How Arsenal veteran Jens Lehmann sparked a German data revolution

Big data in sports: Premier League is just catching up. Markus Hanfler looks at how, and why.

Human scouts are not enough for today’s football. But why are English teams joining the numbers game now?

A recent report by The Economist shows that Premier League’s clubs are investing more and more time in collecting and analysing statistics to rate players, rather then relying only on scouts. 

Advanced technology, for example a specialized camera, collects every goal, pass, tackle or sprint. Data companies analyse these numbers and sell it to clubs.

The reason is obvious: Everyone wants to find the diamond in the rough. A Wayne Rooney at bargain price. In the end those numbers should show you a better way to win.

According to The Economist Premier League’s richest clubs have statistics for all players in 15 leagues across the world in their desk drawer. On top of that Liverpool hired a data scientist last year to support the scouting department.

Premier League’s prism watch – is this the breaking news? After Edward Snowden’s disclosure of mass surveillance programs were all over the news one could wonder what else is on the radar. But the real question is: What took English clubs so long?

The Oakland Athletics, a small MLB baseball team, tried to overcome their low budget by collecting players just by their statistical advance. In 2002 they went on to a 20-game winning streak. The events were made into an Oscar nominated film by the name of Moneyball.

That could have been the hint.

But it definitively should have been Jens Lehmann. During the penalty shootout in the quarterfinals of the 2006 World Cup the German goalkeeper and longtime Gunner pulled a piece of paper out of his sock. It was a note by Germany’s chief scout, who pioneered big data analytics for German football. That day Lehmann saved two crucial penalty kicks and knew every direction of his opponent’s kick.

But no one knows for sure, why English teams are starting now.

After all Premier League is just catching up. Will it change the game?

image: © wonker

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