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Tracking Technology Identifies African Football Talent

A boy plays soccer at the village of Bikuy on the outskirts of Bata, Equatorial Guinea, February 3, 2015.
A boy plays soccer at the village of Bikuy on the outskirts of Bata, Equatorial Guinea, February 3, 2015.

Jomo Sono, regarded as the greatest attacking midfielder South Africa’s ever produced, has secured the rights to distribute an extraordinary performance tracking device that’s already being used by some of the world’s top clubs.

Regarded as the “Black Prince of South African Football”, Jomo Sono is aiming to make kings of footballers around the continent with PlayerMaker, a performance measuring system.

“I’m renowned for unearthing a lot of youngsters from the dusty streets of black townships, and one of them will be appearing soon, who I discovered (when) he was 15 years old. I took him all the way to England,” Sono said.

That was two years ago. It was during this visit to the United Kingdom that Sono saw the PlayerMaker in action for the first time.

He decided he’d be the one to bring it to Africa.

Sono’s son and current New York Cosmos midfielder Masilele described PlayerMaker as a “talent scout driven by artificial intelligence.”

Masilele explained that the PlayerMaker incorporates something called “gait tracking.” This constantly examines a player’s body position, how he runs, how he moves, to pick up any anomalies.

“It’s motion-based technology; it’s a wearable football technology that goes on your boot. It’s completely comfortable, that you don’t feel, completely durable. It has a 5-hour recording time; a 3-hour charging time. It takes the statistics and technical balances and data of all the players that use the device on the pitch, so you can see how many times a player has passed the ball, and received the ball; which foot the player’s receiving the ball on; his kick velocity," Masilele said.

Manchester City and Liverpool are just two top clubs using the PlayerMaker.

Strapped to the outside of a boot, it uses algorithms to analyze data, which is visualized for players and coaches to review on a tablet or phone.

After a match, the boot sensor is connected to an app to access insights on 15 “unique performance indicators,” including physical data and leg balance.

Masilele said PlayerMaker allows players to be their own coaches.

“It just makes the workload easier; for someone to come say, ‘This is what I’ve done for the week; these are my statistics; this is my run distance; this is my pass average; my playing tempo; how many times I play one-touch; how long I hold on to the ball…’”

The PlayerMaker device currently costs around 250-dollars, including a one-year subscription to the app.

In African terms, this is expensive. Sono, however, said it’s worth it.

“Parents are paying 5-thousand per month to keep their children at some of the soccer clubs in this country. Five-thousand per month! Just to play and train football. I’d rather buy this, as a parent. Every time my son comes back, I’ll take this, put it in the computer and say: ‘This week we’ll work on your speed, on your shooting, passing…’ You become a coach yourself,” Sono added.

The businessman and technical director for the South African Football Association says he’s going to do his best to make the PlayerMaker as affordable as possible in Africa. His vision is to roll it out in youth leagues across the continent.

"Imagine the possibilities when coaches fit the device to the boots of Africa’s already skillful players, players who’ve never had the opportunity to use technology to enhance their skills." Sono said.