BIRTH OF THE YOUTUBE FOOT­BALLER

You don’t need a plane ticket and note­book to go scouting any more

FourFourTwo - - YOUTUBE -

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.

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