Insights Blog

Data analytics in football: how to align data and skills with strategy

Blog snapshot

In the final blog of the series, Richard Battle, Founding Director of Left Field Football Consulting will investigate:

  • What skills are required to create a successful information strategy in football
  • How quality can be assured at every level of the process
  • For more insights check out blogs one, two and three

Throughout my blog series on data in football we’ve tackled the importance of information strategies and two of their core components: asking the right questions, and making best use of technology. In this final instalment we will look at the skillsets needed to put this into practice to fully realise the potential of analytics, as well as the checks and balances to make sure there are no mistakes along the way.

Clubs need a culture of ’what do we want to know?’

Access to data in football clubs – at least within a league – is no longer a differentiator. With such a level playing field, what’s now more important are the decisions that are made about the data a club buys or captures – and what is done with it.

Deciphering the best approach to making these decisions has to be driven by an overarching information strategy – it has to be tied in to the club’s critical success factors and use cases for analytics (discussed in my second blog), and those should be shaped at a Board or Senior Executive level. It would be unreasonable to expect an analyst charged with delivering insights on a daily basis to also be responsible for sourcing, accessing, storing, processing and analyzing the full breadth of data that will be required.

Identifying the critical success factors, use cases and analysis to be done will shape data acquisition. The acquisition and management of third-party data, particularly to support decisions around player recruitment and contracting, should be seen as an investment. Where clubs wish to run Loading...predictive analytics (as all Premier League clubs, for example, will in the not-too-distant future) a critical mass of data is required to appropriately train models.

Don’t be led by stats, follow your strategy

For the foreseeable future, the most senior decision-makers in clubs will not be statisticians – and nor do they need to be in order to leverage the value of analytics. However, to ensure that data – especially outputs of predictive models – carry the right weight in decisions (i.e. not too much, not too little) a framework must be in place to:

  1. Facilitate the conversation about the strengths and weaknesses of the analysis being presented, such as what data has (and has not) been used and the extent to which such analysis has historically been a meaningful indicator for decisions comparable to the one at hand
  2. Provide a quality assurance process for analysis itself. Where the financial consequences of a decision will run into the hundreds of thousands or tens of millions of pounds, a structured peer review, for example, is a basic level of due diligence.

Both of these can be delivered via a clear quality assurance framework implemented at a club level.

Balancing data-empowerment with governance

The concept of the citizen data scientist is a very attractive one. However, clubs need to match the development of information strategies with clear data governance.

The same challenge continues to be encountered by businesses across a multitude of industries. The solution lies in establishing clear responsibilities around data quality, and streamlining data processes. Again, a centralized information function can lead this work for the benefit of users across all departments.

What does this all mean for the future of data in football?

The clubs that succeed will be those who can simultaneously engage in the digital transformation of their football operations on the one hand – making an ever-growing number of staff data-empowered – and on the other hand best address the most valuable use case with sophisticated analytics techniques. In football, the latter will always come back to finding value in the market for players.

Richard Battle is the Founding Director of Left Field Football Consulting, an independent consultancy which supports football clubs and organizations across strategy, information and analytics. His blend of experience in strategic consulting at a global firm and in the day-to-day operations of a Premier League training ground makes for a unique vantage point on the industry.


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