Football’s Data Epitome On The Horizon


 

The evolution of technology within football over the past decade has dramatically changed the game arguably for the better. Whilst goal line technology is still in its infancy, other hi-tech advancements especially in the treatment and conditioning of players are more broadly accepted and are being incorporated into clubs across the world. But one area that had for a long time been untouched and against change is now undergoing a much needed makeover. The sourcing and scouting of players has traditionally been a simple affair – with a manager identifying the player(s) he wants and clubs scouting network travelling to games to watch them. But with every match being recorded in one shape or form, the need for bums on seats in the stands is become less important. Of course there is no substitute for seeing the player first hand and the scouts in particular will tell you that there is no other way to see or catch a player’s weakness than to see him or her in the flesh. But the process of finding and scouting players can be altered thanks to new technologies and with it the data that it brings.

Heat maps like these show how players are moving across the pitch (Image from OPTA)

Heat maps like these show how players are moving across the pitch (Image from OPTA)

Using data to judge players suitability is a fairly new concept but one that more and more clubs are turning to. Companies set up specifically around data collection, processing and display such as OPTA, Stats Inc and Prozone are revolutionizing the way that players are viewed. The data can show things that potentially the scout couldn’t detect by seeing the player on the field such as an underling problem in their game or a long term injury. With more knowledge about each individual player than ever before, clubs can make smarter selections in order to enhance their team and performances. The idea of using data in such a fashion may be slow in the adoption by soccer teams but in baseball in the US, clubs regularly use stats to their benefit. Highlighted in the book turned movie “Moneyball” where Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane and his team use data to put together a winning baseball team on a budget with great success, the use of data to analyze all aspects of a players game has now become common practice. Soccer has been reluctant to date and slow to adopt insisting that data can be inaccurate and is secondary to experience and knowledge of the game. But slowly clubs across various leagues are realizing that instead of data being a threat to the way they run their club, it can hand them a huge advantage over the teams who are not.

Brad Pitt (sitting) starred in the film version of Moneyball (Image from Sony)

Brad Pitt (sitting) starred in the film version of Moneyball
(Image from Sony)

Brentford, in the English Championship are not exactly the first team you would think of when it comes to this approach but are very much a club in transition. Under the ownership of forward thinker Matthew Benham, Brentford are paving a new path for themselves by embracing the data available and using it in an effort to uncover gems across Europe. Benham, who made his money by running a sports betting and football stats business, has taken the brave step of giving successful manager Mark Warburton his notice as he attempts to switch the clubs direction to this new model. Warburton, who is considered one of the best managers in the lower leagues, has guided the Bees into the Championship and has them on course for a potential shot at promotion to the Premiership for the very first time. But regardless of what happens Warburton will part ways with the club in the summer after agreeing to terminate his contract due to a difference in philosophy with Benham. Far from being opposed to using data in the scouting process, Warburton feels that as a manager he would still like to own the decision of who to buy and who would work well in his squad, something Benham and the club disagrees with. Benham will spend the next few months identifying a new head coach rather than manager who will work alongside Director of Football Frank McParland as part of a new setup. It may be seen by many as a risky move but Benham believes it is the right thing to do for the future of Brentford FC.

Brentford owner Matthew Benham is embracing the use of data (Image from Getty)

Brentford owner Matthew Benham is embracing the use of data
(Image from Getty)

This move follows a dramatic shift in the mindset of some owners in England from the conventional British approach where the manager owns and controls the team to a European approach where a Director of Football or Sporting Director takes care of transfers, scouting and youth development leaving a head coach to coach. Recently QPR appointed Les Ferdinand into a Director role with Chris Ramsey as Head coach and although Ramsey is only in place temporarily until the summer, QPR will likely maintain this structure going forward regardless of whom they choose. It’s a similar situation at Newcastle where Managing Director Lee Charnley and Chief Scout Graham Carr are tasked with the buying a selling of players whilst temporary manager John Carver manages training and the team. They too will likely hire a full time head coach during the summer with several names already being touted for the job.

Ferdinand as Director of Football will help Ramsey with the business side of the game (Image from Getty)

Ferdinand as Director of Football will help Ramsey with the business side of the game
(Image from Getty)

Adjusting to this new approach will not be easy, especially for managers, coaches and scouts who have been in the game for considerable amounts of time but the evolution of technology will continue with or without them. Data, like in baseball will start to play a more significant role in how teams operate both on and away from the pitch. Mangers who cannot adapt will be pushed to the sidelines and replaced by new coaches who can. It is an evolution of football that has been coming for some time now but only in recent years has picked up enough steam to push its way through to the end.

To see more on how OPTA is helping the data revolution, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7bCp0pHuHqQ

If you liked this post, please repost or retweet. Share your thoughts now on Facebook:https://facebook.com/BackOfTheNetBlog  or on Twitter:https://twitter.com/BOTNBlog

Rangers Rebuild Begins with New Managerial Appointment

Rangers have appointed Mark Warburton as their new manager (Image from Getty)After the dust had settled on a disappointing season that saw Rangers failing to get out of the Championship at the first attempt, focus has swiftly turned towards next season and with it comes the news of a new managerial team hand picked to bring glory back to the troubled Ibrox outfit. Former Brentford boss Mark Warburton and his trusty assistant David Weir will be trooped out in front of the waiting media today as Rangers new board takes its first steps towards rebuilding the club. Warburton arrives to a mixed reaction from the Rangers faithful who were still largely enamored by stand in boss and former player Stuart McCall.

Despite his best efforts, Stuart McCall failure in getting Rangers promotion cost him the job  (Image from Getty)

Despite his best efforts, Stuart McCall failure in getting Rangers promotion cost him the job
(Image from Getty)

However after being parachuted in by the board to steady the ship and seal promotion, McCall only managed to get this sinking ship over the line, falling at the last hurdle to Motherwell in a rather pointless relegation/promotion showdown double episode. That defeat convinced many at Ibrox that major surgery was needed on both the playing staff and the coaching setup with perhaps for the first time in the clubs history a need to distance itself from its past tendencies to appoint former legends like McCall to save the day. He will have known at the time that defeat in the playoffs against his former side Motherwell would seal his fate however in typical McCall style he came out fighting and made a valid pitch for the job full time. That pitch was convincing and will have likely sparked debate at the boardroom level. But the sentiment towards McCall as a player for the club may have been his downfall with a fresh approach much needed. In Warburton, Rangers can get that freshness whilst maintaining a link to the clubs past through his assistant, David Weir. Like McCall, Weir is an Ibrox legend, a captain fantastic who surprised many in Scottish and world football by playing well into his forties with the same tenacity and spirit that he possessed as a kid some twenty years before. At Rangers Weir was the most respected man on and off the pitch at the club for a long time and many tout him as a future manager but for now they will settle for him as the assistant to Warburton. The new manager will need Weir’s insider knowledge of both Rangers and Scottish football if he is to settle in quickly and have the best chance of success.

David Weir will be an important part of the new backroom team  (image from Steve Parkin)

David Weir will be an important part of the new backroom team
(image from Steve Parkin)

However the challenge that awaits Warburton and Weir is nothing less than daunting. They inherit a skeleton  playing staff that lacks both in numbers and quality. Many of the faces from last years disaster campaign have gone – Boyd, Moshni, Foster, Daly and McCulloch with a few others eyeing the exit door with enthusiasm. There will be cash available to invest in players but it won’t be the amount that Rangers fans are used to seeing. The days of frivolous spending that saw Rangers wasted vast sums of money on the likes of Tore Andre Flo and Michael Ball are long gone. The focus will be on building for the future, investing in players who can not only compete in the Championship but also in the Scottish Premiership in the foreseeable future. Youth players will play a pivotal role in the clubs forward success especially given Warburton’s background in nurturing talent. Unfortunately for him that talent will not be coming out of the clubs youth system at Murray Park for a while as that well has all but dried up by now. The last prodigal son to come through that system was Lewis McLeod who ironically was sold to Brentford just as he began to stamp his authority on the Ibrox turf. Others have emerged since then like Tom Walsh and Ryan Hardie but have yet to really establish themselves as indispensable components of the Rangers machine. Warburton will have to look beyond Murray Park in search of young talent and again unfortunately will hit a snag. With no scouting network in operation at Rangers, the work will fall on Warburton, Weir and his coaching staff initially until a chief scout can be identified and brought in to help.

The days of overspending on players like Flo are over for Rangers  (Image from AP)

The days of overspending on players like Flo are over for Rangers
(Image from AP)

Building a squad capable of challenging is one thing but building one that can do so in under four weeks is another. Rangers pre-season training kicks off in earnest in early July with their first Championship match due on August 8th. Warburton will start the rebuild immediately but it will be time that will be his biggest opponent as he battles to get Rangers ready for the new season. The pressure on Warburton and Weir will be immense but the duo who led Brentford to the English Championship play offs only 18 months after taking charge should be able to handle it. Only time will tell whether Warburton can steer Rangers back to the Scottish Premiership and back challenging for the top Scottish honours once more.

If you liked this post, please repost or retweet. Share your thoughts now on Facebook:https://facebook.com/BackOfTheNetBlog  or on Twitter:https://twitter.com/BOTNBlog