Winning by numbers: the role of data analysis in World Cup preparation

from-our-ipad

Almost 50 years have passed since England, the country who gave football to the world, last won the game’s most coveted prize: the World Cup.

In a bid to turn things around at this summer’s finals in Brazil, England’s manager Roy Hodgson has assembled the largest back room staff the country has ever known. It includes an array of nutritionists, physiotherapists and psychologists, and intriguingly, as many number crunchers as the playing squad has goalkeepers.

“England are taking three performance analysts to Brazil and you can bet the Germans and Dutch will be too,” says Paul Boanas, senior account manager at sports data expert Prozone. “In fact, I’d be shocked and a little horrified if all 32 teams at this summer’s World Cup were not using some form of data analysis to help improve their performance.”

web-numbers-2

Popular wisdom dictates that it was the Germans who first began using data to get an edge over their opponents. Prior to becoming head coach of his national team, Jurgen Klinsmann moved to California and became friends with Moneyball sports data pioneer Billy Beane.

On his ascension to the German football throne in 2004, Klinsmann wanted to explore the benefits of using data in football and enlisted the help of Professor Jurgen Buschmann from the Sports University in Cologne.

At Klinsmann’s behest, Buschmann assembled a group of students and colleagues to start putting Beane’s Moneyball ideas into practice for Germany. The result – a secretive group known as Team Cologne – began providing data analysis for the 2006 World Cup and has long since outlasted Klinsmann.

“Ahead of each tournament, the German Football Association’s coaching team receives a book’s worth of reading material,” says sports journalist Olivia Fritz. “It includes information about all the other teams. Later they receive another 40-page document and a DVD illustrating various tactics.”

web-numbers-1

Of course, not every country has the luxury of calling on a Team Cologne. However, between seven and 15 of this year’s World Cup finalists will be making use of the services provided by professional sports data companies such as Optaand Prozone.

With teams of analysts and cameras recording every pass, tackle and through ball in all the major leagues, Prozone and Opta are perfectly placed to help coaching staff whittle large pools of players down into the 23-man squads allowed at the finals.

“If you’ve got a lot of players to look at and they play in leagues around the world, you will scout some of them live but a lot will be done via video,” explains John Coulson, Optapro’s head of professional football. “We use data to index videos and make it easy for coaching staff to search not just for their players but also to narrow it down to things like if they’ve touched the ball in the final third or regained possession.

“The other main way data is used is through statistics on all sorts of things like passing accuracy and switching the play. When they’re planning their squads for the World Cup, coaching staff can use our database of metrics to compare their players and assess their opponents.”


This is an excerpt from the cover feature of Factor Magazine for iPad. Get the Factor app to read the full article and more World Cup-themed features.

Images courtesy of Adidas.


Wanted man captured thanks to facial recognition

A Chinese man who was wanted by police for “economic crimes” – which can include anything from tax evasion to the theft of public property – was arrested at a music concert in China after facial recognition technology spotted him inside the venue.

Source: Abacus News

SpaceX president commits to city-to-city rocket travel

SpaceX president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell has reiterated the company’s plans to make city-to-city travel — on Earth — using a rocket that’s designed for outer space a reality. Shotwell says the tech will be operational “within a decade, for sure.”

Source: Recode

Businessman wins battle with Google over 'right to be forgotten'

A businessman fighting for the "right to be forgotten" has won a UK High Court action against Google.. The businessman served six months’ in prison for “conspiracy to carry out surveillance”, and the judge agreed to an “appropriate delisting order".

Source: Press Gazette

UK launched cyber attack on Islamic State

The UK has conducted a "major offensive cyber campaign" against the Islamic State group, the director of the intelligence agency GCHQ, Jeremy Fleming, has revealed. The operation hindered the group's ability to co-ordinate attacks and suppressed its propaganda.

Source: BBC

Goldman Sachs consider whether curing patients is bad for business

Goldman Sachs analysts have attempted to tackle the question of whether pioneering "gene therapy" treatment will be bad for business in the long run. "Is curing patients a sustainable business model?" analysts ask in a report entitled "The Genome Revolution."

Source: CNBC

Four-armed robot performing surgery in the UK

A £1.5m "robotic" surgeon, controlled using a computer console, is being used to shorten the time patients spend recovering after operations. The da Vinci Xi machine is the only one in the country being used for upper gastrointestinal surgery.

Source: BBC

Virgin Galactic rocket planes go past the speed of sound

Virgin Galactic completed its first powered flight in nearly four years when Richard Branson's space company launched its Unity spacecraft, which reached supersonic speeds before safely landing. “We’ve been working towards this moment for a long time,” Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said in an email to Quartz.

Source: Quartz

Google employees protest being in "the business of war"

Thousands of Google employees, including dozens of senior engineers, have signed a letter protesting the company’s involvement in a Pentagon program that uses AI to interpret video imagery and could be used to improve the targeting of drone strikes. The letter, which is circulating inside Google, has garnered more than 3,100 signatures

Source: New York Times

Computer system transcribes words users “speak silently”

MIT researchers have developed a computer interface that transcribes words that the user verbalises internally but does not actually speak aloud. The wearable device picks up neuromuscular signals in the jaw and face that are triggered by internal verbalisations — saying words “in your head” — but are undetectable to the human eye.

Source: MIT News

Drones could be used to penalise bad farming

A report by a coalition of environmental campaigners is arguing squadrons of drones should be deployed to locate and penalise farmers who let soil run off their fields. Their report says drones can help to spot bad farming, which is said to cost more than £1.2bn a year by clogging rivers and contributing to floods.

Source: BBC

Californian company unveil space hotel

Orion Span, a California company, has unveiled its Aurora Station, a commercial space station that would house a luxury hotel. The idea is to put the craft in low-earth orbit, about 200 miles up, with a stay at the hotel likely to cost $9.5 million for a 12-day trip, but you can reserve a spot now with an $80,000 deposit.

UK mobile operators pay close to £1.4bn for 5G

An auction of frequencies for the next generation of mobile phone networks has raised £1.36bn, says regulator Ofcom. Vodafone, EE, O2 and Three all won the bandwidth needed for the future 5G mobile internet services, which are not expected to be launched until 2020.

Source: BBC