How England and Belgium give context to data

Southgate has been England manager since September 2016

Southgate has been England manager since September 2016

ENGLAND manager Gareth Southgate and Belgium Head of Analysis and Innovation Luke Benstead have explained how they create their own metrics to give context to data for their teams.

Speaking at the Google Cloud Next 19 Conference in London, England manager Southgate said: “The style of your own team’s play really dictates what you want to measure.

“Some teams might want to play with more players forward, or more quickly, and so that would be a measure of playing in the style they think they should. Every team has a slightly different style of play, and what's important to them might not be as important to you.

"One of the beauties of it is that there isn't one system that will provide everybody exactly what they want. And everybody's going to read it slightly differently.”

Earlier this year, the FA reached a deal to use Google's cloud technology to improve the performance of its teams, enhance youth development and make overall operations more efficient.

Southgate added: “We’ve been able to co-ordinate all of our junior teams. We have consistency in the way we work. All the playbooks can be stored. When I joined, there weren’t even written reports of what had happened in the tournaments to be able to pass the learning on. Everything we do is stored, everything we do is shared."

The 49-year-old also said the way he monitors and scouts players has changed dramatically thanks to technology.

"On a Sunday morning, every game that’s played in the Premier League I can have that footage on my laptop," Southgate said. "I don’t have to go and visit every match, I can visit a couple, and then those that I can’t get to I’ve watched all the footage of the players and that footage is clipped for me into individual actions.

"Within 12 hours of the game, I know that wherever my players are in Europe, I can access how they have played, how far they have run, which helps us with selection. Selection is one of our key things. As for any business, recruitment is key."

Benstead, who became Head of Performance Analysis and Innovation for the Belgium national team in September 2018, explained how his team had developed their own metrics.

“Usually during and after a game you have some sort of statistics you can measure,” Benstead, the former Performance Analyst for Manchester United, told the TGG Big Data Conference.

“The ones you usually go for are shots, shots on target, possession. We had a conversation - does it actually measure us as a possession-based team? It lacks context.

“We wanted to create context with our data, so we had to go through a process to make it work. It probably took us about five months to get it in place. We wanted to measure attacking output, so in order to do that we needed to break it down into the phases and look at ways we would penetrate.

“So start of play, central, left, right, and how we penetrate in the box. That was done together, using the knowledge of the coaching staff. Against Cyprus (a game Belgium won 6-1 in November), we had 54 stable second-phase possessions in 90 minutes. From that we were able to code ways of penetrating left, central and right.”

At the Big Data Conference, England data scientist Alex Thomas explained how the Football Association ensure ‘data quality’ across all their teams.

“We’re doing 28 teams (men’s, women’s, disability and age group), so the definitions have to be absolutely spot on with no ambiguity,” Thomas said. “One of the first things I did when I came to the FA was to validate some check lists, so rules for our coding templates.

“'When you do this you should have this, this and this'. Using crosses as an example, you need to write down the technique, the outcome, the context. Not ground-breaking, but it maintains that data quality to make sure everything is the same.

“The data model is massively important. With multiple tracking providers and multiple event data providers it needs to all fit together, so you keep on top of how the flow of data works within the organisation.”

(You can watch Gareth Southgate speak at the Google Cloud Next Conference from 1:29:34 in the video below).

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