The Empoli – IBM case that improves the recruitment of new players

Thanks to IBM’s watsonx, Empoli Football Club will get ahead of the others in young talent

For months now, generative artificial intelligence has been at the centre of the debate, and not just on the technological side, because of its ability to disrupt companies’ internal processes. Many stress the pitfalls of an innovation destined to replace humans in the workplace. In contrast, others are more inclined to highlight the enormous capabilities of the technology to be understood, however, as a co-pilot that requires human guidance in order to function at its best. Another feature of GenAI is its pervasiveness, as it has spread across multiple industries in a short space of time, demonstrating how it can be a useful game changer. In particular, it can speed up routine tasks, leaving humans more time for more complex manoeuvres, or it can speed up the analysis of thousands of different elements, giving companies a simpler overview to decipher reality.

Even sports are not immune to the AI wave, including football, which is the most popular, talked about and, above all, the sport that moves the most money in Europe. It is, therefore, interesting to see how technology, thanks to GenAI, is able to open up a frontier that is still unexplored but has great potential. This is the case of the partnership signed between Empoli Football Club, IBM and Computer Gross, who have presented Talent Scouting. This unprecedented tool will allow the Tuscan club to improve the process of recruiting players, using IBM’s watsonx platform.

Technology complements human intuition

Before going into the details of this innovation, it is important to note that Talent Scouting is not a solution that replaces the work of Empoli’s scouts, as their intuition and experience in evaluating a player will remain the main asset in deciding whether or not the club will proceed with the purchase of a player. The support provided by Talent Scouting and watsonx relates to the speed and efficiency with which they reach the final result, with a process based on the evidence of a large amount of data, both generic and customised, to identify and select young football talent.

In essence, GenAI makes it possible to speed up the scouting of potential signings, reducing the list of interesting footballers and giving Empoli more time to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses. A new and theoretically safer way of choosing who to spend money on in order to identify players to develop and then sell on at a higher price in subsequent years. This has been Empoli’s strategy for over 25 years. 

Data analysis speeds up talent spotting

On the operational side, Empoli’s solution uses natural language processing and generative artificial intelligence models to search and analyse vast amounts of information in existing databases, extending the suite of applications and data already used at the club. Starting from an existing application, new functionalities will be implemented and developed using IBM technologies through a clustering engine that will place footballers into sets of homogeneous characteristics that are easy to consult in order to identify interesting profiles.

Talent Scouting will also be able to link each player to Empoli FC’s data applications to provide in-depth statistics and analysis of their performance. In this way, the Tuscan club is making a qualitative leap by integrating the latest technology with a process that offers a competitive advantage for a team with limited financial resources that relies heavily on emerging young talents attractive to richer clubs.

The Empoli-IBM partnership counts on the strategic role of Computer Gross, a leading IT distributor (€1.9 billion turnover in 2023) that has broadened its objectives, as evidenced by the opening of the Competence Centre dedicated to IBM’s GenAI and available to the Business Partner ecosystem, as well as the main sponsor of Empoli Football Club. “This is a beautiful story that brings together many aspects of primary importance with two of our key partners: the passion for sport, the attachment to the territory and the development of young people that we share with Empoli, while IBM is an inexhaustible source of innovation. A synergy that is the best way to celebrate our 30th anniversary,” said Paolo Castellacci, President of Computer Gross.

“Scouting is of paramount importance to us and using the latest technologies to identify our future talents faster and more accurately is a valuable advantage that will allow us to optimise our work even further,” said Rebecca Corsi, Vice President and CEO of Empoli Football Club.

“The potential of watsonx will allow to improve the accuracy and effectiveness of the player recruitment process, providing reliable and actionable insights that will make the work of those who invest in scouting and selecting new talent more efficient and qualitative,” said Stefano Rebattoni, President and CEO of IBM Italy.

Only time will tell if and how Empoli will be able to derive real benefits from the combination of GenAI technologies and human skills in the search for young talent to focus on. However, one of the key elements to making a difference in this area is to get to the players before the others, so it seems that the Tuscan club is about to shift into high gear to get there faster.

Alessio Caprodossi is a technology, sports, and lifestyle journalist. He navigates between three areas of expertise, telling stories, experiences, and innovations to understand how the world is shifting. You can follow him on Twitter (@alecap23) and Instagram (Alessio Caprodossi) to report projects and initiatives on startups, sustainability, digital nomads, and web3.