The north east of Scotland might be more famed for its petrochemical and fishing industries, but little-known Aberdeen tech firm Sports Technology Services (STS) are helping put the area back on the football map by working in tandem with UEFA to provide football associations and clubs across the globe with access to revolutionary new coach communication software.
The programme in question is known as TactX. It is available to coaches across the world via the Training Ground section of the UEFA.com website and, using motion-capture technology similar to Hollywood movies such as Lord of the Rings, it is quietly rendering the old dressing room tactics board or flipchart obsolete.
Lesley Little, managing director of STS, takes up the story. "It is a bit like PlayStation animation and the point of it is that most players now are the PlayStation generation so Xs and Os and stick men don't cut it anymore," she said. "Coaches have to talk their language and by using something like this it makes coach communication that bit clearer.
"When I first got involved in football, which wasn't yesterday, the thought of coaches having a laptop was a joke. But now, all of them do. Most coaches have been brought up using a computer, and even those who haven't acknowledge that the use of technology is assisting greatly. They don't have to be tech savvy at all. The coach simply draws their drill or their exercise on a 2D page, and then at the press of a button it turns into 3D animation."
The project has been 15 years in the making. Its genesis came when Little's previous company, ABC, invested in a bit of French-invented software known as TacFoot. Uefa liked the concept but insisted upon the updating of the technology. So, after a brief re-think and a visit to Murray Park to use state-of-the-art motion capture technology, TactX was born. Uefa liked the product so much that they bought it, with Little leaving ABC to manage the project.
"Our role now is to act as a go-between between UEFA and the coaches who need this," said Little. "Most of our work is with the 54 national associations within Uefa, then each of those national associations has an obligation to help disseminate the tool to their coaches. But in amongst all that, we quite often get approached by clubs who want to short circuit it and get a bit more information."
To illustrate the point, the English FA already uses the platform for all its future game content, with the Scottish FA preparing to go live on the platform later in the year. The football associations of Spain, Norway and Germany are also on board, while an appointment has been made to talk it over with the French Football Federation. Gerard Houllier is a backer of the project, the former Liverpool and Aston Villa manager having found that it allowed him to standardise a team's coaching philosophy without language differences and personal nuances getting in the way.
"It is certainly getting known and the fact UEFA are funding licenses right now means that clubs and coaches can pick it up for no money, which is a fair incentive," Little said. "UEFA own the product so they want people to have a go, so clubs and associations can get the basic licence given to them for a year courtesy of UEFA. If there is a fear at all for coaches to use technology it is usually time or money so if you can take away these hurdles then hopefully they will give it a go.
"It is a great job, a great project, and the people we are working with are hugely enthusiastic about this," she added. "I don't suppose you really expect something like this to be run from a wee office in Aberdeen."