Google Identifying Next-Gen of Football Talent Through AI

Google has teamed up with the English Football Association to use AI to analyse its scout reports for greater insight and analysis

As the England football team gears up for the Euro 2024 tournament this summer, the Football Association (FA) and Google have announced plans to use AI to keep a stream of talent coming for the football of the future.

In a unique collaboration with Google Cloud, the FA is harnessing the power of AI to gain valuable insights from years of scouting reports to uncover hidden talent that might otherwise go unnoticed.

Analysing the data 

The process of identifying and developing young football talent relies heavily on the work of scouts across the country. 

These individuals attend countless matches, meticulously documenting the progress and potential of promising players through detailed scouting reports. 

This quantity of detailed data can offer a large language model loads of information for it to begin spotting patterns in. 

However, with thousands of these text-rich reports accumulating over time, the challenge lies in distilling the wealth of information into actionable insights.

What Google gives the FA

In 2019, the FA began a partnership with Google Cloud, leveraging BigQuery, Google's data warehousing solution, to centralise and streamline their data processes. 

However, following the boom in GenAI, the offerings offered by Google have expanded, and so the partnership has evolved to incorporate those capabilities onto the FA's scouting archives.

Cloud AI utilises the computing power and storage of cloud data centres to deliver AI services over the internet. Instead of running AI locally, users access pre-trained models or build custom models using cloud-based tools.

 The AI models run on the cloud provider's servers, delivering intelligent outputs like predictions to the user's applications. This approach allows leveraging powerful AI capabilities without managing complex infrastructure.

Previously, England Men’s Football Manager Gareth Southgate has said: "Google Cloud is helping transform the way we prepare and the way we strategise. Ultimately this will benefit England’s pursuit of excellence on and off the pitch."

This incorporation of GenAI to extract and fetch insights from mass amounts of data represents a wider push from industry as a way to add additional insights for customers who are using their service through AI.

Google recently announced €1bn (US$1.8bn) in its Finnish data centre campus, highlighting its drive for Cloud AI growth in Europe.

How it works

Leveraging Vertex AI, Google Cloud's machine learning platform, the FA can transform historical scouting reports into concise summaries. 

AI-powered offering
  • At-a-Glance evaluation: Coaches and scouts can quickly gain an understanding of a player's development trajectory, without having to wade through volumes of individual reports
  • Deeper context: The subjective assessments of scouts, often overlooked in data-driven analyses, are now captured and synthesised, providing a more well-rounded perspective on a player's progress
  • Consistency and reliability: By combining and condensing multiple reports, individual variations in perception are smoothed out, resulting in a more comprehensive and reliable picture of a player's performance over time

Football and AI as bedfellow

While still in its pilot phase, this application of AI to scouting and player development holds significant promise. 

By harnessing the power of machine learning to surface insights from untapped data sources, the FA is paving the way for a more efficient and effective approach to talent identification.

Football has been an early adopter of AI. Even before the ChatGPT boom, the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar was loaded with AI solutions that saw sensor in footballs, and fan facial recognition cameras.

And this is not Google’s first rodeo with AI in football either. Google-owned DeepMind has been working with English football club Liverpool to create an AI powered system dubbed TacticAI that can advise coaches on corner kick strategy from a dataset of 7,176 recorded corner kicks.

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