x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

If Fifa has its way then 'virtual' will become a reality

Mark Goddard, the general manager of the transfer market in Fifa, says the world's governing body is set to introduce Global Player Transfer (GPX), a worldwide database to facilitate transfers.

it is easy to call up the stats on a player such as Neymar, left, but with Fifa's proposed database it will be just as easy to call up the statistics of a player no one has ever heard of before.
it is easy to call up the stats on a player such as Neymar, left, but with Fifa's proposed database it will be just as easy to call up the statistics of a player no one has ever heard of before.

Art imitates life.

Sometimes, life imitates art.

It is debatable whether video games can be classified as art, but millions around the world certainly consider football their life.

And where in the past video games would be based on the Beautiful Game, Fifa's latest proposal now sees football imitating the gaming industry.

For football geeks who since 1992 have spent days, weeks, even years immersed in never-ending sessions of the most addictive video/computer game of them all, Football Manager (or it's predecessor Championship Manager), your time has finally come.

Saturday, at the 7th Dubai International Sports Conference, Mark Goddard, the general manager of the transfer market in Fifa, revealed that the world's governing body is set to introduce Global Player Transfer (GPX), a new worldwide database that will look to facilitate transfers between clubs by listing the personal statistics of all of the world's registered professionals online.

Football managers would, finally, have a real life version of Football Manager.

The idea goes something like this: clubs interested in a certain player can discreetly approach the potential selling club via the system and, crucially, not through a third party, to start the negotiating process.

The greater transparency provided by the database, as well as Fifa's existing Transfer Matching System (TMS), would, according to Goddard, ensure all clubs get the maximum, and identical, information.

In theory this would, Fifa hopes, eliminate bidding wars in which clubs give out false information, and should lead to many players being transferred for less.

GPX would be of particular help to out-of-contract players, who make up 70 per cent of all global transfers annually, according to Goddard.

It should also prohibit players from tapping up young players.

Complicating matters is the fact that some players' data will be posted anonymously.

No name, no club. Just numbers.

The purists, or Luddites depending on which side you are, will be horrified by such a state of affairs. Football, which for decades resisted statistics, is now in danger of being shaped by them.

And not surprisingly, there were snorts of derision from those who potentially stand to lose the most; football agents.

Rob Jansen, the chairman of the European Football Agents Association could barely hide his contempt for the concept, repeatedly insisting at yesterday's forum that it is not workable, and questioning Fifa's power to implement it.

At least everyone present agreed on one thing: this would not be a system aimed at the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, or indeed any of the world's top 50 to 100 clubs, all of whom have extensive, multimillion dollar scouting networks.

Clearly, even those networks are far from perfect; after all, for every Cristiano Ronaldo, there is a Bebe.

Still, these big clubs are unlikely to start doing their shopping in football's equivalent of Amazon.

Just stick a Stewart Downing in your trolley and proceed to checkout. ("Managers who bought this item also bought Jordan Henderson".)

This is primarily for the benefit of the vast majority that make up the world's less affluent clubs.

Manchester City would not need GPX, but a third division Belgian club might well do.

Still, too many questions remain.

Take anonymous listings. Essentially, what you have is a description of a random footballer from a random part of the world. You would know his height, weight and what foot he favours. But what of those unquantifiable traits that only a good old-fashioned football scout can spot?

Bravery. Vision. Teamwork. A cultured left foot (note: only left feet can be cultured in football parlance). And can he hack it on a cold Tuesday night at Stoke City?

In fairness, Goddard conceded that the system is still at an embryonic stage: clubs, agents and, above all, players would have to be extensively consulted, and on board, if GPX is to work.

And even if it works logistically, the ethical implications would still need serious clarifications. Would the system fundamentally change the role of the football agent? Do players have the power to remove themselves from such a database or is it up to the clubs? And can accurate information be collated on that promising winger in Senegal?

Then there is the question of whether it will actually be utilised by clubs who will surely be under no legal obligation to do so.

Indeed, will it become football's Amazon? Or its Google+?

But whether you think it is a brave technological leap by the geniuses at Fifa, or the death of the football transfer market as we know it, Jansen's protestation that he would have no idea how it can work in practice, if implemented, seems somewhat contrived.

It sounds easy enough. Just type the following: "1.69m", "stocky", "left foot", "Striker", "Rosario", "Argentina".

Click "search".

 

akhaled@thenational.ae

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