The history of football’s relationship with technology is a chequered one, from the game’s long resistance to implementing goal-line gadgetry to the tale of former Aston Villa striker Darius Vassell taking a power drill to his toenail in the misguided belief that it would relieve pain.
Ryan Bertrand hopes to change that perception. When he is not propelling Southampton into the upper reaches of the Premier League and furthering his own case to be part of England’s Euro 2016 squad, the former Chelsea left-back works on developing his little-known fintech business.
Bertrand’s start-up Silicon Markets, which he established with two friends and operates from the One Canada Square hothouse Level39, launched last year and boasts of being the first brokerage to offer free artificial intelligence and machine learning software to retail traders.
It could scarcely be further from the now-antiquated stereotype of footballers’ extra-curricular business interests being confined to running a pub or owning a racehorse.
“I kind of wanted to go against the grain,” Bertrand told City A.M. “The traditional footballer who reaches perhaps mid-30s, stops and then thinks ‘what am I going to do now?’ I think we have a good business team and we’re going to actively progress things, predominately staying within the tech markets.”
John Terry: Captain, leader, investor
If that sounds disarmingly cerebral, their next offering, Footiemoji, is more mass-market. An app that allows users to buy football-themed emoji packs for use in mobile messaging, the project counts ex-England captain and Bertrand’s former club colleague John Terry as a backer.
Bertrand says his company hopes to replicate the success of similar apps in the United States and the timing of its recent launch is designed to capitalise on a big summer of football, with the European Championship and the Copa America both starting next month.
While footballers are no strangers to fronting products in order to plump their already lucrative earnings, this app is the 26-year-old south Londoner’s own work, and is, he says, as much an expression of his genuine interest in tech as it is a post-football investment.
“When we pursued this it was a hands-on job because we wanted to have fun with it ourselves,” he added. “It’s more of a hobby; it’s not really about money. There’s nothing like this on the market at the moment and we hope that football fans can have fantastic enjoyment with it.”
Trading at 18
Bertrand’s interest in finance is nothing new. He puts an early curiosity about business down to wide-eyed visits to his mother’s place of work, Morgan Stanley’s offices in Canary Wharf, and was quick to dabble in trading when he turned 18.
He would swap tips with Louis Bell, then a fellow Gillingham youth player who later fed his own appetite for trading with a career in the Square Mile. There Bell spotted a gap between the tools available to institutional and retail traders, so he and friend Bertrand set up Silicon Markets.
“Tech’s massive – it’s all over the news. You’ve got Tesla, you’ve got Elon Musk, tech is revolutionising everything that everyone does,” says Bell, 25. “I honestly believe finance is changing, especially for the everyman who just wants to trade. Our goal is to allow him to trade not like professionals but as close to that as possible.”
Footballers in tech
Thierry Henry / Grabyo
Arsenal record goalscorer Henry is an ambassador and investor in on-demand social media video company Grabyo.
Louis Saha / Axis Ventures
Ex-Manchester United, Fulham and France striker Saha set up Axis Ventures, an online portal for footballers to manager their careers.
Mathieu Flamini / GF Biochemicals
Another Gunner and yet another Frenchman, the midfielder co-founded a biotech company that produces a green alternative to oil in 2008