Big data. By themselves these two words do not sound like football, but without realizing it they begin to form part of its content and its continent. The dictionary specifies the definition, but does not excite: “Set of data or combinations. Procedures used when converting data into information that facilitate decision-making and minimize possible errors.” Applied to football, it is about looking for technical, tactical and physical talent through statistics and data that the clubs have at their disposal.
The specialists in the field did not initially consider soccer an appropriate sport to implement the data analysis. It didn’t seem possible to quantify his actions like in baseball, football, hockey, even basketball. However, time has led them to the contrary and it is already an unstoppable phenomenon you may need a good makeover and a simple explanation of what it really is and what your goals are.
“Whoever turns his back on it and does not ride this train will move away from the race to success”
Big data should be accepted by the world of football as the video of the 21st century. It does not come to banish the human being or to replace already common supports accepted and used by the majority. It comes like a hurricane to complete the knowledge of the experts and be an effective working tool.
The words of Monchi, Sevilla sports director, and one of the pioneers in its use, are resounding: “Whoever turns his back and does not ride this train will be far from success”. He is not the only one, of course, that in Spanish football handles this tool in his daily task. If it was necessary to point out a club that in its new project, including promotion to First Division, has firmly opted for this mechanism, it would be necessary to look towards Huesca and its sports director, Rubén García. “My intention is none other than to apply common sense to all the data that I have at my disposal. Last season, the promotion season, we signed 23 players and in this one, 11, without taking into account the recovery of those transferred. In all of them In practically cases, we have taken advantage of big data or artificial intelligence as one more support for the work of sports management “.
The idea is none other than to help make better decisions and minimize the margin of error. Professionals who already accept this instrument as a companion animal are looking for an ally who completes their own impressions and becomes another tool for consultation. Monchi, in his public exhibitions, recalls that data, numbers, have always existed in the world of football. “The key is to know how to separate the interesting data from the superfluous ones. A football match generates eight million pieces of information and you have to know what interests you at all times. Saturation can lead to errors. You cannot sign players through the data. , but neither will I sign without statistical data to help me reduce risk and save time. The most important thing is always to know what is needed and wanted at all times“, it specifies in one of its masterclass.
To understand the benefits that this tool can bring to football, we must start from a common root for all clubs. Rubén García, recently arrived at a Huesca relegated to Second, had to complete a new squad in a complicated situation due to the Oikos case (supposed plot of matches and bets). His first steps were simple and traditional. “The first basis of global functioning is that the management choose the idea of the game that they want for their team. It is not the same to choose a coach and then some players for a team that wants to have a positional and attacking game, than for another that want to play the counterattack. I started with the coach, Míchel, whose idea of the game fully coincided with that of the club and mine. It was the one I had managed in the City group when I worked with them in the US “.
And from that starting point the template is formed and that is where the data begins to have its reason for being. “A squad is made according to how you want to play and the objectives you have. It is not the same to form one to save yourself than to be a champion. To play as we want, you need people with very good feet, who do many meters at high intensity and do, in general, many total kilometers. The game of possession and position requires you to run more, even if people get confused by this concept. So we sign specific players for this style. We look for what we need in each position. We enter our parameters and we filter by posts “.
In a year and a half, promotion included, he has signed 34 players using the data as a differential element
The case of Huesca explained by Rubén is exportable to any club. “The parameters that are entered in the statistical program are different for each position and have to be in accordance with what we want for each position. In addition, the physical data provided by the GPS and the filtered technical data of each player are added. Big data helps, but it does not determine me for a signing. It is a support, but it is not definitive. I do not lose the romantic and archaic point of the eye, intuition and smell. I use them, but it is also rare that I sign a footballer that has not gone through those filters. All this statistical documentation prepares us for the market. We have to know and be prepared for any player that they offer us. “
Pablo Peña is a coach and director of analysis for the company Statsbomb, an expert in football data and analysis and therefore an expert in this tool that already seems essential in the world of football. “Big data is now in the world of football what video and platforms could have been at the end of the last century, which emerged as indispensable tools to get to know footballers and teams better. Also then there were reluctant people who wanted to follow traveling to see the players and teams live and they did not finish accepting the new support, which really allowed them to continue preparing their reports in the stadiums, but at the same time they could see many more games by video. Now the same is intended, help the work of a sports management to be more effective through data and also cheaper in the sense of economic terms and time resources. What you get with the data is to filter all the competitions and have the information for what what you need “.
“This tool allows reducing the margin of error when making decisions”
From his periscope of specialist and technician at the same time he wants to clarify the contribution of the new tool. “The scout, the scout of a lifetime, does not go away. Quite the contrary, but the most he can see are 20 games a week, which is already a lot. The data may be shallower than an expert who knows everything, but it has the advantage that it controls a million games if any. The data is cold and does not have the biases that people have. If you combine the objective information of the data with the subjective scouts you achieve a better result. You are more efficient, you cover much more ground and you have less room to make mistakes. Nowadays, if you don’t use big data, you are at a disadvantage with other clubs. Most already use it to a greater or lesser extent. It does not come to replace anyone. It comes to complement. The important thing is that it clarifies, that it helps. Experts like Monchi, Víctor Orta, Gabi Ruiz… are going to be even more important because they add their own value to the tool that everyone can have “.
His final conclusion is severe: “The club that uses it well will have a competitive advantage over the rest. It is a modernization of sports directions in that constant innovation that they have. Giving up data is giving up something that is going to make your life easier. It makes no sense not to use it no matter how much you have existentialist ideas of what professional sports should be like. At the end of the day what you have to achieve are results. “
Goliath vs. David. Liverpool’s 128 years against Midtjylland’s 21… but two companies with a common denominator: the use of big data as an operations tool in everything related to the transfer market. Two convinced of the cause that the Champions have joined this season in the same group. The Anfield men were strong in their stadium (2-0) but the Danes, debutants in the competition, started a point in their small MCH Arena in Herning.
Both clubs, two of the most advanced in the field, met in the last group stage of the Champions League
The identification of the young Danish champion (he has won three of the last five Superleagues in his country) with mathematics is so strong that he proclaims himself as a club-dating, the most innovative in the country. He is a partner of English Brentford, who last season played with Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds for promotion to the Premier. Both clubs live from the same source. The pipe of data, of numbers, of algorithms. They are owned by the same owner, Mattheuw Benha, and Midtjylland president Rasmus Arkensen is Brentford’s sporting director. “We do not disconnect our brain, data does not govern us, it enlightens us. Data has a very great weight in our market activities, but we also watch a lot of football.”
An article from New York Times May 2019, just when Liverpool were proclaimed European champions in the Metropolitan, they discovered that the Anfield club’s secret weapon was the use of data analysis on everything related to your transfer policy, coach Jurgen Klopp included.
Reading the documented writing reveals that to recruit the coach in 2015, analysis director Ian Graham had analyzed all Borussia Dortmund games, his team at the time, and that the result of the report presented to the owners was conclusive for the technician to land at Anfield. Once at the club, to convince the coach that the big data department should be taken into account in decision-making, Graham gave him as an example two games that he had not seen even on video but that he knew how to dissect in such a way to Through the data that the technician surrendered to the evidence and was convinced that taking advantage of that work could only be positive for him.
Liverpool began paying close attention to big data with the arrival of new owners, Fenway Sports Club., who, from their experience in baseball, had full confidence in this methodology. Graham, a physicist by profession, but a football fan, grew up in Cardiff, came to Anfield from Tottenham. He had a hard time being taken into consideration. The components of your team have nothing to do with a conventional sports address. Tim Wasketten studied astrophysics. Dafydd Steele has a postgraduate degree in mathematics and previously worked for the energy industry and Will Spearman did a doctorate in high-energy physics at Harvard University and worked at the Center for Nuclear Research, where the existence of the subatomic particle boson of Higgs.
As the analysts themselves confirm in the article, they are developing a model that uses video and assigns a score to all the actions that occur in a match and includes players who are not close to the ball. “Soccer is the sum of thousands of individual actions, but only passes, shots and movements of the ball are evaluated that are downloadable from the summary of a match. There are still fundamental limitations to the data we have. It is like continuing to see through a cloudy lens. The math version should reflect more of what happens in the field. Not only does a defender pass to a midfielder, but with what speed he gave it and how the pass was received. That includes a player running down the wing without directly participating in the play so that an opponent has to choose between which two players to cover. When you have that you can start creating new approaches. “