Liverpool FC, a reference in the use of technology in football clubs

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Currently, the use of technology is totally generalized among the different existing sports. The new tools provided offer a multitude of uses that can improve team and player performance. Football has evolved enormously since its inception and one of the most prestigious clubs in the world such as Liverpool FC has been one of the benchmarks in terms of advances in this field.

The hiring of Jurgen Klopp

The English club were looking to get back on the winning track after a long time of title drought. Players and coaches marched through Anfield but they couldn’t find the key. In 2015, a man arrived, and he was the key in the construction of one of the great teams of modern football: Jurgen Klopp. But let’s go back to the genesis. All decisions have a logical reason, thought Ian Graham, Liverpool FC’s director of analysis. Debating who should replace Brendan Rodgers, the former Reds coach, Graham created a mathematical computational model that kept in mind passes, shots and tackles made by Borussia Dortmund players, which Klopp was managing at the time. He evaluated all the games of the German team according to the performance of its components and all this gave a curious result.

Despite finishing seventh that year in the Bundesliga, Graham’s model determined that they should have come second. That conclusion determined that it was not the coach’s fault. Most striking of all, Liverpool FC’s chief analyst had not seen a single game, but only relied on data. In 2015, when they had the decisive meeting, the German coach had been more than convinced. He later learned that he would not have been hired without Graham’s analysis of the Borussia Dortmund season, one of many parts of the investigation process the club did.

Ian Graham, an essential man

Ian Graham received his doctorate in Theoretical Physics from the University of Cambridge and has made an essential contribution to the development of the English team. When he was in his second year of postdoc at Cambridge, he realized that he did not want to pursue physics. Someone forwarded him a job offer in an analysis company that was looking to do consulting for football clubs and that caught his attention. He got the job and, from 2008 to 2012, at Tottenham, the coaches had little interest in the suggestions he made, like almost any coach at the time.

Now, at Liverpool FC, before every game, he and three analysts who work with him collect all the information. He built his own database to examine the progress of more than 100,000 players around the world, recommending what to sign and how best to take advantage of newcomers to Merseyside.

The analysis department

What may seem unheard of at first sight, in Liverpool is a constant. The world of physics that Ian Graham came from falls short of the other components of the club’s department focused on these issues. They are Tim Waskett, an astrophysicist, and Dafydd Steele, a former youth chess champion with a graduate degree in mathematics who previously worked for the energy industry. Will Spearman is the newest hire in this area. He grew up in Texas, where he did a doctorate in high energy physics at Harvard University; after, he worked in Geneva, at CERN (the nuclear research organization). Most of them do not work directly for the coach, rather they try to improve the data capture systems.

They are developing a model that uses video review and scores everything that happens to players in the game, even when they are not close to the ball. That includes moments when a midfielder runs down the wing so that an opposing defender has to choose between which of two players to cover, or when a forward steps in front of the goalkeeper to try to receive a pass when he is too high.

A constant technological improvement

The Reds have wanted to go further. In May 2021, they joined Google to try to keep improving their performance on the court. Deepmind, one of the Artificial Intelligence companies belonging to the American company, will oversee applying its knowledge in football analysis and will allow the selection of an ideal team based on the adversary. With their AlphaZero and AlphaGo models, they will be able to do thousands of virtual matches to collect all the information and configure the best possible system.

Despite of this new technique can be seen as a substitute for the figure of the coach, the company stands out from these accusations claiming that it is the development of an assistive technology. In addition, researchers of these new applications maintain that the result is not immediate but will be able to be verified in a better way within a few years.

Therefore, and keeping in mind everything described above, it is not a simple coincidence that Liverpool FC has hired Acronis, a company that develops storage management software, to protect all its data. These are incredibly valuable, and securely and efficiently storing and accessing that information is critical to the way the Reds operate as a business and football club.

Luckily or unfortunately in football it is not A or B, and it always has that character of unpredictability. Everything that has been mentioned above is connected to probability, but there are times when the possibilities are calculated, and the variables are exhaustively examined and still the wrong number can slip in. The team that wins is not always the one with the closest estimates to reality or the one predicted by the models.

That may frustrate analysts, but it is also what makes football so beautiful.

Categorías: Blog

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