BIRTH OF THE YOUTUBE FOOTBALLER
You don’t need a plane ticket and notebook to go scouting any more
Your club’s been linked with an exotic foreign signing about whom you know nothing. Where do you turn? Fourfourtwo.com, obviously, but soon after that it’s Adam Ali’s channel, Scoutnationhd.
“I started making scouting videos on New Year’s Day, 2013, so I have been at it for nearly four years now,” Adam says. “The first videos I made were of Jackson Martinez, who had signed for Porto, and Pierre-emerick Aubameyang, who was still playing for Saint-etienne at the time. The standard of them was pretty poor, to be honest, as it was the first time I had ever edited video.
“I used to search the internet to find articles about young players I could feature, but there’s a new system on Youtube that lets you do polls, so now I get the subscribers to tell me who they want to see next.
“The one I’m the most proud of is probably Martin Odegaard, as he quickly went from being a complete unknown, when the video went live, to being a superstar a few months later [when he left Stromsgodset to join Real Madrid]. That video has had three million views.”
Adam’s videos aren’t made just for giddy supporters, though.
“I’ve had a few scouts say they’ve used my videos to take a quick look at certain players – some agents, too,” he tells FFT. “I have even had a few players share their videos on social media, including Anthony Martial before he left Monaco to sign for Manchester United.
“Anthony only had about 10,000 followers at the time I tweeted it – then he moved to Old Trafford out of nowhere and suddenly got to about 750,000. It’s a bit crazy to think that he shared it and liked something I had made.
“I don’t know what the future holds, but for now the channel is going well. Maybe an opportunity will arise from it all – a full-time job or something – but for the moment I’ll just carry on doing it!”
There is, however, some good news for genuine football supporters. One of Youtube’s most popular sporting channels is Copa90, which brands itself as ‘by fans, for fans’. Very few in football – only Nike, Barcelona, Real Madrid, FIFA and a handful of freestylers (more on them later) – have a bigger following than a group dedicated to the fan experience, and they hold no little influence.
“No one gave us a chance,” says CEO Tom Thirlwall, who co-created Copa90 in 2012. “Everyone said that a football media business without any football rights or recognisable football talent on screen was emphatically not going to work. And in 2012, sport made up less than half a per cent of the content on Youtube, with football a subset of that. But we made it our mission to capture and champion the voice of fans.
“What amazes me today, four and a half years later, is that we will get briefs from some major global brands, leagues and tournaments who want ‘a fans-first approach’. Isn’t it amazing that when players want to play in front of them, clubs want to recruit them and broadcasters want to sell their product to them, the fans have been forgotten? Brands will say, ‘We’ve had three or four agencies working on this for months and here’s our line…’ – and it’s ‘Connect to fans through authentic content that speaks to them.’ Wow. OK. So what have you been doing up to now?”
In creating videos on subjects ranging from the intense rivalry between Red Star and Partizan Belgrade to a Syrian refugee trying to forge a playing career in Germany, Copa90 can tell stories to a large network of fans (one that has been boosted further by popular videos on Lionel Messi and FIFA 17). They’ve managed to establish a connection, something that’s not gone unnoticed by football’s heavyweights.
“We’ve done a lot of work over the past couple of years with Major League Soccer,” Thirlwall tells FFT. “We have had conversations with the FA and the Premier League. Federations have approached us to say, ‘We have a problem connecting with fans and we understand that you have this authentic connection, so we would like you to help us.’ Our ambition is to become an important influence on the game going forward, giving fans a voice and a platform.” Think on that the next time you’re browsing on Youtube for football’s funniest howlers.
In recent years, Youtube has seen the camera turn 180 degrees. Football fans can be minor celebrities, as can people once mocked for uploading videos of goals ‘they’ scored on FIFA or PES (or, inexplicably and inexcusably, Football Manager). Anyone can be a player now. Football freestylers are self-made celebrities. Blessed with quick feet, confidence and a camera, these skill merchants – many of whom pursued a career in professional football only to find they lacked the requisite physique, drive or broad range of talents – have found a different way to make a living from their ability. Freestylers and clips of professional footballers’ flicks and tricks account for many of Youtube’s most-watched sports channels.
F2freestylers – arch-ballers Billy Wingrove and Jeremy
Lynch – now have nearly five million subscribers. “We try to think of things no one has done before,” Lynch tells FFT. “We’re working through a list of 100 or so, but almost every day we think of a new one.” Wingrove adds: “We have managed to make our job from another avenue. We’re filming with Barcelona players! Six or seven years ago, it didn’t even exist. We created it, basically.”
Youtube’s impact has been massive. Skilled footballers who don’t make the grade now have another route into the game. And when 17 of Youtube’s 40 most-watched football clips are either freestylers or skills reels, the site could even be affecting how today’s young players play. Will the next generation of footballers be more concerned with fancy flicks than hat-tricks?
If that happens, it would be the most significant case of Youtube changing football, more than a decade after Ronaldinho wowed the world with his crossbar tomfoolery. For now, Youtube’s only impact is in football’s growth, fan culture, celebrity, scouting, education and the way we spectate. And it has got every episode of Renford Rejects.