Better Living Through Big Data

High-tech football transfers: How big clubs use Big Data to sign the best players


How did Liverpool FC identify Hoffenheim’s Robert Firmino as a good buy? Why did Chelsea snap up Nathan from Atletico Paranaense? And what drew Swansea City to Swedish goalkeeper Kristoffer Nordfeldt?

The chances are it was data. Big data.

The world’s top football clubs go digital scouting

These days, many of the world’s top football clubs rely on the Scout7 football database to help them identify and evaluate potential player transfers. Powered by Intel technology, Scout7 doesn’t replace the traditional scouting system, it enhances it, enabling clubs to track a player’s performance, their match stats and to watch videos of them in action.

“In days gone by, an agent would have sent you a DVD of all of his player’s best clips, making him look a world-beater,” says Tim Henderson, Head of technical player scouting at Swansea City. “But now, as we have access to all this footage and the tools for analysis, we have the means to make a rounded evaluation of a player.”

Scout7 player database information
Pass master: A map of one player’s passes and average positions from the Italian Serie A during the 2014-15 season.

In terms of footage, Scout7 stores over 100,000 full game video recordings and adds around 3,000 new matches each month. Between 1,600 and 2,000 individual actions (e.g., shots on target, completed passes, tackles, goals) are captured from every game and 277,427 player records have been created in the database since 2001.

Scout7 uses Intel Xeon E3-based servers and Intel Quick Sync Video

Scout7 uses Intel Xeon processor E3-1285 v3 product family-based servers and Intel Quick Sync Video to transcode new footage, processing match recordings in 30 to 45 minutes. Within two hours, Scout7 can have videos ready for analysis on its VideoHub, integrating match event data (all shots, passes, headers, tackles, corner kicks, goals, assists, etc.) provided by third party event-data specialists.

If it sounds like a real-life game of Football Manager, then you’re not far off. Using cloud analytics, scouts can review a player’s performance based on the match events and these can be filtered using an list of key criteria, such as completed passes or assists.

Scout7 player profile
There are over 135,000 active player records in the Scout7 database, including Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane.

“Depending on the positions we are looking at and the criteria we have set, we can look at all the different stats and footage to build a full picture of a player,” explains Henderson.

Like a real-life game of Football Manager

“We may have 10 criteria that we are looking at and if a player ticks most boxes we can, if it’s appropriate, take our analysis to the next stage by sending our European head scout or one of our senior scouts out to look at the player and compile an eyeball assessment in the stadium.”

Powered by Intel, Scout7’s Intelligent Sports Framework is increasingly being used by football clubs to support recruitment, training, strategy and tactical decisions.

“The Scout7 systems we have [at Swansea] are critical,” adds Henderson. “It would not be an exaggeration to say that we all live by them every day, accessing them from first thing in the morning to last thing at night.”

VideoHub report on Bastian Schweinsteiger
This VideoHub analysis shows the touches made by Germany’s Bastian Schweinsteiger in the 2014 World Cup final.

At last count, 138 clubs around the world use the platform, including Everton, Spurs, Paris Saint Germain, Borussia Dortmund and Juventus. But its influence is certain to grow.

Predictive and probability analysis could influence future tactics

“We expect to see increasing demand for real-time match data to assist in in-game decisions,” says Bradford Griffiths, Scout7 operations director. There is also huge potential for extracting more value from that data, he explains. “We will start to see more predictive and probability analysis — how alternative team and player strategies could potentially influence the outcome of a match.”

Football isn’t just a game; it’s big business. Decisions can’t be made on a hunch or a feeling any more. The risks are too great. Get it right, however, and the rewards can be a new star player or a perfectly chosen match strategy, a more effective training schedule, even a league championship win. For Liverpool, Chelsea, Swansea City and many other clubs, the key to success is all in the numbers.

The full and fascinating Intel case study is well worth a read. — Dean Evans (@evansdp)


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