Thursday 5th February saw the second OptaPro Analytics Forum take place at Birkbeck, University of London.
In the 12 months since the inaugural event in February 2014, we have seen an overall upward trend in clubs’ approaches to data-led analysis, and how it is utilised within a club environment.
With Premier League clubs taking the lead, the influence of data-led analysis in football is growing globally, with more clubs employing the skills of data experts and implementing bespoke strategies in this style of analysis.
Outside of the club environment, data analysis continues to grow, and advanced analysis is becoming more influential in how the game is viewed. The development and progress made by analytical bloggers and academics in this space has been at the core of this, and we are beginning to see an overlap between the amateur side and those working within the game; since the 2014 OptaPro Forum, we know of multiple analysts who have been recruited by clubs on the basis of their online analytical work.
The invite-only event comprised 10 presentations, all of which were selected by a judging panel that selected proposals based on their relevance to clubs, feasibility, uniqueness and imagination. The chosen presentations can be found here.
Building on the 2014 event, the OptaPro Analytics Forum was designed to achieve three key goals:
1. To showcase the work of leading amateur analysts to a club-focused audience, allowing amateurs to connect with professional clubs and understand the demands, requirements and constraints they face.
2. To demonstrate how advanced analytics can be applied to a club’s own day-to-day analysis.
3. To create a platform where analytical theories, research and best practice can be discussed in a safe, professional environment
Connecting the online community with club analysts
The online community is an area OptaPro holds in high regard, and has done since being established three years ago. It is within this space where we’ve seen most public progress concerning metrics and new styles of analysis being utilised to understand and interpret certain aspects of the game. However, operating in an environment entirely separate to club analysts, there is a risk that this work will spread too far from the crux of what analysts at clubs are interested in, will learn from, and ultimately implement within their own analysis.
By connecting these two groups, it is hoped that that the online community will seek direction on where to focus their work, and gain an understanding of the environment in which clubs operate. A point made by multiple analysts reinforced this, encouraging this engagement to create a culture of more applicable analysis. While there can be no question that this heading in the right direction and the gap is being narrowed, there is still work to be done.
The applications of advanced analysis for a professional football club
When creating an analytical blog or presenting at an event such as the Forum, the first question must be: “How will a club benefit from what I have to say?”
As far as a club is concerned, the implications and applications are the most important aspects in analytical research of this nature. We hope the connection of these two groups at the second OptaPro Forum will lead to a more aligned thought process, where clubs will see further value in the online activity, and acknowledge the influence it could have in their own work.
Not only are we seeing a demand from clubs concerning the applications of data, what is of note is how methods, process and findings are presented. An area explored in 2014 by Manchester City first team analyst Pedro Marques, what is equally important is how to present this data to people who are not as well-versed in mathematical processes and advanced data analysis.
The presenters for the 2015 event came from a range of occupational backgrounds, but one notable presenter was Abel Lorincz, a video analyst at Budapest Honved. Judged anonymously, the clarity in Abel’s abstract stood out, and this clarity continued throughout his presentation, which focused on passing networks (the full presentation will soon be uploaded onto this website). Abel’s ability to communicate a message to club analysts (as opposed to a room full of data scientists) meant the applications of his work were easily understood, and clubs were able to acknowledge where this research might be of use in their own day-to-day analysis.
The pressures clubs face
Presenters had up to six weeks to carry out their analysis for the 2015 event. On the day of the forum, several delegates did pose the question regarding time (if they had enough), and whether presenters would have benefitted from more time to conduct their research, allowing them to draw fuller conclusions, which may have led to clearer applications.
While a very valid point and certainly something that we’ll consider for any future event, it could also be argued that the time pressures on the presenters went a long way to help understand the pressures that clubs face on a daily basis. The constant time constraints, particularly poignant with the Forum taking place a week after the January transfer window closed, helped illustrate the pressures on a club, and the need to condense information into concise discussion points from which a coach, analyst, manager or player can learn and apply.
The online community’s strengths lie in developing metrics, and exploring new ways to analyse and interpret data. The primary concern of a football club’s analyst focuses on applying these theories and metrics. One goal of the OptaPro Analytics Forum was to help create one path for these two groups, allowing the online community to present relevant work, and demonstrate the value of data-led analysis.
The development and progress of data-led analysis will of course continue beyond and outside of the OptaPro Forum. We are working with several clubs that are receptive to this style of analysis, and the online community continue to make great progress in this space.
Presentations from the event will be available on the OptaPro website over the coming weeks.
For more information on this event, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org