Ex-Banker Aims to Help Soccer Scouts Hunting for Another Messi

Soccer teams are using video more than ever to find new players, although scouts say there’s no substitute for the naked eye.

The sport’s transfer window reopens Jan. 1, and a team’s success in the world’s annual $2 billion player-trading market can mean the difference between Champions League millions or bankruptcy. Companies such as Wyscout -- an Italian video-scouting service founded by a former Banca Carige SpA worker -- are stepping in to provide data on 220,000 players worldwide.

With new European financial rules coming into force in 2014 and participation in the region’s Champions League bringing in at least 7.2 million euros ($9.4 million), clubs are under more pressure to sign the right talent at the right price. Teams such as Portsmouth, which won England’s F.A. Cup two years before its 2010 bankruptcy, have suffered after overspending. Video opens up new regions for scouting for big clubs, and lets smaller teams showcase talent for sale, Wyscout says. Still, some say watching a player live gives more insight.

“It’s a brilliant and valuable extra tool but it’s only an extra tool,” Ian Broomfield, who was Tottenham’s chief scout until the departure of coach Harry Redknapp this year, said of video.

Wyscout was founded by former banker Matteo Campodonico, who has increased the business from one serving a single top Italian club, Genoa, in 2005 to an operation that provides video to more than 300 teams. Four-time European champion Barcelona, English Premier League team Liverpool and German titleholder Borussia Dortmund are paying 10,000 euros per registration.

‘More Efficient’

Use of Wyscout has increased 20 percent in the past month, as clubs monitor players around the world instead of flying scouts to far-off regions, Campodonico said in an interview in London.

“We are trying to make the player recruitment process more efficient,” said Campodonico, who left Banca Carige in 2007. “Clubs can now look at videos online of players from places like Venezuela and Korea before sending their scouts on a wild-goose chase.”

Campodonico, 36, and some friends started the business as a hobby and got established by handing a DVD to Genoa’s coach, who saw the potential. They got funding from Antonio Gozzi, chief executive officer of Italian steel company Duferco, and now employ 60 people, including 30 in Bulgaria responsible for logging every aspect from passes made to shots on target for each player. Wyscout makes a profit of 1 million euros on sales of 4 million euros, Campodonico said.

New Rules

European teams spent 393 million euros in last year’s January window, and the new rules from soccer’s regional governing body, UEFA, means they’re looking to shop smarter. Mistakes can be costly.

Liverpool, controlled by the owners of Major League Baseball’s Boston Red Sox, spent about 100 million pounds ($161 million) on players in 2011 and ended last season in eighth place, its lowest finish since 1994. New coach Brendan Rodgers was told to cut the squad before Boston-based Fenway Sports Group would allow spending.

Barcelona brought three-time world player of the year Lionel Messi to Spain from Newell’s Old Boys in Argentina at age 13, and groomed him into the forward who has scored 86 goals this calendar year to break a record set in 1972.

Teams and agents supply the company videos, which are filtered to allow users to view entire matches or focus on a player’s offensive or defensive game.

Cover the Budget

Smaller clubs sometimes use the videos to showcase players in hopes of selling them on for a profit, Campodonico said.

“They make hardly anything from matchday attendance or television rights,” he said of smaller clubs. “They sell one player for the right price and a lower division team can cover its entire annual budget.”

Former England coach Graham Taylor said clubs can’t rely on video recruiting tools alone because watching a player live gives more information.

Taylor, who took Watford from the lowest rung of English professional soccer to second place in the top division, cited the success that Newcastle manager Alan Pardew has had with his top talent spotter Graham Carr.

“You have to be sharp and quick and know what’s happening in other countries,” Taylor said in a telephone interview.

Carr’s contacts have helped Newcastle sign forward Papiss Cisse for a portion of the 35 million pounds the club banked from selling striker Andy Carroll to Liverpool in January 2011. Carroll, now on loan at West Ham, scored 4 goals in 35 appearances for the Reds last season while Senegal’s Cisse got 13 goals in 14 games.

Taylor, who last coached with Aston Villa in 2003, said players move much more in today’s game and the ability to adjust to new leagues is as important as talent.

“It’s a massive change of country in some cases, massive change of climate in some cases, massive change of culture,” Taylor said. “Buying players in from abroad, we all recognize the successful ones but you can take my word there are as many if not more that have not been successful.”

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