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The Telegraph: Albania's secret algorithm discovered hidden talents and sent them to Euro 2024

The Telegraph: Albania's secret algorithm discovered hidden talents and

Shortly after his appointment as Albania's new coach in January last year, Sylvinho realized he had a problem. The former Arsenal and Barcelona defender had big plans for a new tactical approach.

It was the Albanian analysts, led by Alarico Rossi, who came forward with a solution. Since 2017, they had been quietly working on a tool that could transform the fortunes of the national team and unleash their nation's considerable footballing potential. Now, with Sylvinho, it was time to make the most of that tool.

Albania's secret weapon, Sylvinho quickly learned, was a database. A painstakingly compiled list of players, built over years and thousands of hours of work, which contained details of footballers around the world who could one day represent Albania.

Where Albanian players were born

The Telegraph: Albania's secret algorithm discovered hidden talents and

 Doesn't every national team have a system for tracking their footballers? Well, yes, but few national teams operate in circumstances as extraordinary and challenging as those facing modern Albania. Other nations may have their own databases, but those databases are nothing like this.

Consider this: Albania's population is about three million, about the same as Wales. But the Albanian federation believes there are up to nine million Albanians living elsewhere in the world, as part of the country's large diaspora. The challenge for Ross was to find a way to tap into that diaspora, to identify Albania's expatriate talent and then bring it home.

Six years after starting this project, the database produced the name of the exact type of winger Sylvinho wanted. His name was Jasir Asani and he plays for Gwangju FC in South Korea. Born in North Macedonia to Albanian parents, Asani had not played for either national team and was therefore eligible for a call-up.

His subsequent selection was a triumph – since he was first selected, he has been one of Albania's most important players. "The database we have is invaluable," said Sylvinho, who is assisted by former Manchester City defender Pablo Zabaleta.  

Within Sylvinho's squad for this summer's Euros, Asan is by no means alone in being born outside of Albania. Chelsea's Armando Broja, born in Slough to Albanian parents, is another example. Of Albania's 26 players, only eight were born in the country they will represent this summer.

Identifying and tracking players of Albanian heritage has proven to be one of the national team's great challenges, as well as one of their great recent successes. 

Players with double or triple qualification are often sought after by other nations and Albania has at times had to move quickly and decisively to convince these footballers to join their national team rather than another.

Rossi, an Italian, has effectively monitored the entire football world to get to this point. Albania's squad in Germany is built with players from leagues in 12 different countries and they have tracked players from almost 30 leagues over the past two seasons. These include South Korea, India, the United States, the United Arab Emirates and the first and second divisions across Europe.

Their first opponents, Italy, have instead opted for a 26 in which only three leagues are represented. The task of monitoring the players is significantly more difficult for Albania, which has limited financial resources. Indeed, Rossi and analysts have created and perfected their own algorithm, without the help of big data companies or artificial intelligence.

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