Love them or hate them, there is no hiding from the fact that over the last few years, TV talent shows have dominated the airwaves. With millions of people tuning in week after week to watch desperate wannabes struggle to hold a tune on the X Factor, or to admire their favourite Hollyoaks star perfecting his Paso Doble, it is fair to say that Britain is a country obsessed with the talent show genre. It should come as no surprise therefore that football, another of this country’s favourite pastimes, has been unable to escape the lure of the talent show format.
Earlier this year, Sky broadcast ‘Football’s Next Star’ which saw youngsters from around the British Isles battle it out for a professional contract at Italian giants Inter Milan. The show followed two previous series of ‘Football Icon’ which presented players with the chance of signing terms with then Premier League champions Chelsea. In the most recent series, turn out at trials was disappointing and whilst a handful of decent players were unearthed, there will always be questions over why their talent hadn’t been spotted earlier.
Whilst the concept of the aforementioned shows feeds our addiction to talent shows, it is hard to believe that they are anything more than a marketing ploy from the clubs involved. The vast amounts of money invested in the Premier League enables top flight clubs to establish extremely sophisticated methods of recruiting young talent from around the world. Top clubs like Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea have enormous networks of scouts working for them all across the world. From the streets of Seville to the beaches of Brazil, Premier League clubs have scouts waiting to pounce on young footballers, ready to sign them up, move them to England and fast track them into the senior squad.
It is difficult to see therefore how TV producers can offer anything to these clubs other than a bit of publicity. Indeed if you trace the careers of the winners of Sky’s shows, it is not surprising to learn that on the whole, they have returned to the doldrums of the Sunday leagues or the dog eat dog world of youth team football.
The benefits of increased publicity however remains a massive lure for clubs and the chance to enhance their profile on a national level is irresistible. Last week, colossus Korean electronics company Samsung launched a nationwide search for an undiscovered footballing talent. On offer for the lucky winner is a professional contract at the giants of Wiltshire football, Swindon Town. In addition, the winner will receive boot sponsorship from JJB Sports and will feature on the cover of FourFourTwo, Swindon’s shirt sponsor. Despite my scepticism of football talent competitions, this may actually prove to be a very promising partnership for the League One club. Without the glamour and finances of clubs such as Chelsea and Inter, Swindon do not have the luxury of large squads and a sophisticated player recruitment system. So, not only will the club gain press coverage, they may well be able to unearth a player capable of playing at their level, something ‘Football’s Next Star’ and ‘Football Icon’ failed to deliver.
Unfortunately for the TV companies, using clubs who could really do with the help of finding new players will not draw in the same volume of viewers that a big name club inevitably will. However, these are the clubs that need help the most. These are clubs that depend on youth academy players and local talent. So whilst Swindon’s boss Danny Wilson may not command the same media profile or attraction as Jose Mourinho, it its clubs like his who deserve the investment and help in unearthing new talent. With Samsung’s programme, Swindon have ensured that it is the team manager as well and the marketing manager who will be happy.