Scoring with Big Data

“Sometimes you’re not sure about a player. Sometimes you doubt. Sometimes you have to guess. Sometimes… you just know.”

Sir Alex Ferguson, arguably the best coach in English football history, spoke these lines while sharing his philosophy on winning. A lot of coaches in the past have relied upon sheer instinct while taking decisions, both on and off the field. Decisions about team selection, playing formation, playing tactics, replacements and much more have been impulsive and preference-biased rather than logical and analytically fair.

Big Data has changed the way this game is played. It is no more a 90-minute stint on the field, nor just a 10-day conditioning camp that makes or breaks the fortunes of a team. A group of talented experts are analysing an enormous amount of data pertaining to every minute detail, from the players and their playing styles, to stadiums, their location and the spectators. There is logic behind every pass, reasoning behind every header and analytics behind every goal. The goal posts, the ball, the side lines, shin pads and any oter thing that’s inert and relevant is fitted with sensors, which provides invaluable data during practice sessions. Such data helps in reducing errors, avoiding injuries, to work over-time on weaknesses, to polish strengths and identify new talent.

The cream of the crop of former players is no more an obvious choice for the manager’s role of a football club. Premier league teams are looking at employing managers with an eye for numbers, who have the potential to mingle with data scientists and delve out sensitive information to prepare for the league and cup matches; a manager who can trust the patterns produced by the computer in deciding upon: whom to hold on to, and whom to let go. Modelling an unbeatable team is as much a work of individuals sweating out in the field as for the data doyens milking the array of information.

Off the field too Big Data provides some valuable insights to marketers and punters linked to the game of football. While a match is underway, social network sites are abuzz with game-related chat. A cracking goal, a missed chance or a wrong call by referee are much debated on the online platforms. Marketers use data from Twitter on the most talked about player in real-time situations and air advertisements featuring this particular player at the same time.

Not many would have bet money on basic information like: amount of time a team has ball possession or the number of passes in a football match. Today many bookmakers are actually utilizing the services of Big Data when calculating odds and offsetting bets. While crazy fans keep voting for their favourite teams, the smart punters wisely use this data to great effect.

Now it is a case that with Big Data you can know, statistically, all you need to know about a player and not have to guess. You know your facts are always right.