Error In Terms.Formula Formula In Formula And No Data Argument Analytics in Football – A Double Edged Sword

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Analytics in Football – A Double Edged Sword

Sports as we know them today has come a long way. There were times when watching sports on television was considered a big step in terms of technology. Fast forward 60 years, watching sports on television has become a staple. Today we watch sports on our mobile phone or screen and any device with internet connection. We’re proud of how far we’ve come, aren’t we? Hopefully I can change your mind by the end of this article.

What is sport? A sport is a group of people who gather to play a game with pre-defined rules and a referee to ensure that these rules are followed along the way. I am a sports lover and always play sports. My love for tennis and football in particular cannot be defined. My issue was specifically with the game of soccer when it comes to technology and advanced analytics. Football is such a beautiful game. The strategies that the coaching staff come up with and the way the players execute them on the field is truly a thing of beauty. I myself was a soccer player (an average one at that) and have been part of various teams. I know how strategies are made, how much thought goes into a single run of the game.

Enter -> Advanced Analysis

Many of you must have seen the movie Moneyball. The movie was based on a book written by Michael Lewis in 2003. It talks about how a jock-turned-luminary uses advanced statistics to gain a competitive edge over his well-funded rivals. This book revolutionized sports. Football club fans and boards are no longer willing to settle for subpar statistics or analysis. What Moneyball did was, it took the old cliché – “games are businesses” and forced us to the next logical question – “How do we make things smarter?”

Now let’s talk about advanced analytics. In today’s world, advanced analytics plays a major role in every business sector. Advanced analytics has been a boon for us. Moving from descriptive analytics to prescriptive analytics, we have actually come a long way. In various businesses, where the need is demanding, advanced analytics are extremely important.

When we look at football, it’s a game that doesn’t require a lot of machine intelligence, it’s a game that requires a human element. When you bring in analytics and technology and try to reduce the human element in sports, it just crushes the spirit of the game.

Reliance on analytics has killed much of the Premier League’s long ball game and put it under pressure, with constant passing ticking. Each league had its own style of play for that matter. The Premier League had a loud and brash style of football that was described as “the way real men play football”. There were beautiful long balls, hard tackles but all the players sucked it up, took it out and it was all in the hands of the referee on the pitch to punish the offender or not. There were fights and brawls, the passion of the fans was crazy, it was football that screamed with passion, when players got in the face of other players who did not fear punishment. Eric Cantona, Ivan Gennaro Gattuso, the Jap stamps of the football world soon disappeared and the diving and cutting began. Then there was the tiki-taka style of football played in the Spanish La Liga, a silky-smooth game that dazzled everyone. Barcelona legend Pep Guardiola and his army owned Tiki-Taka. There was Real Madrid, who always had a star-studded line-up that relied heavily on lightning-quick counters that often failed to dazzle the opposition. There was Manchester United who had their own brand of football managed by the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson. That United team was a team of sheer grit and character. Each of these leagues had its own charm and the teams had their own style of play.

When you bring in excessive technology and analytics, there are regrettable technologies like VAR (Video Assistant Referees) that emerge.

There are 3 steps to how VAR works:

Step 1

event occurs

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

Step 2

Review and advice by VAR

Video footage is reviewed by the VAR, who advises the referee via a headset on what the video shows.

Step 3

A decision or action is taken

The referee decides to review the video footage at the side of the field of play before taking the appropriate action/decision or the referee accepts the information from the VAR and takes the appropriate action/decision.

Now the referee can consult the VAR basically for any doubt he wants to clarify. What does it do?

• Removes the human element from the game.

• Takes extra time and brings many stoppages within the game, which was previously free-flowing and continuous.

This makes it very similar to Formula 1 racing. Analyzes brought about by the fuel weight management system and numerous pit stops took away from the race and spectator numbers declined as technology increased. If this implementation becomes mandatory, a similar trend may follow in football.

Positive aspects of advanced analytics in soccer:

Analytics aren’t all bad in football. Consider the case of Simon Wilson when he joined Manchester City in 2006. Simon Wilson was initially a consultant for an analytics startup called ProZone. He joined Citi to start an analytics department and hired the best data analysts under him. He wanted to change the way football teams used data. After losing, he saw that there was no self-examination of why he lost and what to do next time. City were 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 outfit owned by a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family, the team suddenly had the resources it needed to mount a challenge. Premier League. Today, Wilson is Manchester City’s manager of strategic performance analysis. He has five departments under him, including a performance analysis team, which is now headed by a sports scientist named Ed Suley.

After each match, the team’s performance data will be checked. The list is extensive. Line breaks (a rugby term), ball possession, pass success rate, ball win/loss time ratio were analysed. “We want to find five variables that are really important to our style of play,” says Manchester City match analyst Pedro Marx, “rather than looking at a list of 50 variables.”

“With the right data-feeds, the algorithms will output statistics that have a strong correlation with wins and losses.” Wilson remembers a particular period when Manchester City did not score from a corner in more than 22 games, so his team decided to analyze the 400 goals scored from corners. It was noted that about 75 percent of the results came from in-swing corners, the kind that spin the ball toward the goal. The following season saw City score nine goals from corners in 12 games.

Teams today are investing heavily in analytics and it is working in their favor. Look at where Manchester City are today, sitting at the top of the Premier League table and under no threat. Look at Manchester United this season, their game has been one where their possession percentage is low but their goal conversion is high. The Manchester derby on 7 April 2018 saw United only have 35% possession but they managed to beat City 3-2. Each team has a set of analysts who provide inputs according to the team’s strengths.

Advanced Analytics is like Batman’s two-faced coin, “Heads you die, tails you survive!”

This can reap crazy rewards from a team’s perspective but at the same time disrupts the beautiful game by introducing unnecessary stoppages, replays and taking out the human element. Multiple replays and different angles, showing the fans whether the referee made a mistake or not. Allow mistakes to be made, it is only human who makes mistakes. Refereeing in football is not an exact science and it is all real time. Let there be an argument about the decision, let there be passion in the argument. Do you want to watch a football match like El Clasico or Manchester derby and sit with your friends and say “That was a great game, the best team won!” Hell no! Don’t outshine football’s obsession with technology and analytics. Let football be football and let technology stay away!

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