Zahavi’s big scouting database

Online scouting resource or commercial venture, asks Ian Plenderleith

According to Tom Bower’s book Broken Dreams, Israeli agent Pini Zahavi made £3 million on the transfers of his client Rio Ferdinand from West Ham to Manchester United via Elland Road. Rio’s such a nice bloke that he’s still doing his agent favours, endorsing a new scouting website founded by Zahavi that claims to represent “the world’s biggest ever football database” on players.

“IMScouting is an extraordinary database,” says Rio, no doubt spontaneously over a casual pint one night with Pini, who just happened to have a notebook along. “It is indispensable for any football professional looking for a crucial insight into the global game.” In that last sense, he may have a point. Surfing the site, you can’t help but feel that scouting for talent has been reduced to a cursory online shopping cruise. The only thing missing is the “Proceed to checkout” button.

IMScouting claims to have “a global network of football experts” to compile its information, but it’s not giving away any more than that. A question emailed to the company’s initially eager PR contact asking who these experts actually are, and where they are based, was ignored. And “global” could mean anything. After all, Wotton-under-Edge is global in the sense that it’s part of the world. Although no one would dare suggest that the site’s content is being researched via Google from a bedroom somewhere in that charming town on the edge of the Cotswolds.

Scouring around, it quickly becomes clear that the press release touting the site’s “unprecedented level of detailed information on almost every football player in the world” is tosh. Only Europe, with 26 out of 53 national leagues covered, comes close to meeting the claim. It’s a different story for the regions where the emerging talent is usually scalped by European clubs, and which you’d expect a site like this to target. Out of the whole of Asia, only Japan is covered in detail. In South America, only Brazil and Argentina. Central and North America is a complete blank so far, while Ghana, Egypt and South Africa are the only African leagues covered.

Look in more detail, and even these don’t stand up. Almost all the details on Ghanaian team Hearts of Oak are missing, bar the players’ names, age and value. How is the team’s midfielder Thomas Mensah worth £31,000? Do we just take the site’s word for it? Wait a minute, Berekum Arsenal striker Francis Aggrey is also valued at £31k. So is Richard Addai of Ashanti Gold. Has the Ghanaian government fixed the price of football ­players like the price of bread?

Let’s try Europe, as at least some players have their career details listed. But how do we know that FC Zurich defender Florian Stahel is worth exactly £793,000? Could it be that a player’s value is calculated by some primary-school computer programme that combines age, appearances and goalscoring stats? His fellow defender Daniel Stucki is worth only £158,000. Is Stahel really five times the player Stucki is? Perhaps, given that Stucki’s “playing style” is listed as “none”.

Further evidence of the site’s ham-fisted, premature launch was provided when a new user named Footy Mad Red turned up on the WSC message board last month. He eagerly asked if we’d heard about this fantastic new website, Shouldn’t we all take a look and get a discussion going on its merits? This kind of viral marketing approach might have duped a few internet newcomers around a decade ago, but the jaundiced regulars, their virtual pitchforks raised high, soon chased Footy Mad Red back to Wotton-under-Edge.

So it seems that IMScouting’s not really a project to provide a comprehensive global player database after all, which would in any case have been an ambitious undertaking for the wealthiest of webmasters. In fact it’s just another crummy commercial venture aimed at milking subscription cash out of fantasy football addicts or football agents who haven’t yet worked out how to use YouTube. The first 14 days are free, but at the time of writing there was no way to find out what it would cost after that. Perhaps they’ll work that out the same way they come up with the players’ values: think of a number and ­double it.

Site of the month – Football Filter

Too lazy to surf through numerous websites for the latest football stories? Too lazy to even set up your own reader so that all the top stories appear on one page? Fear not, for as long as you or your butler still have the energy to type in a web address, you can find pretty much everything you’ll need to know on a single page set-up that gives you a pleasingly presented, at-a-glance overview of the headlines. There are also separate pages for blogs and audio/video.

The downside is that it’s difficult not to feel overwhelmed at all the content when you see so many links laid out on one web-page. On the other hand, even a perfunctory glance reveals that most journalists and bloggers are writing about the same thing, so you’re probably not missing much if you’re selective enough. Though I’m still waiting for the programmer who can devise a system that filters out bad writing and gives me a sparse page entitled The Only Things You Really Need To Read.

From WSC 261 November 2008