Much that I love the beautiful game (aka football) it puzzles me to see how anti-democratic it may be. There are a number of clubs that are ruling the world and can afford to splash money like if there was never an end to it. Where do they spend the money? Well, the biggest spend is usually in players: buying them has become a crazy game where hundreds of millions of euros is every day talk. Only clubs with the necessary financial support can afford it as, it is supposed, there are only a few players that can make the difference and football is like any other market: Scarce “product” and hight demand make the transaction of the players a very volatile situation. Should the highly skilled players be more usual, prices would be lower. How can we do this?: using big data. Let’s see how this is possible.
The professional life-span of a football player doesn’t go beyond the middle thirties. At that moment their value start decreasing rapidly, so the sooner the player starts playing the better, and the more the merrier. The introduction of big data and analytics can change this. Lets start from the beginning.
The Football Academy
Clubs of all size have something in common: an academy. And not only their own, they manage a number of associated clubs that will lend and share players in a matrix that will make players learn, progress and advance to higher and better categories hoping that, one day, they will become top players at their club. Big clubs will manage through this system hundreds, if not thousands, of kids trying to make their way through with just a bunch reaching the top categories. At these academies is where all the big data and analysis process may start.
The big data analysis depends on the amount of data that is introduced, and I am not talking just about the basics like high, weight, etc. The more data is introduced the better so you can not only create a large database for future usage, it will also let you take decisions on how you can players may progress.
Lets say that the coaches at that stage introduce the sort of daily training there are having, exercises done, time used…but then you also introduce other factors like injuries, psychological situation, off the pitch data like their performance at school, etc. After sometime you can start comparing in between teams and see how they perform in their weekly games correcting, maybe, the sort of training of the underachievers or providing extra school support to those players that are behind as performance in school and worries may be an undermining element in the kid performance, something that you would have not detected should you have not followed this sort of progress in your system. Some may claim that they are already doing it, but how do you know how much this affects the kid if you can not compare it at large scale?
When you speak to a scout in regards to the ability of a gifted kid to become a star, they usually resort to the phrase: “In my experience this kid has 30-50% chances to become a very good player”…and that is the key: In his experience. How many children is he able to follow constantly? Maybe 50 or a 100. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt: 300. How many children do you have in a big club like Real Madrid, Manchester United or Juventus? Thousands. We have seen time after time how good children have to leave their beloved clubs to sign for someone else because they don’t have the proper support or are able to be promoted as there are so many players above…which you don’t know if they will become the players you hope. Then, once those kids leave and start playing for other clubs in many occasions they become fantastic players and, when you decide to sign them back, they cost you an arm and a leg.
However, you don’t have that problem to sign Brazilian or Argentinian kids at an early age. Why? Because those clubs don’t sign in anybody. They produce hundreds of kids every year and make them play, giving them the chance to shine. European clubs can not do that since they have signed players that are “worth” tens or hundreds or million Euros (as far as their intermediaries are concerned) and are a blockage for local kids. Managers don’t have what it takes to give the local youngster a chance since they have to make profitable the signing of that multimillion euro player. Having the ability to separate the wheat from the chaff with a big data system would make things a lot easier for managers, scout and players alike…and much cheaper for sure.
Going up in the categories
You need to continue updating the database over the years and while it is true that you will not have results until the first kids that started at the bottom of the categories reach the top team…or not. What is important is that during those years all data continues being introduced: all up and downs in the player will be part of what he/she may be in the future…and not only that. Once you have gathered enough data over the years you can also start predicting future behaviours on the young boys. You can start anticipating whether a 10-year-old kid with a number of skills and under a set of circumstances will be able to make it to your under-18. We know that a player must be lucky as well with injuries as those are the main stoppers in all players life. However, as you will have those medical details from previous situations you can foresee what may happen.
The top class players
You, as owner of a club, have been lucky. Your efforts (and money) are paying dividends and your “kids” are starting to make it in the top team. Now, the question is, will they be worth 10, 20 or 100 million euros…or nothing? Again, more data has to be introduced and comparison must be done against other already established players to start giving you some ideas until you have your own data. In this mathematical game factors like marketing (sometimes reaching the “propaganda”) will take effect and, in the future, you could predict whether a certain player with certain characteristics is worth the effort before the full club’s effort in trying to produce a top or world class players is produced.
The technology behind
It would look like you need an army of people entering data, but this could not be the case. At lower ranks (u8, u11, u13 for instance) managers and coaches can do it through simple applications, maybe something easy developed ad-hoc so they can enter the data in their mobile devices or tables in a few minutes. All the data then would be transferred to a cloud system where it would be compiled for other coaches and managers.
The higher you go (u15, u17) the more accurate data you will want to have, so maybe those initial minutes may not be enough. On-the-pitch data introduction will not give you all the results that are needed in the future, so you, as a big club, will need time from your scouting team to do this.
When you go to where money talks (u19 and up) all the details you have will not be enough. For a small city team selling a player for 10 million euros will be like winning the lottery as that may be the budget for the next few years. For a big club that will not be enough even to pay the current session stewards. You will want to have more data, even the data that is not control by you which could deter and influence the value of your players: the general information and how a player is perceived by the general public.
There are systems that are “listening” the internet and searching for all kind of information. As soon as something that affects you (or not, depending on the scope of the information that you want to manage) appears on line that information will also be integrated in your players profile. This will make your players value go up or down, regardless of whether the player is not doing anything from a footballistic point of view.
Business Intelligence, analytics and decision support
Big data analysis and supporting system in an environment are a long-time investment. The sooner you start the better as you will be producing reports and controlling your strategies at a very early stage. The money making and budget-player controlling at multi-euro level will be something that will need time. This is one of those occasions in which patience pays off. Small teams may be happy with the implementation of a system that can just produce fine players to a certain age, so data will be in a more cost-effective situation as they will not be aiming very high. However, those clubs that are in the multinational scenario will have to make every effort to have these systems in place as money for buying players is not endless. Television and petrodollars can not support everything for ever. Creating internal players of the best quality will be the only resort left.
Control the situation before the situation controls you.