Editorial — You might have heard of the ‘football pyramid.’ In nations like England, the pyramid refers to the structure of the football leagues from top to bottom. The Premier League is at the top, and the pyramid expands the lower in the divisions you go. The ‘pyramid’ normally refers to an individual nation’s league setup, but I see all of world football as a pyramid.
Only the very best, elite footballers can make it to the top of the pyramid. I’m talking about the handful of Champions League and Europa League-level teams and the players who play for them. However, the lower in the divisions you go, the number of players globally who are good enough to play at that level grows significantly, as does the number of clubs.
How many players worldwide are good enough to play in the German fourth division? Tens of thousands, probably. How many are good enough to play in the German 1st division, the Bundesliga? Not many. This is the global football pyramid.
For men’s semi-pro footballers in Canada, that means there are professional opportunities elsewhere. There isn’t much doubt in my mind that many of the players in League1 Ontario and PLSQ (Première Ligue de Soccer du Québec) are good enough to play professionally somewhere in the world. In fact, the last 2 Canadian Premier League U-21 Player of the Year award winners, Tristan Borges and Mohamed Farsi, have come from League1 Ontario and PLSQ respectively. In general, a good chunk of the CanPL has come from these two leagues.
Other examples include Belal Halbouni, who currently plays for Werder Bremen II, as well as Emilio Estevez-Tsai, currently with ADO Den Haag u21. Both are League1 Ontario alumni and weren’t really standouts at that level either. Yet they are now donning the shirts of reputable, top-division European clubs. MLS regulars such as Alistair Johnston, Tajon Buchanan, Dayne St. Clair and Richie Laryea are all League1 Ontario products as well. All of this simply proves that League1 Ontario and PLSQ are high-quality semi-pro divisions that are developing professional-level players.
I know the Canadian Premier League scouts League1 Ontario and PLSQ thoroughly, and of course, everyone would love to play in their home country, but with only 8 CanPL teams and 16 Canadian roster spots on each, there simply isn’t enough room for every deserving Canadian player. We have to keep pushing some of our players into the global professional market. And they’re more than willing to go abroad as well.
I just came across an old game sheet from when I used to do PxP for @League1Ontario, look at all the players who are playing in the @CPLsoccer #IslandGames or in #MLS for @TorontoFC. Precisely why L1O deserves more love. pic.twitter.com/QDTEu7k7ps
— Pierce Lang (@piercelang_) August 25, 2020
There is one issue preventing many Canadian semi-pro players from landing opportunities abroad
Unfortunately, our players face a big stumbling block. Do you know of a player in League1 Ontario or the PLSQ? Search them up on Google right now and see if they have a page on Transfermarkt.us. If they do, check the page to see whether there is any sort of statistical information on their time in League1 Ontario or PLSQ. There isn’t, is there?
For you, this is an annoying little issue that you’ll probably forget about in a few minutes. Now imagine if you were that player you just searched. The lack of statistics actually bars your progress, because even if you are good enough to play at a certain level, decision-makers in foreign countries don’t have enough information on you to give you a shot.
Football is a business, and you’ll see that if you ever deal with agents and intermediaries, especially from foreign countries. Plenty of agents nowadays are asking players for their Transfermarkt profiles to judge them and help facilitate moves. While it is lazy intermediary work to solely use Transfermarkt, it’s such common practice globally that we almost have to accept it as an unfortunate norm.
Once again, imagine you’re a Canadian semi-pro player who is good enough to play at the level an agent is asking for, but your Transfermarkt page doesn’t show a single thing about your performances in your current league. You will probably get passed up, and you won’t get the chance to prove yourself, as there are many other players out there who could take your place. As I mentioned, at the lower professional level, tons of players are good enough.
This means that clubs and agents would much rather sign a player with a previous statistical track record, making a player’s digital presence so crucial for their professional ambitions.
“When I see the PLSQ, I see a lot of players who can make the jump to this league,” Farsi told https://t.co/0i5kqU6wuH. “I hope there will be more. We have a lot of good players there and they don’t have a direct link to the CPL.”
— actualité soccer canadien (@SoccerCanadien) May 1, 2020
Why these players are getting left behind as football scouting goes digital:
Of course, intermediaries with higher standards actually take the time to watch matches and get to understand players, rather than just check their Transfermarkt profiles. Nowadays, agents and scouts use massive subscription databases such as Wyscout and InStat to watch matches and assess players both statistically and visually.
As a scout for an agency myself, I can tell you that these databases are a huge part of the work that is done and they often hold the key to a proper assessment of a player.
For me, there is plenty of statistical and visual work that goes into assessing a player. Overall, I believe ideal scouting relies 60-70% on visual observation and 30-40% on statistical observation.
Unfortunately, scouting a player at this level of detail just isn’t possible for players in League1 Ontario or PLSQ. While League1 Ontario has its full matches on these databases, there isn’t much data, if any, on individual players. It simply is not enough information to compile an accurate assessment. The problem is even worse for PLSQ players, who don’t have any of their match footage on these websites at all. Our players are losing contract opportunities due to a lack of digital presence. Remember, this is a genuine career ambition for many of them – not just a hobby.
One Canadian semi-pro player I spoke to said that he has lost multiple contract opportunities due to a lack of stats on Instat and Wyscout. Not just one opportunity, but multiple. This is a common trend for players in these leagues.
Canadian semi-pro players are often relying solely on existing connections to get contracts rather than the actual quality of their play. This despite the fact that League1 Ontario and PLSQ have proven that there are professional-caliber players in their league.
Football scouting and intermediary work is going digital. With a high level of on-field development already being proven in Canadian semi-pro leagues, the next step should be to provide our players with accurate representation on these globally-relevant websites such as Transfermarkt, InStat and Wyscout to further enhance the footballing opportunities that they are good enough to claim.