It is not often that a technical topic like data analytics is found in the sports section. However, even football, the world most loved sport, is embracing this new technology for better decision making.
Football, like most sports, is highly competitive and anything that can be leveraged to get an edge will eventually be adopted. Although it may have taken some time, football is slowly catching up to the rest of the world in terms of technology adoption.
Today, various departments of football use data analytics for better understanding and decision making. Analytics is used to study teams and individuals to prepare for matches. It is even used in scouting for new talent.
Manchester City player Kevin De Bruyne is pioneering a whole new use of data analytics nowadays: that of negotiating contracts. While negotiating for his new $83-million deal, De Bruyne employed the services of data analytics company Analytics FC.
This was one of the few times that a player has negotiated her/his contract without an agent. Instead, De Bruyne relied on the advice of Brussels-based legal firm Atfield and Roc Nation, his management company, owned by rapper Jay-Z.
Analytics FC was commissioned by De Bruyne to help him sieve through his past, present and future projected performances.
These were coupled with a comparison with other world-leading attacking midfielders. The report supposedly showed that De Bruyne was underpaid by a significant margin according to the training-ground guru.
Analytics FC was able to calculate all these with the use of an in-house developed software called TransferLab, which they use to calculate a player’s “contribution value.”
The algorithm takes into account various variables such as the player’s expected goals and expected assists. With these, they can then work out the effect of the player on his/her team’s chances of conceding or scoring a goal. De Bruyne’s is obviously high as he is arguably one of, if not, the best midfielder in the English Premier League.
In an interview with David Novo of Portugal’s Record, the founder of Analytics FC Jeremy Steele said: “We were contacted by the people who manage Kevin De Bruyne’s career. They were aware of the data industry and the specific issues they wanted to analyze.”
“Kevin De Bruyne asked us to study all aspects of his contribution to the team and even how prepared Manchester City is for success in the years to come, based on the age and quality of the players. The results seem to have convinced him that he is an integral part of the team and that this is the best club to pursue his career.”
“We also collect other personalized data, whose specifications cannot be discussed due to confidentiality. It is increasingly common for players’ representatives to want to know more about their performance from other sources, especially Big Data. However, this is the first time a player has hired us to work directly on their behalf. It is an evolution in football, I believe.”
Lyon striker Memphis Depay is another pioneer of this new focus on data to make better transfer decisions. In 2016, he used the services of another big data analytics firm, SciSports, to help him identify five suitable clubs where he could successfully resurrect his faltering career.
The result was a transfer to France’s Ligue 1 team Lyon, where he has been able to rack one of the highest number of goals and assists. The Dutch company compiled a report that took into account the “playing style of clubs and managers, competition in his favoured positions and other key points based on Memphis’ personal wishes.”
As teams and individuals continue to embrace data analytics in sports, we are going to see new and innovative uses of this concept. That will hopefully make the sport better for everyone involved.