How Technology is Shaping Football in the Pre & Post COVID era

As the Football leagues across the world prepare to kickstart the remainder of their season. We look at some of the key tactics, analysis that play an important role in shaping Football with the use of these technologically advanced tools and how it will affect the game in this COVID era.

Tracking Player Performance

Performance development in international football over the years has rapidly increased with the help of quantifying data and advanced analytics. Since Fifa´s approval on wearables in electronic performance and tracking systems in 2015, many clubs have resorted to algorithms to study the graph of the players from their performance to be prone to injury or rather prevention from it and improvements in player statistics.

Be it managers who want to track the positioning of their players, scouts to search for new talents or fans who like to indulge in critical analysis of their teams. With the use of event data, the actions that were match relevant or happened during the match by movement data and video analysis, shape a study for the analysts. Moulding it with  positional data of the ball and players are  tracked automatically by cameras or via sensors. Finally leading to machine learning techniques based on neural networks.

While most tactical analyses are performed by reviewing video and matches in person, soccer-logs can be used to perform automatic discovery of tactics, simplifying the complex process of match analysis.

’Using machine learning and predictive analysis, we can learn the facts that lead to success. Players can then use these learnings to optimise performance and continually improve.’ Said supervision  head of operations, Bruno Mendes of Benifica to Wired.

21st Club , a strategic advisory business for football clubs used a tool  to identify a potential new player for a club in eastern Europe. The footballer was earning 25 per cent less than the average player on the club’s existing 20-strong shortlist; the valuation model estimated the player to be better than all but one of those 20. “This shows the power of smart use of data,” said Omar Chaudhuri, 21st Club’s head of football intelligence to FT. “The player was from a market that they [the club] didn’t necessarily have the resource to scout in great detail, but by using data we were able to highlight a specific player worth looking at.”

 In 2006, the team of event-coders at London-based Opta Sports were tapping buttons to record the time and location of every pass, shot, tackle and dribble. Today, each Opta-coded match contains around 2,000 data points.

 While the software and infrastructure FIFA put in place for the 2018 World Cup allowed all teams a stable and secure connection between the match analysts located in the stands to the technical staff on the bench pitch side, as CNN reported.

In the most cutting-edge development, data scientists have developed a technique called “ghosting”, where algorithms predict the most likely actions players will take in certain situations. “You identify a specific scenario that tends to disrupt the opponent, giving you, say, a 30-second window where the opponent is disorganized,” says Paul Power, an AI scientist at STATS, an analytics company. “That’s the 30 seconds you then focus on in training.” Data scientists track how many hours of sleep players have had, which players recover better, how much a player will grow, and much more.

They use GPS tracking to gather player speed, distance covered, and average heart rate per game. As per their report, each player gets a tailor-made program for themselves.

Again, these techniques have huge value in player recruitment.  Models of players’ movements can be aggregated into playing styles for whole squads. This allows scouts to home in on players with similar styles to their own teams, ensuring tactical compatibility. 

Scouting during a Pandemic

As football is gearing for a comeback directors figure a way to manage revenue with empty stadiums, dwindling sponsors, and pay cuts for many players and managers. Recruitment of new players too will change, so will the scouting.   Lack of physical contact,  unable to understand the personality of the players, their family agents, and studying their role in the club has been difficult as it’s done over video-conferencing, which is not convincing enough for the industry experts. With the implication of social distancing, clubs can’t test how a player responds in the setting of a new club and team, hence in- house players from the academies of the clubs, from the u-16, 8-21 teams could be seen given an opportunity. 

Former Arsenal Chief scout, Steve Rowley, recently said while speaking to Guardian, ‘While the various scouting platforms offer an invaluable depth of information, they only provide so much of what a scout needs. The statistics are vital but to see an individual’s real character, and how they handle themselves in certain situations, you have to watch them in the flesh. As a result, and with the lack of money going around, I think clubs will be particularly cautious when considering big signings in the short or medium term. It is hard to make conclusive judgments from a distance and there will be a certain nervousness about making costly mistakes.’

That is where imagination comes in, the present situation may breed a more creative kind of scouting. Clubs will put more energy into looking for bargains lower down the divisions, or in smaller foreign leagues. You’re always trying to find a hidden gem but the rewards for reaching beyond the obvious may be even greater now.

Football in the  Covid-19  era

After almost 3 months of lockdown, football clubs in Germany, Italy and Spain of the premier football leagues have resumed the season again, with Bundesliga paving the path for the others with already having started their league.

Europe’s top five football leagues could lose as much as four billion euros ($4.33 billion, 3.75 billion pounds) in combined revenue if the coronavirus pandemic completely wipes out the rest of the season, according to a study by KPMG.

La Liga in Spain could lose as much as 600 million euros from broadcasters, the report said, while Serie A clubs stand to lose up to 450 million euros from a canceled season.

The Bundesliga and Ligue 1 stand to lose as much as 400 and 200 millions euros respectively.

Italy’s football federation (FIGC) decided on Monday to use an algorithm to calculate final rankings in the top-flight Serie A soccer championship if a new surge in COVID-19 cases made it impossible to complete the season.

However, as Tom Fordyce recently wrote for BBC.com, “In this current dark reality, the sport doesn’t matter but it does.” Why? Because sports order our lives in many ways — from the element of exhilaration that comes from watching your team compete to the structure and order imposed by seasons and schedules. “Sport makes sense, most of the time. There are precedents and organization and timelines. You do this and this happens. You start here and you end there. None of which feels true in the path of a pandemic that has accelerated across old borders. And so sport becomes our prism for trying to understand what that is and what it means,” Fordyce adds. 

Clubs resorting to new ways to keep fans Engaged

The Football Business Academy (FBA) is devoted to training the next generation of leaders in the dynamic football industry. So it is not surprising this pioneering educational institution is stepping in at this precarious and uncertain time to help navigate the way forward. In response to worldwide lockdowns, quarantines, and confinements, The FBA has introduced a weekly webinar series designed to help keep stakeholders apprised of key industry developments. The first topic of discussion was ‘How COVID-19 is directly impacting football clubs across Europe’.

While in the clubs, measures are being discussed and studied to have a systematic and automatic way of guarding the entries without the need of security guards when the stadiums do open to the public, to encourage social distancing. In the meantime, La Liga that is set to resume this week has implemented innovations in two main areas: virtualization of stands and fan audio as well as new camera positions and the images they will offer to viewers. The effects would be like in the FIFA 2020 PlayStation Video game but with real action.

13 times European champions Real Madrid uses the cloud to transform their organization in multiple ways.  With nearly 450 million fans across the globe, finding a way to connect with them all is not an easy task. Built on the cloud, Real Madrid is using data to connect with its millions of fans by creating a virtual stadium where fans can enjoy the match without having to travel large distances, something that will come extremely handy in today’s times. They are also set to play the first match against Eibar at the Alfredo di Stefano stadium which serves as a home to the Real Madrid Castilla. Many players in the first team came from the Castilla, hence going back to playing to their roots could be a boost for some and also an advantage for the young players from the Castilla, who could be getting a chance to showcase their talent.

The pandemic has definitely demonstrated that the game needs to come back for the sheer celebration and the immense connection it holds across worldwide fans. It has also paved the way for newer innovations and methods that will strengthen the whole dynamics of the business of football.

Author

  • After studying Art History ,working for different Museums in Madrid and contemporary art galleries in Mumbai. Founding Art Throng - a global art curatorial think-tank promoting emerging artists from around the world. Gradually taking onto Sound Performance , after which getting selected for the Music and Sound Residency at Fabrica, Benetton's Research Lab in Treviso, Italy. Where she worked on creating original soundtracks for different projects and brands like Bvlgari and the UN during the one year . A driving interest in Programming and Machine Learning also took its first steps there. Eventually studying Data Science and Analytics ,working for LY Tech, a small and growing business working on innovative, fail-fast R&D projects in the information and communication domains. She curates our Artistry Segment and writes articles on Technology and Art. She has her first book, inspired by her multi-faceted journey as a Writer,Programmer,Data Scientist, Sound Composer and Curator, being released in Autumn,2020. Specialising in Sound Design,Python Programming ,Data Science, Content writing, curatorial art projects.

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