How Can I Watch The Football Game On My Phone Analytics in Football – A Double Edged Sword

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Analytics in Football – A Double Edged Sword

The sport as we know it today has come a long way. There were times when watching sports on TV was considered a huge step forward in terms of technology. Fast forward 60 years, watching sports on TV has become the nitty-gritty. Today we watch sports on the go on our mobile phones or any device with a screen and Internet connectivity. Proud of how far we’ve come, right? I hope I can change your mind about it at the end of this article.

What is the sport about? Sports is a group of people who come together to play a game with predefined rules and a referee to ensure that these rules are followed during the course of the game. I am a sports lover and I play sports all the time. My love for tennis and soccer in particular cannot be defined. My issue when it came to technology and advanced analytics was with the soccer game in particular. Soccer is such a beautiful game. The strategies that the coaching staff come up with and the way that the players execute them on the pitch is actually a beautiful thing. I myself was a soccer player (just an average one) and was part of several teams. I know firsthand how strategies are built, how much thought goes into a single move.

Enter -> Advanced Analytics

Most of you would have seen the movie Moneyball. The movie was based on the book that Michael Lewis wrote in 2003. It talks about how an athlete-turned-luminary uses advanced statistics to gain a competitive advantage over his better-funded opponents. This book sparked a revolution in sports. Fans and football club boards no longer wanted to settle for poor statistics or analysis. What Moneyball did was take an old cliché: “sports is business” and moved us to the next logical question: “how do we do things smarter?”

Now let’s talk about advanced analytics. Advanced analytics in today’s world plays an important role in all business sectors. Advanced analytics has been a godsend for us. In moving from descriptive analytics to prescriptive analytics, we’ve actually come a long way. In various businesses, where the requirement is demanding, advanced analytics is of paramount importance.

When we look at football, it’s a game that doesn’t require too much artificial intelligence, it’s a game that needs the human element. When you incorporate analytics and technology and try to reduce the human element in sports, you just crush the spirit of the game.

Relying on analysis largely killed the Premier League’s long ball game and brought on the pressing, continuous passing tiki-taka. Each league had its own style of play. The Premier League had the cheeky, cheeky style of football that was dubbed “The Way Real Men Play Football”. There were beautiful long balls, hard tackles, but all the players just hung on, walked away and it was up to the referee on the field to penalize or not penalize the offender. There were arguments and fights, the passion of the fans was crazy, that was football that screamed with passion, when players got into the faces of other players without fear of punishment. Those of Eric Cantona, those of Ivan Genaro Gattuso, those of Jaap Stam from the world of football disappeared very soon and the diving and biting began. Then there was the tiki-taka style of football played in the Spanish League, the silky style of play that caught everyone off guard. The legendary Pep Guardiola and his army in Barcelona were the masters of tiki-taka. There was Real Madrid, who were always a star-studded lineup with excessive parts of their game relying on lightning-quick counter-attacks that, more often than not, left opponents stunned. There was Manchester United, who had their own brand of football led by the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson. That United team was a team of sheer determination and character. Each of these leagues had its own beauty and the teams had their own style of play.

When you incorporate excessive technology and analysis, unfortunate technologies like VARs (Video Assistant Referees) emerge.

There are 3 stages to how VAR works:

Step 1

an incident occurs

The referee informs the VAR, or the VAR recommends to the referee that a decision/incident be reviewed.

Step 2

Review and advice by the VAR

The video is reviewed by the VAR, who informs the referee through headphones what the video shows.

Step 3

A decision or action is made

The referee decides to review the video images at the side of the pitch before taking the appropriate action/decision, or the referee accepts the VAR information and takes the appropriate action/decision.

Now the referee can consult with the VAR basically any doubt that he wants to clarify. What does this?

• Removes the human element from the game.

• It takes up too much time and causes too many interruptions in gameplay that was previously free-flowing and continuous.

This makes it similar to Formula 1 racing. The analytics generated by the fuel weight management systems and numerous pit stops removed the continuity of the race and viewership dwindled with the rise of technology. A rather similar trend could occur in soccer if this implementation becomes mandatory.

The positive side of advanced analytics in soccer:

Analysis is not so bad in football. Take the case of when Simon Wilson joined Manchester City in 2006. Initially, Simon Wilson was a consultant to an analytics startup called Prozone. He joined City to start an analytics department and hired top data analysts under him. He wanted to change the way soccer teams used data. He saw that after a loss, there was no introspection about why they lost and what to do next. City was a mid-table club at the time. In September 2008, when the club was acquired by the Abu Dhabi United Group for Development and Investment, a private equity entity owned by a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family, the team suddenly found itself with the resources to challenge for the Premier League. League Today, Wilson is Manchester City’s manager of strategic performance analysis. He has five departments running him, including the performance analysis team, which is now headed by a sports scientist named Ed Sulley.

After each match, the team’s performance data would be examined. The list is extensive. Line breaks (a rugby term), ball possession, pass success rates, ball win/loss time ratio were what used to be analysed. “Instead of looking at a list of 50 variables, we want to find five, let’s say, that really matter for our style of play,” says Pedro Marques, a match analyst at Manchester City.

“With the right data sources, the algorithms will generate the statistics that have a strong relationship to winning and losing.” Wilson recalls a period in particular when Manchester City hadn’t scored from a corner in over 22 games, so his team decided to look at over 400 goals that were scored from corners. It was noted that around 75 per cent resulted from inside corners, the kind where the ball curves towards the goal. The next 12 games of the next season saw City score nine goals from the corner.

Teams are investing heavily in analytics today and it’s working in their favor. Look where Manchester City are today, sitting at the top of the Premier League table and not threatened at all. Look at Manchester United this season, their game has been such that their possession rates are low but their goal conversions are high. The Manchester Derby on April 7, 2018 saw United have just 35% of possession, but they managed to beat City 3-2. Each team has its set of analysts who provide information based on the strength of the team.

Advanced analysis is like Two Face’s coin in Batman: “Heads you die, tails you survive!”

You can reap crazy rewards from a team standpoint, but at the same time you can disrupt the beautiful game by bringing unnecessary stoppages, replays, and taking away the human element. The numerous replays and different angles show fans whether or not the referee has made a mistake. That the error occurs, after all, to err is human. Refereeing in soccer is not an exact science and everything is in real time. That there are discussions about a decision, that passion is manifested in the discussion. Do you want to watch a football game like El Clásico or the Manchester Derby and sit with your friends and say “it was a very fair game, the best team won!” Hell no! Don’t extinguish the passion of soccer with technology and analysis. Let football be football and let technology go away!

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