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How the use of statistics in modern football is changing the game

For so long, we’ve seen managers and clubs take on players with little more than a hunch. Or because they see something that the majority don’t see.

It hasn’t always been the most successful method of business for clubs across the world, but there are always some diamonds in the rough. You don’t need to look too deeply, either.

Ballon D’or winner and World Cup finalist Luka Modric is a great example. As a child, Modric grew up during the Croatian Independence War. A far cry from the high-grade youth academies we see at any number of top-flight clubs today.

After being rejected by his childhood club, Hadjuk Split, Dinamo Zagreb took a chance on the then 16-year old, signing him. He was loaned out numerous times before turning into Zagreb’s shining light.

He eventually would sign for high-profile Premier League club Tottenham. After a successful stint in North London, he made the dream transfer to Los Blancos, Real Madrid.

The rest speaks for itself.

Four Champions League trophies, a league title, three domestic cup titles, three UEFA Super Cup triumphs and three FIFA Club World Cup victories.

Luka Modric will forever live on as a footballing legend.

Mario Balotelli is another great example. A footballer who has always had an attitude, the Italian striker originally trialled at Barcelona as a junior. However, he was never signed up by the Blaugrana for that very reason. Attitude.

However, Manchester City took a chance on him, recognising his talents. They believed that if they could harness that talent and help him drop the arrogant tag, he could help them win trophies.

Now, we know they were right. Before ‘Aguerooooooooo’, there was ‘Balotelli’. His influence in that play justified the chance Roberto Mancini and City took on him, regardless of anything else.

His City career may have been short-lived, but he repaid the faith and in turn, became a Manchester City legend.

Now in saying all of this, there are some footballers who have failed to repay their managers, fans and clubs. These are the times when perhaps, those who take the chance on these players when no one else will, should’ve listened to the majority.

Ravel Morrison sticks out like a sore thumb on a list of high-potential players that never fulfilled their destiny. Once touted by Sir Alex Ferguson as ‘the best he had ever seen’, Morrison’s career went downhill quicker than you could snap your fingers.

A once promising English football talent, Morrison now plays for Swedish club Ostersunds and with full respect to the Swedish leagues, it’s a far stretch from where he could’ve been.

Juan Manuel Iturbe, once dubbed ‘the next Messi’, was another immensely talented youngster who had the world at his feet at a club like AS Roma back in 2014.

But a slow start in the nation’s capital saw him out of favour and soon, out of the club. After several loan spells at AFC Bournemouth, Torino and Club Tijuana, Iturbe now represents UNAM in the Mexican league.

25 years old and no longer playing in Europe, it appears he may never get another chance.

All this can confirm one thing.

We never know just how high a player’s ceiling is. We can listen to all the talk, read all the hype. But at the end of the day, we never truly know until they get out on the park and on the big stage.

Which is why the use of statistics in player recruitment has become such a worldwide phenomenon amongst football clubs, especially in the age of technology.

There was always research done when clubs looked to sign players, but that’s child’s play compared to the amount that professional clubs do nowadays.

There’s no stone unturned. No book unopened. No margin for error.

Clubs get one chance to do it right and if they get it wrong, it’s disastrous. But when done correctly, it can be a masterstroke.

Davy Klaassen was signed by Everton prior to the 2017/2018 Premier League season. Despite a lot of hype behind a player supposed to be in his prime, Klaassen failed to cut it, managing less than 500 minutes in both Everton’s league and Europa League campaigns.

Klaassen, an attacking-minded midfielder, averaged at least one shot per game for Ajax in their Eredivisie and Champions League matches across five seasons. He was involved in 21 goals from 30 appearances during the 2015/16 league season. Then, the season before he joined the Toffees, he was involved in 23 goals from 33 appearances.

He was named the Dutch footballer of the year in 2016.

But when he joined Everton, he averaged a mere 0.3 shots on goal during his time in Merseyside with no goals or assists to his name, either. That’s for the Premier League and Europa League.

So why didn’t he work at Everton?

We may never know, but we can only assume that his playstyle wasn’t suited to that of the Premier League. He may not have been a physically or mentally prepared as he should’ve been.

Now at Werder Bremen in the German Bundesliga, he has a second chance to show that he can cut it in Europe. But it seems to be a long road back.

It is possible, as players such as Mohamed Salah and Kevin De Bruyne have proven. Once cast aside by Premier League clubs, they worked hard and earned another shot in England.

Now, they are two of the best players in world football.

As an example of a player who has been able to prove his worth in what is regarded as ‘the toughest league in the world’, let’s take a quick look at Gabonese striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

The Arsenal talisman was a proven goal-scorer at Borussia Dortmund, scoring nearly 100 goals during his 150 appearances at Die Borussen. He was also prolific during his tenure at Saint-Etienne, prior to Dortmund.

He averaged one scoring involvement per game in his last full season for Dortmund and was on track to repeat those efforts the following season. Before Arsenal snapped him up in the winter transfer period.

Also bear in mind that Aubameyang had also performed strongly in the Champions League prior to his move to North London, scoring 15 goals from 25 appearances.

He has repaid Arsene Wenger’s faith and also that of new coach Unai Emery at the Emirates, scoring 32 goals from 50 games. A remarkable record for someone so new to the Premier League.

Aubameyang is clearly a player who is well suited to the physical and fast-paced nature of the Premier League, something Davy Klaassen was perhaps not.

In conclusion, the use of statistics can go a long way to helping clubs sign up players who will become icons. But in some instances, it’s that something special that someone sees that determines a player’s success.

But one thing’s for certain.

The age of technology and the use of statistics has changed the way we and football clubs see professional footballers.

Caelum Ferrarese is a Senior journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on micro policy within Australasia and industry disruptions at grassroots level.

Is the time finally right for Australia to host the FIFA World Cup?

In a story that caught the eyes of the Australian football community last week, sport and government officials are said to be planning a bid to host the 2030 or 2034 FIFA World Cup down under.

The idea to host the world’s biggest sporting event in Australia is a key part of a strategy that looks to bring a selection of major events to the country, on the back of Brisbane securing the 2032 Olympic Games.

FA CEO James Johnson explained that the governing body has not yet decided to bid for the World Cup, but suggested it is a part of the vision they have for the game.

“It’s an aspiration (hosting the World Cup), that’s part of our vision,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald.

“The next time I think we could realistically host it is 2034 because 2026 is in North America, 2022 is in Asia, 2030 – I think – will go to Europe or South America. There’s an opportunity to bring the World Cup back to Asia, the Asia-Pacific area, in 2034.”

A factor which should strengthen Australia’s case to be the home of a future World Cup is the hosting of the upcoming Women’s World Cup in 2023.

In a pattern which Australia is hoping to follow, Canada hosted the Women’s World Cup in 2015 and used it as a stepping stone to eventually win the right to host part of the 2026 World Cup, alongside Mexico and USA.

Australia, alongside co-hosts New Zealand, are set to sell a record number of tickets for the 2023 tournament.

FIFA have opened an office in Australia to assist with the dealings in the build-up to the 2023 Women’s World Cup, which gives FA access and the opportunity to open dialogue with FIFA administrators and pursue their future ambitions.

The FA CEO knows however, it is imperative that Australia delivers a world class tournament to stand any chance of winning the right to host a future World Cup.

“What I can say is we’ve got an opportunity with the 2023 Women’s World Cup – I think we will deliver an outstanding tournament. If we can deliver the best ever Women’s World Cup tournament, it does put you in a good position to take on more FIFA competitions,” Johnson said.

Australia was awarded the 2023 Women’s World Cup under a new FIFA voting process, which is also set to give the country more of a chance to win a further vote this time around in 2030 or more likely 2034.

Under Australia’s previous World Cup bid in 2010, they secured a singular vote from FIFA’s council.

However, the new voting method gives all 211 national member associations a chance to vote, rather than the previous secretive process which was conducted by FIFA council members.

Australia may have further success with this system due to the transparent nature of it and minimization of influence from FIFA’s top dogs.

One of those head honchos is Gianni Infantino, president of FIFA, who has steered the ship in the organisation after replacing Sepp Blatter in 2016.

Johnson believes Infantino’s approach to competitions would mean Australia is going to have to find a partnering country for any future bid for a World Cup.

“If you look at the way Gianni is wanting to run his competition strategies, he wants cross-nation competitions. I don’t see any future World Cups being run by one country,” said Johnson.

“It is something that would need to be done with other countries in the region, both in the Asia and probably Oceania region.”

FA have previously held discussions with Indonesia about hosting a World Cup and they, alongside New Zealand, are the most likely candidates to partner with Australia if they bid.

Sharing the bid with another country like Indonesia will have its benefits, such as improving relations between both countries and also halving the costs of an expensive exercise.

There will be difficulties that need to be worked out, but this may be Australia’s best chance to host a World Cup in the foreseeable future.

Channel 10 and Paramount+ have hit the ground running

Channel 10 and Paramount have hit the ground running by promoting the A-League to both casual fans and bolted-on supporters, and Australian football will only continue to benefit from their commitment towards promoting the beautiful game.

Fans are already relishing the increased accessibility created by a new broadcast deal. To watch all the A-League games previously, it would cost $25 a month for a Kayo Sports basic subscription, compared to the $9 a month a fan will pay next season for a Paramount+ subscription.

Paramount+ has created an ingenious way to win over A-League members through collaboration with their clubs. The offer – with assistance from Australian Professional Leagues (APL) – subsidises and reduces the cost of a subscription to Paramount+ for A-League members and is a winner with nothing but positive feedback from supporters. Currently, the best was an early bird offer from Melbourne Victory for $60 a year (which has now expired), however most clubs are offering a yearly subscription for around $75.

This has helped alleviate fears that there are too many platforms to watch football, and that costs could become too high. This move by ViacomCBS will certainly garner goodwill and positivity from the people who make up the backbone of A-League support.

While Foxtel was a great partner to the A-League for many years, which allowed an Australian top-flight league to stay relatively stable during its tenure as a broadcaster, in recent years football in Australia has stagnated. The ability to introduce the A-League to not just sports fans, but also casual fans is the biggest strength of the partnership between the league and Channel 10.

Studio 10 featured an interview with Adelaide players Stefan Mauk and Kusini Yengi, and we are surely going to see more of these exclusives featured as we approach the beginning of the A-League regular season. We are already seeing cross-promotion of the A-League through their other shows and news programs. Melbourne Victory’s former talismanic striker Archie Thompson is appearing on Celebrity Masterchef, in a crossover attempt to win over casual viewers. When the A-League season begins, you can only imagine how this coverage will expand and feature in the channel’s line-up.

The coverage of football in Channel 10’s news bulletins and programs has changed recently. The A-League has never seen transfers and news being prioritised in the way they are now on a free-to-air commercial station, and this can only be good for the game. Each night the network makes up around 17% of all TV viewership Australia-wide, and the possibilities for cross-promotional activity have only just scratched the surface. 10 News First regularly draws over 500,000 people for their nightly show, and introducing A-League stars with the league itself to these viewers can produce growth and exposure like Australian football has never seen before.

The new broadcast deal for next season is an opportunity for the A-League to refresh itself, and ViacomCBS are certainly giving it their all to ensure this happens. Channel 10 appears to be going all-in on ensuring the opportunity to market Australian football to a new audience is not being wasted. A challenge for the A-League and Channel 10 will be finding a way to reach the large number of lapsed fans who have stopped following the A-League for various reasons.

The next step for Paramount+ and 10 is ensuring they have the right broadcast team in place for games.  Fox Sport’s A-League commentators have been maligned in recent years, however there are passionate and skilled play-by-play announcers who are waiting to be picked up. Simon Hill is currently freelancing for Optus Sport and would be a shrewd pickup as lead announcer for A-League games. Rumours of his acquisition by 10 circulated earlier this year, and he is proven quality who is dedicated and knowledgeable about Australian football.

Australian football could see a change in fortune if ViacomCBS can continue to expand upon this level of promotion for the A-League. By engaging new fans, ensuring lapsed fans are reached, and continuing to offer value to the committed and faithful, Channel 10 and Paramount+ can build upon the strong foundations that they have already laid before the season has even kicked off.

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