Analytics in football is no longer something new. Expected Goals is now everywhere and most club staff and fans have a pretty thorough understanding of its use. Whilst that may be true for more developed clubs, there are still many clubs out there who are a bit ‘behind the times’.
I say many because not all clubs have taken on the challenge of taking the next step into the future’. Most clubs will use this data in their performance analysis and recruitment activities on a routine basis. For now, though, the adoption of data is only going to go in one direction – forwards.
All in all, football clubs are a business and businesses have to be seen to run a profit in order to sustain their existence. What I am trying to get at is that the challenge today is to get clubs to begin thinking about the general way they do business. For sales, marketing, and finance, they most likely or should most likely already employ some sort of analytical personnel. If you do this for the ‘off-field’ part of the business, why would you not do it for ‘on-pitch’ matters? After all, on-field performances have a major input into how successful a football can be. How clubs make decisions and whether those decisions are ultimately in the best long-term interests of the team are such crucial questions that need to be answered almost all day, every day by executives.
By adopting analytics and data, executives may discover that they need to add a particular role to the management team. After all, you need to employ somebody who has the know-how and skills to extract, manage, store and visualise data effectively. Yet, it is important that executives at clubs simply refrain from employing this role if the rationale simply is: ‘Well, everyone else in the league is doing it, so should we’.
For analytics to be effective and for clubs to see the value of it, is difficult to put into monetary terms. A club’s decision-making requires the process to be ‘honest’ about what the analytics are providing to each of the important stakeholders. For instance, the problem in some quarters of football is that some clubs do not think that there is a problem at all. Or rather, they believe the only problem they need to be concerned about is:
- winning and losing,
- titles and relegation
- consistent poor performances
and that the best course of action to solve all problems is to ALWAYS sack the manager.
In some ways, we are right now at ground zero of using data analytics in football, especially here in Africa. Whilst there is no simple or indeed one single way to solve the problem mentioned above, there are certain strategies that could be employed. The first step is to acknowledge that there is a problem and secondly that to solve the problem, there has to be a process developed. This is perhaps the most difficult part as if it is not done correctly and it mysteriously ‘fails’ to produce ‘tangible’ results, then the whole process will quickly be abandoned. The same goes for any business company who wish to become more ‘intelligent’ about their data and as well as gain insights into their inner workings.
To avoid this, here are a few questions which club executives can ask themselves before setting up any kind of data & analytics process:
- If, 3 – 5 years ago, we had been in this position and wanted to move forward, how would we have responded?
- Does our current situation align with our answers to Question 1?
- Where would we like the club to be in 3 – 5 years time?
- What would we realistically need to do differently, based on our current available resources, to better ensure we get there?
- Have we tried any of the mentioned ideas before and maybe why were they not successful?
The ideas behind these questions are to stimulate the minds of club executives to break up the day-to-day operation and think about the bigger picture; the club’s long-term goals. How would we realistically achieve them using the resources we have available in our budget to make the club financially stable as well as playing successful?
Furthermore, it is perfectly effective to start off not having all the skills to do data and analytics at its most efficient. Having an ‘ugly’ looking dashboard view that answers the right questions and provides the most effective insights is way more effective than a ‘beautiful’, technically designed dashboard that does not answer what any stakeholder is asking. To go one step further and use critical thinking skills, would you be able to ‘guide’ the stakeholder towards the kind of questions they should be asking. If so, analysing these and delivering the insights is the cherry on top.
This is just one of numerous examples of how a club should be forced to think expansively about where they have come from and where they are going. Where there are many searchable examples not only of clubs who have managed to put into place winning, long-term strategies, many clubs have the opportunities and resources at their disposal to begin thinking about their overall process. But none of this can happen unless clubs understand that there is a problem in the first place.