Insights Blog

How to win Euro 2020: make data your 12th player

Euro 2020

It’s been a long wait, but the stage is finally set for some of the best teams and players in Europe to battle it out across the continent. But who’s going to find that critical advantage at Euro 2020?

In the summer’s tournament data will make all the difference. While the players face off on-pitch, teams of analysts, coaching staff and physiologists will be hidden away off-screen, crunching the numbers to uncover how they can gain the edge over their competitors. 

To discover what the smartest teams will be analyzing now and when the competition kicks off in June, we caught up with a few colleagues in the field to find out how the sport is working with data today and where it’ll go next.  

Get the basics right

According to Richard Battle, Founding Director of Left Field Football Consulting, there is an appreciation of the potential value of data in the sport, but only a small number of teams have committed the resources to turn it into a strategic focus.

“Many clubs have taken steps in the right direction over recent seasons by investing in BI tools and analysts to use them,” he says. “A small number have recruited a data scientist.”

The next step in terms of generating value, reckons Battle, will be when more focus is placed on strategically identifying the most valuable use cases for analytics, and the role that technology will play in delivering these. Think areas like nutrition, injury and fatigue prevention or scouting. Central to these will be the introduction and use of no-code or low-code apps and automated Loading...machine learning tools.

But Battle believes this isn’t just the responsibility of a few data analysts at each club or national teams.

“A small number of individuals in an ‘Analytics’ or ‘R+D’ department cannot single-handedly deliver an information strategy,” he says. “Clubs have experts across the disciplines housed within training grounds and academies who understand their data and their needs better than anyone. Empowering and upskilling these staff with better data, more efficient processes and improved outputs can embed a culture of data-informed decision-making.”

Build a data strategy

Having access to data is nothing new. But it’s what teams seek to do with it that counts. “With such a level playing field, what’s more important are the decisions that are made about the data a club buys or captures – and what is done with it,” says Battle.

In the best sports setups – and the best businesses – decisions about what to focus on and where to allocate resources, both financial and human, are driven by the overarching data strategy. This should come right from the top, says Battle:  

“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.”

Therefore, the really data-driven sports teams first identify the critical success factors, use cases and analysis to be done, which in-turn shapes their data acquisition – both internal, such as player fitness or fatigue stats, and third-party.

Third-party data can be particularly useful in supporting decisions around player recruitment and contracting. This should be seen as an investment in the future, says Battle. “Where clubs wish to run Loading...predictive analytics (as all Premier League clubs will in the not-too-distant future) a critical mass of data is required to appropriately train models.”

Use the power of simple messages

But how does a data strategy impact what’ll happen on the pitch during Euro 2020 this summer? For Matthieu Lille-Palette, Senior Vice President of Opta, it’s all about ensuring the right data is accessible – and understandable – for those who need it most, when they need it most.

Opta is part of Stats Perform, an Exasol partner and one of the most respected names in sports analytics, with clients including Paris Saint Germain, A.S. Roma and the FA.

Lille-Palette sees data storytelling as a crucial way in helping those who are not data literate to get to grips with complex information. But beyond simply communicating insights more effectively, he thinks data storytellers, “can evangelize the importance of data by actively demonstrating how to find and communicate insights in effective ways”.

As in a business setting, data literacy is therefore more important than ever for football organizations. “If more employees can understand and interpret data on the fly, they’ll be able to make faster, more informed decisions,” says Lille-Palette.

Combine great science with great leaders

To get the best out of their players in Euro 2020, teams should match the best of traditional coaching and management with data-driven insights, reckons Opta’s Lille-Palette.

“For all the data at their disposal, a manager will almost certainly rely heavily on their intuition in the heat of a match, when it’s neck and neck and they’re looking to the sub bench and deciding who to bring on,” he says. “But when it comes to team selection before the match, the data might inform them that certain players are showing signs of burnout or at risk of a potential injury, giving them insight that their intuition could never provide.” 

Stats Perform has seen that with the right strategy and leadership, you can get the best from intuition and great science. This rings true in business and is why data-driven companies are increasingly investing not just in data scientists but in the role of the CDO (Chief Data Officer) to bring all this together.

A festival of football – from Amsterdam to Zurich 

After the tumult of the past year or so, we can’t wait for Euro 2020 to kick off so we can see which teams make the best of the players, personnel and data at their disposal. And while Exasol was founded in Germany, there’s some healthy inter-European rivalry at play among our teams. With Exasolians spread across Europe and the globe, it’s going to be an exciting summer of sport. And we’ll be glued to our TVs right along with you.

We’ll be regularly posting podcasts, articles and videos on our EURO 2020 hub, so check back soon!