Statistics have been used since the 1950s. But the acceleration of data analysis techniques has changed everything in recent years. Indeed, the importance of statistics has increased in many areas, be it business, media, health, and sport, especially football. Few people believed that data analysis for football was possible, but nowadays we notice that it has become essential for clubs and their players. As a proof, the number of applications for data analysis in football has increased dramatically in recent years.

History of football statistics

Before we understand the importance of statistics to footballers and how they work, it is important to know where they come from. The first person to start analysing football was Charles Reep, an accountant in the British Royal Force. After the Second World War he started to collect and analyse data on football matches with a pencil and paper. The conclusion of these analyses was that most goals were scored by less than three passes and that it was therefore important to get the ball forward as quickly as possible. Following this analysis, Charles Reep worked at various clubs such as Brentford, Wolverhampton, Sheffield Wednesday and in the Norwegian national team. In the end, his analysis of the three passes turned out to be wrong. However, despite the wrong conclusion, Charles Reep will be the forerunner of data analysis for football.

How are statistics a breakthrough for footballers?

Today, most of the big clubs have an analysis tool, such as Liverpool, Brentford, AZ Alkmaar and FC Midtjylland, these clubs have immediately understood the importance of using data and are using it to take their club to a higher level. The clubs that aren’t planning to jump on the analytics bandwagon run the risk of being left behind. But what does statistics actually do for football players? Indeed, data analysis is a good tool to improve the player’s performance, it allows him to refine his game strategy, in addition to video, analysis allows to better know, understand and evaluate the player. It also allows players to minimise their injuries, as physical trainers use statistics to look at the distance covered, the distance at very high intensity, the accelerations, and the shocks of the players. The analysis of this data is individual and therefore allows the trainer to adapt the training of each player to minimise injuries. Many clubs have hired data analysts, because once the data is collected, the most important thing is to study it and draw conclusions. There are three main advantages of data analysis, in fact it is a very powerful tool, firstly, it allows the club to save money, the scout can restrict the area of interest and select a number of players, so the scout can directly filter the players he wants to see and limit travel. Secondly, data analysis tools have a large memory capacity, a memory that humans like you and me are not able to have. This tool can remember everything that happened the previous season, for example. Finally, the data is safe, accurate and clear, it is not distorted by favouritism on a player for example.

How statistics work

Before a result can be achieved, means must be put in place to collect data. For this purpose, clubs use sensors all around the stadiums but also on the players. Different brands market sensors for different sports, including football, such as the Australian company Catapult, the Irish company StatSports, and also the French company McLloyd. The different sensors used are accelerometers, gyroscopes and magnetometers that collect data such as heart rate, distance, speed, acceleration and power. This data is then transmitted directly from the athletes’ body to a computer or smartphone to display its indicators in real time. This information is then made available to coaches, physical trainers on the bench during training. The data can be analysed directly or following a training session for further analysis.

Beware, despite the many advances in technology and especially in statistical data analysis, many data cannot be analysed, such as: the player’s mental state, his collective sense and his work capacity.

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