'Football is in the grip of a revolution. Following the model adopted by baseball and basketball in the US, the use of statistics to analyse play and players is transforming the world's biggest sport.'
Not a decade ago, the US national team coach called for Super League clubs to film their matches, to benefit not only Eagle scouting but also the competitors' game analysis. He was ignored and even ridiculed.
Those days are gone, and it is comforting to read that European soccer was fighting the same battles. From the modernisers side of the field, the Financial Times' Simon Kupfer provides an insightful view of how statistical and notational analysis is changing rugby's first cousin (registration required).
At the center of the tale, unsurprisingly, is Billy Beane, the Oakland A's general manager who has done more than most to popularize a statistics-driven view of baseball that is transforming some of that game's most deeply held views. Yet soccer's journey of self-discovery is interesting in its own right because, like rugby, action is intended to be continuous.
... By the mid-2000s, the numbers men in football were becoming uneasily aware that many of the stats they had been trusting for years were usefless. In any industry, people use the date they have. The data companies had initially calculated passes, tackles, and kilmetres per player, and so the clubs had used these numbers to judge players. However, it was becoming clear these raw numbers mean little.
It turns out, for example, that distance run at top speed is more indicative of quality than simple distance. So too is work rate on defense a metric newly coming into prominence.
In rugby, Sevens World Series tournaments generate an enormous amount of conventional, unsatisfying data. The International Rugby Board's Game Analysis unit also has sought to investigate statistics from leading 15s tournaments.
Soccer's trajectory demonstrates Dublin's paradigm, however worthy, is not likely to be accepted in toto. Yet as Kupfer points out, advanced teams are solicitous of the metrics they are developing.
Thus it may be some time before new standards gain popular acceptance. That is hopeful for America, because here too coaches and statisticians are at work. Let us see what we can figure out for ourselves. In evaluating the game anew, there is no reason our perspective should be any less insightful.