GENEVA — A high stack of papers dominates the desk of this president of a Swiss soccer club. "These are resumes from players. We get 50 of them every week, together with video cassettes of their feats. Sorting the good from the bad is an enormous task. And when the concerned party finally arrives from South America or Africa, we sometimes struggle to recognize in him the player we had selected ..."
The aforementioned episode took place more than a decade ago. Since then, digital networks have transformed the world, and the soccer transfer market is no exception. Nowadays, powerful digital tools now enable clubs to collect an almost exhaustive amount of data on players from across the globe. They have names like Wyscout, Video Profile, Footovision or Scouting System Pro, and all offer roughly the same service: a database with comprehensive statistics and different methods of analysis.
"When a big company wants to recruit a senior manager, they go deep and look at all the details. The transfer of a high-level professional soccer player is no different," says Bertrand Cauly, president of France's National Union of Sports Agents. "It's become extremely important to know how to use these tools."
Saving time and money
The world leader in this field is the Italian company Wyscout. Its online platform boasts a database of more than 220,000 games from 225 leagues across 106 countries, as well as all the statistics derived from those matches. The most impressive thing is without a doubt the video system that the company offers its clients. The performances of each player are divided into short video clips of a few seconds each, sorted by type of action (goals scored, assists, accelerations, fouls committed, and many, many others).
Each week, the database is expanded with clips and statistics from 1,500 new games. With a few clicks, users can find the Brazilian league"s best left-footed goal scorer aged under 22, for example, and watch all of his appearances.
The existence of such a database hasn't just made the recruiting process faster and easier, it's also profoundly transformed it.
Among both sellers and buyers, those who've known the old world see this as an absolute revolution. "I've been in this job for 15 years," says Swiss sports agent Michel Urscheler. "At the beginning, I used to copy video cassettes. Obtaining footage from a left back playing for the Esporte Clube Vitoria in Brazil was an arduous task. Now, I just tell the club his name and within two minutes, they know everything about him."
Marco Degennaro, director general of the Swiss soccer team FC Sion, agrees. "We use this tool a lot," he says. "We used to have to travel to get a first impression on a player. Now, you find all the games online. It saves us money and time."
That is precisely what the Wyscout revolution is all about — cutting back on both the costs and effort needed to find and recruit a player — according to Matteo Campodonico, the company's stylish, 40-something head. "For a long time, if a player got injured shortly before the close of the transfer window, his club was tempted to recruit a replacement without even having seen him play before. Now, the sports director can watch all of his games for the past season. The time needed to get to discover a player has changed: It used to take months, now everything happens in real time."
"Sports agents who might have been tempted to bluff don't have that option any longer"
The existence of such a database hasn't just made the recruiting process faster and easier, it's also profoundly transformed it. "It used to be agents who would give the clubs videos of their protégés. These rarely were entire games but rather carefully selected excerpts. Obviously, when you do that, all players are good," says Campodonico, smiling.
"Everything's a lot more transparent," says Michel Urscheler. "Sports agents who might have been tempted to bluff don't have that option any longer. Everybody can see what he wants from a player, and not what a third party has cherry-picked for him."
Building a "modern factory"
The revolution is as profound as it is recent. Wyscout was founded in 2004 by three friends, Simone Falzetti, Piermaria Saltamacchia and Matteo Campodonico. Together, they conquered the soccer planet starting from the pitch outside their homes. "The story began with the teams in our region, playing in the seventh-tier. We'd go and film their games, and we'd edit them before giving them to the managers," Campodonico told the French soccer magazine So Foot.
One thing leading to another, the company became a multinational. It's headquartered in the small town on Chiavari, on the western Italian coast, but also employs people in Senegal, Bulgaria and Moldova, for a total of 500 employees. A good part of those people spend their time scrutinizing games non-stop. A painstaking job. "We've become a modern factory," Campodonico says.
Wyscout's future, like that of globalized soccer, lies to the East.
Across the Alps, Michel Urscheler was one of the first to believe in the tool's potential. "I subscribed early on and, after that, I was the one convincing the clubs they should do the same," he says. "The people in charge would tell me it's expensive. I'd reply that as soon as they started using it, they'd see how much money they were saving."
Wyscout's future, like that of globalized soccer, lies to the East. For two years now, China has developed a passion for soccer and has been investing massively in the sport. The company recently opened an office in Shanghai to teach local clubs about how to improve recruiting. "The huge transfers that made the headlines last year were commanded by emotions, even the clubs now admit it," says Campodonico. "There is no scouting culture in China. As independent consultants we're going to help it develop."
As for the rest, Wyscout continues to develop its services and to sign commercial deals with clubs, federations, and other professional associations. The innovation is establishing itself because the competition is fierce. "Ideally, we'd need to have all existing platforms at our disposal, because each has its advantages and its drawbacks," says agent Bertrand Cauly.
But Campodonico isn't too worried. He's positive that his company is in a strong position and sitting on a treasure. "Big data is a reality that the actors of the soccer world cannot ignore," the Wyscout head explains. "Be careful though: data isn't everything. You need to know how to work with it. But you'd be crazy not to use it."
With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.
CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.
Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.
It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.
Abundant sunshine, low temperatures
The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.
Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.
It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.
Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park
Chinese want to expand
The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.
The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.
The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.
The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.
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