It is tempting to think that the Palazzo Ducale in Genoa must have played host to a season of James Bond films this summer, such have been the goings on at the city’s two Serie A clubs over the past couple of months. Covert operations and high-tech gadgetry have seen both Genoa and Sampdoria make headlines in Italy and across the world.
In September, Genoa’s youth goalkeeping coach was found in full camouflage gear, spying in the bushes outside Sampdoria’s training ground prior to the local derby. Earlier, on one July morning, Sampdoria’s players came across an unfamiliar sight when they stepped out onto the training pitch at the Centro Sportivo Gloriano Mugnaini.
Above them hovered a small, helicopter-like object. Slightly wider that the length of a ruler and just over half as tall, the four-pronged device emitted a constant buzz, like an oversized insect circling overhead. Off to the side of the training pitch stood a man with a remote control, guiding it through the sky. “What is that?” Sampdoria head coach Delio Rossi exclaimed upon making his entrance. “It’s noisy.”
The object in question was a DJI Phantom, a lightweight aerial multirotor drone fitted with a GoPro HD camera. Orange and black in colour, it lingered above, recording their every movement.
The drone was part of a new partnership between Sampdoria and local company Flyonaction. The company was established by Marco Loconte in the early months of 2013 in a bid to fuse his two loves: extreme sports and technology. It had, until the collaboration with Sampdoria, primarily focused on the filming of mountain bike events, including the Italian leg of the downhill World Cup. But after discussions with officials at Sampdoria it emerged that the company’s technology could be put to use by a football club.
“The drone has never been used before in football”, Loconte told Inside Futbol. “The GoPro HD camera has been used in football for promotional videos, but never as an technical and tactical aid.” Loconte an associate set up a 12 metre, ultralight pole behind one goal and filmed the rest of the action with the drone. “With this technology we were able to record the whole match with a complete view of the pitch and the position of the players, even those far away from the ball.”
The cameras were used to film two training sessions and two pre-season friendlies. The drone fascinated the Sampdoria squad, especially assistant coach Fedele Limone, who at times seems mesmerised by its presence in the Genoese sky. “The players and all of the coaching staff reacted with curiosity and interest when they saw the drone”, recalls Loconte. “It was not only a novelty for them, but for all of Italian football, for all of football full stop.”
Yet Loconte is confident that the benefits of filming with a drone go way beyond mere novelty value. “The coaching staff really liked shooting with the drone and the pole”, he explains. “It was very helpful for them in analysing the position of players on the pitch.” The footage could prove particularly useful for analysing set-pieces, with the drone providing a cost-efficient solution for tracking the movement of players inside the penalty area as the ball is delivered.
There are plans for Flyonaction and Sampdoria to continue their relationship into the season, with further tactical videos and promotional recordings in the pipeline. Loconte is also hoping to collaborate with other clubs, at home and abroad. “We have some ongoing negotiations with clubs in Italy”, he told us. “In the coming months we also hope to start new collaborations with teams in other European leagues.”