Football Signs Up Data Analytics

If fans can use online football betting formulas to calculate their chances of winning when betting on their teams, why can’t English clubs do the same?

In days past – when online betting and odds-taking were not as popular as they are now – winning a football championship meant recruiting the best players by offering attractive remuneration packages and motivating them to do their best, making sure that each player comprehends the strategy to achieve a team objective.     

The job of bringing together all these attributes belongs to the team manager, a man with a deep understanding of the sport, usually an experienced player with an extraordinary ability to communicate this same understanding of the sport to his team and to develop winning strategies.  

In those days, the team statistician or data analyst, whose job was anchored around data gathering and analysis, was usually relegated to the background, almost reduced into an inconsequential support staff.  Up until recently, his output primarily revolved around providing data for the score sheet, which did not bring meaningful contribution to his team.    

Fast forward. Team managers continue to make the call for the players. Recruitment of good players is still a good investment. And a new addition to this mix is the data analyst, whose useful game insights could make or break a team.   

In truth, most of the elite teams in the English Premier League have long been employing the services of data analysts to help in the recruitment process and in developing strategies to defeat opposing teams.   

Using high-end football analytics apps, an analyst is able to access innumerable football-related data, including shots and passes each player makes, turnovers, penalties, defensive strength, and pitch control.  In the hands of a good football analyst, such information translates into winning moments.  

This is why when Laurie Shaw, a former research scientist and lecturer at Harvard University, announced that he was joining Manchester City, the football world pulsated with surprise.  It was as if Man City signed up a new “superstar”.  

The general sentiment among lower ranked teams was that they would rather invest in a better team manager and skillful players than spend more for data analysts.

Oxford University graduate and Brentford FC owner Matthew Benham does not agree. He sought out his team’s data analysts and mathematicians to gather and study the statistical data of talented football players who were left out by other teams through conventional scouting methods.  

Instead of seeking out better known players through the normal drafting process, Benham decided to use the information provided by his analysts to recruit prequalified new players designed to complement the original team.     

Using the information provided by data analysts, Brentford FC broke at least nine previous playoff spells to score a surprise, 2-0, victory over Swansea City in the championship, before a jubilant home crowd at London’s Wembley Stadium. 

The victory sealed Brentford FC’s promotion to the English Premier League for the first time since the top flight league was founded in 1992.   

There are 20 teams in the Premier League, 17 from the previous participants and three new qualifiers – Brentford, Norwich City, and Watford.  The three new teams replaced Fulham, West Bromwich Albion, and Sheffield United.  

The promotion also means a share of a potentially rich pot worth hundreds of millions of pounds in broadcast and sponsorship revenues for the small London-based community club.  

Most clubs, especially the smaller ones, are not openly discussing their use of data, but Arsenal is known to have more than 10 people engaged in data science, which uses algorithms to detect various patterns in human behavior and games.  

“Invincible” Arsene Wenger strongly advocated the use of data analysis during his long watch as team manager for Arsenal.  

After Brentford’s open announcement that he relied on data analysis to score its first-ever entry into the Premier League, there is no doubt that there will be a greater demand for football analysts. 



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