our academy to a player with the talent to follow their dreams into the Premier League.”

Darren Peries, founder and CEO of AiSCOUT said: “This is the first time a Premier League Club will undertake an open, public trial via the AiSCOUT app. We’re delighted to be supporting a global talent search with Burnley FC and demonstrating the revolutionary capabilities of AiSCOUT.”

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Image credit: Burnley FC | AiSCOUT

AiSCOUT is a fully automated talent identification platform for professional football clubs, associations and federations to scout amateur players worldwide. Based in London, AiSCOUT is run by a cross-discipline team with experience in the sport, data and technology sectors. The platform was founded by entrepreneur Peries following his experience of dealing with football scouts’ interest in his teenage son and was developed with assistance from leading football clubs, Loughborough University London and IBM.

AiSCOUT was one of only four companies in the world nominated for the 'Most innovative use of A.i 2020' at the DataiQ awards. At the World Football Summit, AiSCOUT was named one of 16 leading start-ups transforming the football and sports tech industries.

The official tie-up between AiScout and Burnley F.C. will come as no surprise to the club's supporters. During 2020, AiSCOUT received significant investment from ALK Capital. On New Year's Day 2021, ALK Capital was announced as the new owners of Burnley Football Club, after US-based Velocity Sports Partners, the sports investment arm of ALK Capital, paid £200m to buy 84 per cent of Burnley F.C. This is Velocity/ALK's first investment in UK sport.

While Burnley has enjoyed impressively consistent mid-table stability under manager Sean Dyche - the Premier League's longest-serving manager, after 16 years in charge of the Northern England club - the club is facing some hard decisions on the pitch in the immediate future.

A respectably frugal football club in the transfer market, Burnley has not signed a player from outside the UK since 2016. However, an over-reliance on homegrown players - whilst rival clubs have spent more freely on acquiring overseas talent, with varying degrees of success - could be catching up with Burnley, which now has the second-oldest squad (average age) in the Premier League, with only Crystal Palace averaging higher.

To refresh a squad to Premier League standards requires a lot of money, as demonstrated by both Aston Villa - who spent £100m last summer to shore up its squad ahead of this season, having narrowly avoided relegation on the final day of the previous season - and also by the transfer market activity of newly promoted Leeds United, who bought several new players in readiness for life in the Premier League. More than half of Burnley’s starting line-up this season are over 30, or in the last six months of their contract, or both.

Prior to 2021, Burnley has wisely sidestepped the trapdoor of plunging itself into a financial predicament by splashing out on marquee signings - a temptation to which many other clubs have succumbed - and the club had the fourth-lowest average first team salaries during 2019-20. Now, though, with ALK's investment wedge stashed in his back pocket, Dyche has more leeway to loosen the purse strings in order to rebuild Burnley's squad for the future.

With new rules for football clubs about the balance of homegrown players versus overseas signings, along with stricter visa restrictions and even Brexit playing a part, the competition for new talent is only going to increase amongst Premier League and Championship clubs. The need to identify and secure promising young talent is crucial for every club's future. Burnley's AI-focused campaign to scout worldwide and sign players up early could give them an edge.

Burnley F.C. has a long and distinguished history in football, first becoming a professional club in 1893, one year after initial formation. Burnley has won the First Division title - the forerunner of the modern Premier League - twice, although with no silverware of note in the trophy cabinet since 1960, Dyche and ALK will no doubt be hoping the investment and AI pay off soon.

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