Al Pacino famously said in Any Given Sunday that “life is just a game of inches”, but how do people manage to take those inches and turn them into advantages in everyday life?
Take for instance the Scottish Premiership, which starts back this weekend. Twenty years ago, it would have been unheard of for any type of data analysis to be used to further your team. Now in 2018, if you found out your side were not using data and analytics, you would be forced to concede that other sides have a slight advantage on you.
A first example of utilising analytics within football would be that any of the twelve teams kicking off this weekend will be able to track their players and distance run, heart rate, runs made, the intensity of their work. This then allows for data to be collected, and over those first few games a picture is built about the team. It soon will let you know which players may only be able to last an hour (think of Celtic’s Tom Rogic) before being subbed, or which player is most reliable in a box-to-box midfield role due to his far greater lung capacity. This is all information given to the clubs through their use and analysis of data.
It is not just the teams utilizing data; leagues themselves such as the SPFL can use data to offer much more inclusive statistics to the fans. Data such as the much-debated xG (expected goals) has now brought football to a more relatable place for statisticians, data scientists and others who collect data to bring to the fans.
Nowadays, a club in the Premiership cannot just go out and buy a player without the fans already having an opinion. This is due to data. Hypothetically, if Rangers were to buy a new striker and the fans wanted to compare him to Alfredo Morelos’ debut season, the data collated would show that Alfredo Morelos required five shots on goal per game before he would be expected to score one goal. Now Rangers fans could have a fair comparison to assess if their new striker only required three shots per goal, and thus would have a better xG.
After all, football is a business, and everyone wants to be able to do the best for their business.
The new boys to the top flight, Livingston, know that they may struggle to match the might of teams further up the league, however they have a fair shot at gathering and analysing the same data. They can make predictions on how their season may fair before even kicking off this weekend thanks to data. As discussed, data can track the intensity of a player’s work throughout the game, and you can bet that no Livi player wants to be called out on Monday morning at the team meeting after the previous weekends game. Data can now drive the team like never before.
Scottish Premiership sides are now embracing data in the same way they embraced dieticians. It allows for smarter spending and for all to get the highest return for their money. Different teams dip into markets they may not have bought from a few years ago. St Mirren have signed players from the English conference, while Celtic buy Man City youth players and Rangers go to Finland’s Veikkausliiga to pick up a striker. Data analytics help to make these decisions through certain projections and predictions of how good someone may be.
There’s an adage in sport: “If it makes money, it makes sense.”
You do not have to be a sporting team kicking off your season this weekend to make the most of data analytics. It is something that all businesses are embracing. Nobody wants to be left behind in this digital age, so it makes sense to use data to project your company strategy to make your company profit.
Just remember, life is a game of inches and through the use of data those inches could be absolutely pivotal in the difference between being THE best and being the best of the rest.
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