At the end of August, a video published by Real Madrid on its social networks became news throughout the football world. It was not a bomb reinforcement, nor was it a play. Specifically, there were several Merengue players in free throw training. But what was striking was that instead of practicing with a barrier of static figures, they did it with a mobile…
Nothing like this had been seen so far. And it soon became known that there were other European clubs that also had one of them in their training facilities. The invention, of course, It was from a manufacturer from the Old Continent. Nevertheless, the idea had its roots in Argentina.
Francis Santucci, Argentine architect who developed the idea, and Walter Gomez, former soccer player and current coach who accompanied him in the process, are two of the three founding partners of the project New Calcium. And they told the story to Hey.
Santucci, Gómez and Laulhe, the founding partners.
-How was the idea born?
Santucci: -I kicked free throws with my friends and I read a note saying that Cristiano Ronaldo had a very low goal scoring percentage from free kicks. It seemed strange to me. At that time I was in Spain, and two weeks later, on a Madrid subway, an image of a fixed barrier moving comes to mind. I got nervous, because I knew there was no such product. This was like six or seven years ago. I wrote everything down and went back to Argentina. And one day I said ‘if I don’t do it, someone else will do it, because this doesn’t exist’.
Gomez: -I knew Francisco because he trained the amateur soccer team that they had. When he told me this, We investigated and neither in Argentina nor in the world was there anything like that. And I offered to give him all my experience on the field and what was needed to make the barrier work in the world of football. This was in 2017. We got together once a month in a cafe to chat and I helped him, from the role of coach, with what seemed to me that the barrier should have. Different heights, different jumps, etc.
-As an architect, was it the first time that something so different occurred to you?
Santucci: -Creativity is always about being an architect. But this was a call from the universe. After investigations, with my best friend we began to make the prototype of a manual figurine. We put money and then we made the prototype of two automatic figurines. Later, together with another Argentine company, we made the prototype of fivewhich is the one we take to the clubs.
-How is the barrier working?
Gomez: -There is a camera placed between the androids and there is a software that detects the ball at the foot. When the foot mobilizes the ball, the jumping movement of the barrier is generated. It is programmed through a tablet, with which you can manage the height of the dolls and how much you want them to jump, and if you want a doll not to jump, you can also modify it. It also has a manual jump button in case the internet with which the system works fails.
-How were the first tests in the clubs?
Gomez: -We took her first to Argentinos Juniors, a club where a relative works and where I did all the Inferiores. We showed them to Reserve players and they liked it. To the goalkeepers too, because it gave them a real feeling of what was going to happen in a game and not a fixed doll that does not jump or do anything.
-After, We took her to Racing, when Chacho Coudet was there. We showed it to him, we saw it and we discovered things too. In fact, when the players were practicing, the barrier worked perfectly. But when Matías Rojas started kicking, the barrier jumped late, microseconds, but late. Then Chacho told me: ‘Che, but jump late’. We spoke with the people who were in charge of the software, to see what happened. The conclusion was that Rojas was standing so parallel to the ball that the camera took him a microsecond later and, as a consequence, the barrier jumped at the wrong time. But with everyone else, who kicked a little more inclined to the ball, he jumped well. And from there we adjusted.
The day they took her to Racing.
The day they took her to Racing.
-How did you manage to present it in Europe?
Gomez: -I showed the videos to an important representative who lives in Spain, he told us that nobody had something like that there and we managed to travel to take it to Real Madrid that year, in 2019. We went without the barrier, only with the tablet that handled it. And we present it to a Castilla sports director. He told us that he had nothing like that. He loved it, and since he wanted to always have the latest technology, he started asking me questions about how to replace the prototype and other things about how it works. He didn’t even ask us the price, They were very specific questions. Well imagine, we got out of there and said ready, that’s it, we reached the maximum. If Real Madrid doesn’t have it, nobody does then. From there we scheduled meetings with Barcelona, with Atlético de Madrid and with the people of the Argentine National Team, through a contact of mine.
The day they took her to Real Madrid.
–A Spanish partner also appeared who was going to put up some money, and we set up a Spanish company to have a little more credibility in the European world. We did the business in Barcelona, we redesigned the barrier with a futuristic model, with the idea that there would be a camera that could correct the kicker’s movements and teach in lower divisions, and a camera to see the goalkeeper’s movements and see if he came out on time or not. From then on, it was going to be possible to see, through the statistics that the videos showed, who kicked better and who didn’t.
The arrival of the pandemic and disappointment
-What happened with the pandemic?
Santucci: –I had already closed my apartment in Buenos Aires and I had everything ready to go live in Barcelona. Of the three partners, I had decided that I was leaving. But when the pandemic hit, he couldn’t leave the country. After three months, I crossed over to Uruguay, thinking that I could leave earlier. But neither. Until at one point the routes began to open. I made a trip between six or seven countries to be able to enter Italy. There, I do the Italian passport in three months and I’m going to Barcelona in the middle of 2021. But our Spanish partner fell out, and due to lawyers and other issues, the money we had ran out. I started working as a cook here in Italy, the idea is to work in a restaurant that is opening in Barcelona and then they brought me to train here. To bank sleep I’m cooking. I do anything for the barriers. Since I left Argentina two years ago, I knew that I was going to put my chest to everything that comes. And now we’re lifting. We need a good amount of money to manufacture this demo and industrialize it.
-Was that the moment in which the competitors appeared?
Santucci: -Yes, a year ago we found this competition, which is the one that arrived in Madrid now. we already knew it existed and, when I found it, it hurt me, because I said, we are not the only ones. But later I understood that it was great because the market is beginning to assemble. It’s like the car market, there is no owner, there are many brands. And we still have two comparative advantages so we are about to get the final money, manufacture it in Barcelona and bring it to market.
-Gomez: In addition, we knew that, ultimately, there was not going to be a single one on the market. It hurt to lose the opportunity to be first and the advantage of years that we had in development with respect to the others. But this Real Madrid thing helps us to confirm that the product was good. Because it is validated and Real Madrid validated it.
-There was no possibility of patenting it?
Santucci: -We started to patent from Argentina, we changed to international patent, and a year ago we dropped it because we had no money to cover it. But the lawyers in Spain told me that with the new development we had we could put together a utility model. That means you don’t invent anything from scratch. It gives you ten years of protection instead of fifteen. What I have learned over the years is that you can protect your design, but there is nothing prohibitive. The Dutch cannot prohibit us from manufacturing and we cannot prohibit them. You can only protect what is yours. It’s like cell phones. You can’t prohibit cell phones with touch screens. They all have them, and each one has its model. There are no prohibitive patents.
-How much time do you need to finish the project?
Santucci: -We just need to finalize the prototype. The plan is in one or two months to raise the money that we lack and in another month and a half, to manufacture the barrier and test it. By early next year, we’re in the same game as the competition. Because right away you can get presales and start manufacturing.
This will be the final product.
This will be the final product.
-Is the idea still to take it to the European market or is there the possibility of readapting it and bringing it to Argentine football?
Gomez: -I tell you with total honesty: Today we are for anything. Because today time is running against us, before we had it in our favor. The problem with the Argentine market is that none of the clubs will be interested in making this investment, because it has a cost. But once, in addition to Real Madrid, Barcelona, Milan, Inter, will end up prevailing. There is a cheaper version out there, but it will end up prevailing. What happens is that I don’t think today is the time for the country, but well, what happens later is that, once it is validated and several teams have it, the sponsors themselves put up the money and buy the barrier.
-The opportunities are still there then…
Gomez: -Totally. There are markets where it has not yet reached. We have to try to be as fast as possible to finish the prototype by the end of the year. If we don’t finish it within that period, it will expand and we won’t be able to enter.
Santucci: -Of course. They hit first, and hopefully, we’ll hit harder. With humility, obviously, that is the intention, but fate will decide, ha.