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11 November 2017

There’ll come a day when professional football is played by drones

It would save a fortune on wages, and end the transfer market. 

By Hunter Davies

Last year I sold our house in Loweswater where we had lived half each year for 30 years. My wife had died. I could not face living there alone.

The local estate agent I contacted to do the dirty deed – well it seemed dirty to me, awfully disloyal to Lakeland – boasted that they employed a drone, and a fully qualified drone pilot. The idea was to hover about 400 feet in the air, film and photograph our lovely house, and lovely five fields, and show the three lovely lakes within walking distance.

I leaned on my Sunday Times friends, the ones running Home, the property section, and wrote a feature about the house, telling the estate agent when it would appear. On the day it did, with a cover photo, the estate agent had not yet got the house on their website. I was spitting.

After six days, the house details finally appeared online. Two people immediately made offers, at the asking price. One of them appeared to have the cash, having sold some internet company. He turned out to be a Tottenham Hotspur season-ticket holder, so clearly a man totally sensible and reliable; I don’t think I could have sold it to an Arsenal fan. So I accepted his offer, still cursing the estate agent and the pointlessness of having paid extra for the stupid drone.

Drones are now droning on everywhere – and have entered the world of football. Can you guess how? The manager sends them for his champagne? Wives use them to monitor their husbands coming out of nightclubs?

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Nope, much more technical. The head coach of Napoli, Maurizio Sarri, has used drones to record training sessions, then he plays the files back and explains to his players where they should have been, the positions to take up, the formations they should aim for.

Drones can’t be used at real games – in most places the law would not allow it – so you have to rely on TV, which covers most angles on the flat but is, in a sense, one-dimensional, not giving you the overhead view.

Sarri’s method seems to have helped. Napoli are currently leading Serie A in Italy, scoring loads of goals, though they were recently beaten by Man City in the Champions League.

But the use of technology in football is now becoming tedious. All top clubs have battalions of video analysts going over every second of every game, producing stats showing who ran most, passed most, fell over most, as if we couldn’t see it with our eyes. There are also specialist tech companies producing data and selling it to clubs whenever they are contemplating buying a new player, or how to line up against their next opponents.

Newspapers’ sports departments have brilliant young graduates who spend all day on the computer working out which team scored most in the last five minutes of a game, scored the most goals when there was a C in the month. It does produce cheap copy to fill the page.

Sky is now driving me mad by putting up such dopey stats on the screen during the game.

Those England Under-17 world champions who were revealed wearing strange sports bras under their shirts, which turned out to conceal heart monitors to record their performance, are presumably doing it with permission from the football authorities. If each player can now be remotely wired up, what is to stop them being given instructions in their ear while playing?

If you are a Chelsea player with Conte standing on the touchline having apoplexy, that must be bad enough, but at least you can ignore him. Imagine if he could bellow straight into your lughole. Or even worse, remotely control you – your legs, your passes, your vision. If we are going to have driverless cars and robots doing the housework or to cuddle us in bed, what is to stop remote-controlled footballers? Perhaps drones will actually play the game. It would save a fortune on wages, end the transfer market. Who would be the masters then? The drone pilots, they’d be in charge. Coaches would be obsolete. 

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This article appears in the 08 Nov 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory sinking ship

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