Interview: New software revolutionises organisation of football clubs, starting at Sporting, FootballISM claims
FootballISM now has three apps; including one for the players.

Football – a business or a sport? Both would be the correct answer. As a business, it’s constantly left behind by other industries. FootballISM, a software project mastered by Portuguese IT company Agap2 in partnership with Sporting Clube de Portugal, is changing that and bringing football up to date.

Clubs are enormous entities, bigger than most businesses. Few industries have one organisation that has scouts, players, coaches, doctors, lawyers, executives, parents, teachers, agents, groundsmen, stock suppliers and others. Football does. And yet at some top clubs, those groups of people aren’t interlinked; they communicate with a text here, an e-mail there, a Whatsapp, a piece of paper on a desk. Managing Director of Agap2, Filipe Esteves, told VAVEL UK of the revolutionary impact that his four-year project has had and will have on Sporting and other top football clubs.

FootballISM: a new club-wide software project

It is an Integrated Software Management solution, effectively meaning that everything is under one roof; all those groups of people, all their work, all their requirements. It wasn’t developed for Sporting, it was developed with Sporting, the first club in the world to scout and train two FIFA World Player of the Years – Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Figo – and the club to provide half of Portugal’s Euro 2016 winning squad. ”It really covers everything inside the club,” Esteves tells VAVEL UK.

“We could only do it with a club like Sporting, because no IT company could do a project so big, with so much detail, alone, without a football club helping them. Because the work they do with youth football – the academic things, psychological profiles, follow-up of players [after scouting], their personal development plans – all these speciality things inside youth football it’s amazing. It’s such a huge business, such a huge knowledge, and there’s a lot of things Sporting is acknowledged for in football. A lot of it, the trade secrets, is inside ISM now, so that’s another reason why clubs are interested in ISM.”

Sporting have one of the finest youth set-ups in world football. But it, like everyone’s else’s, requires updating. Aurélio Pereira, the iconic scouting coordinator at the club who revolutionised recruitment in football back in the 1980s, said, of FootballISM, “the best training school in the world who formed men and players needs to be updated in all fields of modern football today. This tool allows us to be at the forefront, not only in search of the best talent but also in the management of our Academy.”

Exclusive: Chelsea considering new scouting technology

That point is key. FootballISM effectively claims to bring everything together. “There is no full integration of anything in football now,” said Esteves, who will go for further meetings with top European clubs in August, including Premier League champions Chelsea. “We’ve been to France, Spain, England, in there we have clubs interested in buying ISM, we have started working with a consultancy company in England, called Sports360. I’m going to travel to England again in August to present to another 5-6 clubs.”

“We’ve already been to Chelsea, now we are in contact with the scouting department and the player welfare department. We’ve met Barcelona, big clubs in France.”

For Esteves’ company, a football club presented a unique opportunity. “There was everything to do,” he says.

ISM now has three separate apps for different individuals in the club. “We have a player app where the pro players and the youth players are always in contact with the club. They have their player schedule, their nutrition plans, their video preparation given by the coach. No more emails, text messages, it’s their complete player schedule including training, games, physical exams, personal development plans, everything. With a mobile app, a player always knows where he has to be, at what time and for what. That’s a really new concept inside football.”

FootballISM: designed to improve efficiency at football clubs

Another major beneficiary is scouts, many of whom are accustomed to tirelessly filling out paperwork, wasting valuable time. Time is also vital in scooping the best players in Portugal and across the globe before Sporting’s competitors.

“Sporting has a really big recruitment department. It’s where it all starts, you cannot have good players if you don’t have a good scouting department,” Esteves declares.

More importantly, though, for an IT company looking to maximise the revenue of the club they work with, good recruitment means increased transfer fees at a later stage. “In Portugal, there’s been, for many years, a tradition of exporting players. There’s a lot of money involved in transfer for young players.” In England, Esteves reminds us, Tottenham Hotspur have recently benefitted hugely from Kyle Walker, sold to Manchester City for £45m.

“Sporting have a budget of €5-6m a year in the academy. One sale of a player for €20-30m pays for the academy for the next 5-6 years," Esteves explains.

Most of Sporting’s best talents, if not all, have left the club – think Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Figo, Nani – but they are a huge source of revenue. FC Porto, Sporting’s rivals, have perhaps mastered exporting players to an even greater scale – think André Silva, Jackson Martínez, Danilo, Alex Sandro, Eliaquim Mangala, Fernando, Nicolás Otamendi, Falcao, Hulk. As of late July, FCP have sold players for €61.9m and spent just €21m. Chelsea are the only English club to produce players to sell, though Manchester City are leaning towards that trend.

Sporting face huge competition in recruitment

Sporting obviously has great rivals for the best Portuguese talent. Manchester United have two permanent scouts in Sporting’s country, with Benfica and FC Porto the other two huge clubs. Time is of the essence. “If the scout is with the mobile apps, which they take to games, the club can take a decision in a matter of hours [on whether to offer the player a trial] because the scout reports back directly in real time. If the clubs wants to, after only 10 minutes, they can tell the scout, approach the parents and make an offer.”

“Before this,” Esteves laments, “it could take a week or two before they assembled all the information and made a decision. So that’s a big advantage compared to all the other clubs.”

90% of Sporting using FootballISM

“The scouts are now getting the training because the new season is starting.” They are one of the later groups to begin using the software full-time. “I can say 90% of the club is now using it,” Esteves reveals. The only exception is the legal department, too busy with transfers and contracts to undergo training just yet, but they’ll start using it in August.

FootballISM also provides “the maximisation of human and material resources,” it claims. Another very business-like statement. It’s no longer simply a game. “They can even save money on staff. That’s not a very nice thing to say. But it’s that they can maximise the way the staff work. They can reallocate people. The man putting info into Excel each day, that guy can be used to work on something else, even better for his career inside the club.”

It’s taken four years to build Agap2 and Sporting’s revolutionary project. “It was a matter of chance. The former president of Sporting, he felt a need to improve on their information systems. We sat with Sporting and discussed what they wanted to do. At first, it was a very simple project, not very big, just helping with some things in the academy. Then we started expanding the range and scope of the project.”

“It’s been done in two phases. It took us four years to develop, in the first place, for them [Sporting], and now for the market. For the first two-and-a-half years, we dedicated ourselves to the youth football. Then we took another step forward, and made it for the professional teams also. There’s a lot of similarities in terms of management of the club [between youth and pro teams], but the legal department is a lot more important when it’s about pro players. It was a long road of four years to get to a project so big as ISM, it really covers everything inside the club.”

Now, Esteves and his team will present to more and more clubs across the continent. He expects progress with English champions Chelsea and has exchanged proposals with two top French clubs. More will follow, having to match the modernisation Sporting have put themselves through. At times, it looks like a game of Football Manager, but this is a sophisticated project to radically change football clubs and how they're run.