I get gruff from many football/soccer fans for my fascination with data based analysis. They claim that I focus on the wrong things, that statistical analysis of the sport is impossible. These are often the same arguments that applied at various times to baseball, basketball, hockey, football, rugby, cricket, etc.
And, more impressively is that some of the world's most famous teams aren't listening to the naysayers, but instead talking to the very people that made Moneyball famous, and a man who gets much of the credit in the leaps in baseball back in the 80s. Chelsea has a stats guy.
Recently, though, Forde has been studying basketball, a sport more like soccer. "Basketball is ahead of us," Forde admits. However, he says England’s biggest football clubs now have people in roles like his. "We as a nation are probably more open to the American experience than maybe the French are, the Italians are. Maybe we will be quicker to adapt the Moneyball ideas because of that."
Adapting those ideas began a decade ago, when clubs started to buy data on the number of passes, tackles and kilometres run for each player. Forde remembers the early hunt for meaning in numbers. "Can we find a correlation between total distance covered and winning? The answer was invariably No."
Rather than assume, he ran the numbers, but more significant to me is that he is following statistical analysis and how it is applied in basketball and baseball and rugby. He then tests the systems that apply in those sports to see if they apply in soccer. He visits the Red Sox and Athletics in baseball, and learns. His mind is open, and his team is starting to make discoveries.
Certainly this kind of activity is not limited to Chelsea, nor is it limited to the EPL.Sunil Gulati is a guest at the Sloan Sports Analytics conference, hosted at MIT. The conference has many other sports covered, but has possibilities for more soccer, to include a conference on"Emerging Analytics." The previously mentioned Forde will be there joined by Simon Wilson of Man City, as well as two guests from the other football.
Howard Hamilton of the blog Soccermetrics, has applied for time to talk about Pythag and how it could be used for soccer.
Forde talked in the earlier link about how England is more like America and so more likely to accept statistical analysis than other footballing nations, but you know what country is the most like America?
Our league, our fans, and our bloggers should be leading this charge - never discounting it.