Increasing Significance of Data Analytics in Football
June 14, 2021
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by Stephen Kanyi

In December 2012, Arsenal bought sports data analytics firm StatDnA. This was the culmination of what had been an increasing role in the world’s most beloved game. Finally, a sports club was going to formally collaborate with a tech firm to help with the technical side of the beautiful game.

Innovator

Former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has always been an innovator. He arrived in England as a lowly figure from the Japanese league and few knew of him. Many discounted him as a cheap hire who was out of his depth.

Upon arrival, he immediately embarked on implementing radical changes on the technical side of the game. Issues such as nutrition, physical training and game statistics which were a latter thought in the English game at the time were his main focus. So novel were his methods that no one paid attention to them at the time. But a few years into his reign and people could clearly see the results of his new ways. He created one of the most formidable teams in the league that went on to finish the league unbeaten. A feat that has never been repeated to this day.

However, what is most impressive about Wenger was his recruitment. In creating the ‘invincibles’ Arsene never recruited established stars. A good example is icon Thierry Henry, one of the best strikers to have ever graced the game. He arrived from Juventus after an underwhelming season as a winger with only 3 goals to his name. Wenger converted him to one of the most lethal strikers the world has ever seen.

So successful has Wenger been in extracting value from his players that legendary Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane, perhaps the pioneer of sports analytics, is said to “idolize” Arsene Wenger, according to Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke.

Fairy Tale

Billy Beane’s insight into sports analytics is the story of fairy tales. Guy becomes manager of a low budget team. The team loses its best players to bigger teams. He then assembles an unlikely team that is constantly mocked. Against all odds, the team goes on to win the championship. It was even made into a movie: Moneyball that starred Brad Pitt as Billy Beane.

Unlike fairy tales, however, Billy’s story was not a miracle. He pioneered a new way of recruitment using statistics and data analytics to find undervalued players and recruit them. He summarizes his method by saying “The math works. Over the course of a season, there’s some predictability to baseball. When you play 162 games, you eliminate a lot of random outcomes. There’s so much data that you can predict individual players’ performances and also the odds that certain strategies will pay off.

No surprise then when Wenger recommended that Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke buy sports data analytics firm StatDna for a whopping £2.165 million. The US-based analytics firm was bought to gain Arsenal an edge in a league that was now employing statistics in nearly every aspect of the game. All 20 teams in the league and even those in the lower divisions were now using data analytics to help them make sense of the huge amounts of data collected in and out of the pitch including contract negotiation.

StatDna proved to be a shrewd acquisition by Arsenal helping them to recruit gems such as Van Persie and Alexander Song. It is now central to the recruitment and game analysis in the club helping mainly to save money when buying players.

This acquisition highlights the increasingly important role data analytics is to the game. Most teams today use complicated software to gain an edge over their rivals. ProScout 7, for instance, has become ubiquitous in scouting. It is used to create databases of video footage annotated by observations and statistics.

Innovators like Arsene Wenger and Billy Beane are proof of the importance of data analytics in sports. Through their innovation in statistics and data analytics they have helped improve sports.

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