Football analytics: when football meets science

Written on 12 November 2017, 09:51pm

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I wrote a piece about football analytics in Romanian: when football meets science. It was one of the articles I really enjoyed writing and it took me over 10 evenings to do it.

Here are the top level details:

Football analytics is all about using data about previous events in order to have an indication about the outcome of future events.
It is not new: it started somewhere in the ’50 and one of the first coaches to use it was a Russian trainer called Valeri Lobanovsky, in an era where a computer was taking up rooms.
I found a correlation about the DIKW pyramid and the usage of football data:
– Data – numbers and metadata collected using manual operators, tracking devices or video tools
– Information – when data is put into context. One indicator that recently became mainstream is the ‘expected goal‘ (xG) – a percentage associated with every shot based on previously aggregated data
– Knowledge – when information is combined with previous experience. Example – aggregating information about indicators like xG (xG for, xG against, non-shot xG, xG difference)
– Wisdom – using previous levels to take strategic decision enabling competitive advantage.

The first two levels are for the football fans, media writers and TV pundits.
The last two levels are for the professional football clubs and for the betting companies. This is where the football analytics takes places and these levels can give indication about future events.

A few examples of football analytics:
1. transfers: before any transfer, the targeted player is analysed from a few perspectives: tactical, physical, technical. The modern clubs are using players databases with custom criteria in order to maximize their match rate.
2. injury prevention: by tracking the way a player runs and measuring how long his feet stays on the ground, one can evaluate the player tiredness
3. predicting outcome of future events by calculating and maintaining a club index (ex. fivethirtyeight.com)
4. penalty shoot-out: statistics showed that the team shooting first has a 20% advantage over the second team. The football governing bodies realized this un-fair advantage and recently changed the order of the shoot-out (now ABBA instead of ABAB)

In the end, football remains a random sport. Using analytics can give indications, and make the clubs better understand some questions, but it cannot (yet) give definite answers. As long as football is played by humans, the human factor will play its part and will keep football random and enjoyable.


The graphics on Fifa 16 are something else

During my first half of the summer holidays, I took the opportunity to browse a few books in addition to reading my reader (which I am doing more or less daily). Doing this, I found a few things that influenced me and that I want to share.

1. Better than yesterday

The secret is to focus on making whatever it is you’re trying to improve
better today than it was yesterday. That’s it. It’s easy. And it’s possible
to be enthusiastic about taking real, tangible steps toward a distant goal.
book excerpt, PDF, 153KB

Where: The Passionate Programmer (2nd edition): Creating a Remarkable Career in Software Development by Chad Fowler.
Why: Because even if I have this principle embedded in my mind (see the first post of this blog: moving on to better things) and even if I used it successfully on multiple occasions – it’s always a good idea to highlight it.

2. Side projects

First, we love to complain about the type of work we get.
Whether assigned to us by a boss or work that we do for clients, we never
get to work on the cool stuff, the stuff that would inspire or excite us.
Second, we are full of bright ideas for the sites we work
on but are so often blocked by others on the project. We moan that they
don’t get it, that they don’t understand just how cool our ideas are.
I believe that side projects we do in our personal time
can be the answer to both of these issues.

Where: Side projects can cure our woes by Paul Boag.
Why: Because I agree with the importance of the side projects. In my free time, I am always working on at least one side project. Last example: the Ikea store locator

3. A long string of happy customers

The best thing for your career is a long string of happy customers
eager to recommend you because you did the right thing
by them and for the project. This goodwill will serve you orders
of magnitude better than the latest shiny object in the latest shiny
language or the latest shiny paradigm. While it is important, even
critical, to stay abreast of the latest trends and technologies this
should never happen at the cost of the customer.
-Chapter 1: Don’t Put Your Resume Ahead of the Requirements

Where: O’Reily’s 97 Things Every Software Architect Should Know – Collective Wisdom from the Experts by Richard Monson-Haefel
Why: Because I also see the importance of the happy customers.

4. Programmers have a lot on their minds

Programming languages, programming techniques, development
environments, coding style, tools, development process, deadlines,
meetings, software architecture, design patterns, team dynamics,
code, requirements, bugs, code quality. And more. A lot.

There is an art, craft, and science to programming that extends far
beyond the program. The act of programming marries the discrete world
of computers with the fluid world of human affairs. Programmers mediate
between the negotiated and uncertain truths of business and the crisp,
uncompromising domain of bits and bytes and higher constructed types.

Where: O’Reily’s 97 Things Every Programmer Should Know – Collective Wisdom from the Experts by Kevlin Henney (public wiki)
Why: Because the man is right 🙂 The programmers have indeed a lot on their minds…