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Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Data and Analytics in Soccer, Rise of Deeper Decision Manking

The Rise of Deeper Decision Making, Money and data driving next steps. 

Data and Analytics in Soccer

As the 2022 FIFA World Cup gets underway in Qatar on November 20, some of the most important action will be taking place off the field. Most teams will be furiously crunching data on goalies’ tendencies to try to determine how to win a penalty shoot-out if there’s a draw at the game’s final whistle. But this type of single-instance analysis is only a small part of the revolution taking place in the boardrooms at some of soccer’s biggest clubs. Today, the most important hire is no longer the 30-goal-a-season striker or an imposing brick wall of a defender. Instead, there’s an arms race for the person who identifies that talent.

Barcelona players in a tight huddle as they celebrate a win during the 2012 UEFA Champions League

How the best soccer team in the world lost its luster,  BY SIMON KUPER

Members of the Italian national soccer team celebrate scoring a goal during a qualifying match for the UEFA European Championship.

Successful teams: Superstars need not apply, BY BEN LYTTLETON

Sports Industry Outlook 2022 

The research department at Liverpool FC, the team that won England’s Premier League in 2020, for example, is now led by a Cambridge University–trained polymer physicist. Arsenal FC recently hired a former Facebook software engineer as a data scientist, and current Premier League champion Manchester City hired a leading AI scientist with a PhD in computational astrophysics to their research department. Chelsea FC’s new American owner, Todd Boehly, spent his summer trying and failing to hire a new sporting director with a data background. These are all examples from England, where the sport’s richest clubs are investing to gain an edge—and often recruiting from ahead-of-the-curve clubs with proven track records, like Monaco, in the French League, and the German club RB Leipzig.

Soccer has a rich history of this sort of analysis. Charles Reep, a military accountant, became soccer’s first data analyst in the 1950s, predating personal computers, Billy Beane, and the Moneyball moment in baseball, in 2003. That was followed up, in 2009, by the soccer equivalent, Soccernomics, by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski, and data-driven sports analysis entered a new era. Among Kuper and Szymanski’s findings: goalkeepers are undervalued in the transfer market, and players from Brazil are overvalued.

I cofounded a football consultancy ten years ago with the authors of the book. One of our first clients was the Netherlands national team. We’ve been applying data to soccer for a while—but a lot of it is backward-looking, trying to mine past performance to account for what could happen on the field. We provided the Dutch team with a penalty-kick dossier before the 2010 World Cup final against Spain, in which Professor Ignacio Palacios-Huerta, an expert in game theory, showed penalty trends and patterns of Spain’s kickers. Spain scored four minutes before the end of the game to win, but the Dutch were confident they would have won on penalties.  .... ' 

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