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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.

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

A new year brings optimism for Australian football

Stadiums have been forced to adapt during the pandemic, introducing new procedures and innovations allowing fans to attend matches safely.

As always in Australian football, 2021 is set to be a big year.

After a year which was continually disrupted by a global pandemic, the game’s future seems to be much brighter in 2021. Here are some of the reasons why:

An Independent A-League and W-League

After years of infighting, the A-League and W-League were finally unbundled from Football Australia on the last day of 2020.

A new organisation of A-League club owners, under the moniker of Australian Professional Leagues (APL), will now take over the operational, commercial and marketing control of both leagues.

Essentially, the league’s power brokers will now have more incentive to invest and market the leagues as they now have the impetus to attract and organise their own business dealings.

Chair of APL and co-owner of the Western Sydney Wanderers, Paul Lederer, spoke of the importance of the deal: “This is an historic moment for the future of football in Australia – for the fan, for the player, for the whole game.

“It’s now time to earn and deliver the future our game deserves. The handbrake on the game is off; owners can finally invest in what they own and create value for the entire footballing ecosystem.

“Players can plan their careers in Australian football, fans can reconnect with the game that they love, and clubs can create meaningful moments for the whole Australian football family.”

Domestic Transfer System

One of Football Australia’s ‘XI Principles’ outlined the need to stimulate and grow the Australian football economy, with the establishment of a new and modern domestic transfer system mooted as a proposed measure.

Last week Football Australia released a Domestic Transfer System White Paper, which will set the wheels in motion to revamp the current model into one which falls in-line with the rest of the global game.

It’s an area where Australian football is falling behind, with FIFA reporting in 2019 that Australian clubs only received US$1.9 million in international transfer fees, compared to other Asian nations like Japan who garnered US$29.4 million.

Football Australia CEO James Johnson has placed significant importance on the issue and the implementation of a proper domestic transfer system will finally reward a broad range of clubs across the Australian football pyramid.

“The establishment of a modern Domestic Transfer System in 2021 by Football Australia will seek to remedy the ‘gap’ that has been created in the Australian football ecosystem by providing opportunities to progressive clubs at all levels of the sport to generate new revenue streams which can be deployed into the ongoing training and development of players, and the clubs themselves,” he said.

“We believe that the implementation of a fit-for-purpose system will have transformational benefits for football in Australia and particularly our professional and grassroots clubs by reconnecting the game and stimulating growth,” Johnson concluded.

National Second Division

The Australian Association of Football Clubs (AAFC) is set to release a report on the progress of their plans for a national second division in the coming days, in a move which should enthuse the Australian football public.

A national second division (eventually with promotion and relegation) will bring a range of benefits to the football system here and will be a unique identifier which separates the game from a range of other sports played on our shores.

There does seem to be some hesitance from A-League clubs however, to immediately green-light a national second division.

Chair of the APL, Paul Lederer, recently stated that a national second division wouldn’t eventuate within the next two years, claiming that expanding the A-League to 16 teams was a more urgent priority.

Speaking with Box2Box, AAFC Chairman Nick Galatas responded to Lederer’s comments. “It doesn’t really bother us much because I don’t think the issue will come down to Paul in the end. It’s not really about him”, he said.

“I was surprised to hear the comments, I’ve got to say, but equally had he said the opposite, it wouldn’t have mattered much either.

Ultimately, the decision will come down to Football Australia as the APL does not have the appropriate regulatory functions.

The current FA administration is much more willing than previous administrations to introduce a second tier, previously listing the need to continue the development of a framework for a national second division, in their ‘XI Principles’ document last year.

New Broadcast Deal

Fox Sports re-negotiated their TV deal with the A-League and other Australian football properties when the competition went into shutdown during the COVID pandemic.

The deal was reduced in both dollars and length, with Fox Sports paying just over $30 million for a one-year agreement which runs out in July of this year.

There is a possibility that Fox may pass on extending that deal, but that does present the game with opportunities to seek out a new broadcast partner or to take things into their own hands and build up their own streaming service.

The game’s TV deal with the ABC is also set to expire this year, with the need to find the right balance between free-to-air exposure and broadcast revenue becoming increasingly important.

New potential broadcasters that may be interested in striking an agreement include:

Optus Sport: Currently have the rights to competitions such as the English Premier League, UEFA Champions League, J-League and K-League,

Stan Sport: Recently entered the market by signing a deal with Rugby Union’s Super Rugby competition and are reportedly interested in securing the NBL rights in the future.

DAZN: Have started to dip their toes into the Australian landscape through other sports, after broadcasting football in multiple countries across the world.

Whatever the case, Australian football does seem to have options outside of Fox Sports, who have broadcasted the A-League for the past 16 seasons.

With many exciting possibilities to look forward to, the game should be in a stronger place by the end of 2021.

Does the A-League need a Big Bash style experiment?

The fans roar as the fireworks explode – with music blasting a Mexican wave engulfs the stadium. Cricket Australia’s Big Bash League (BBL) has succeeded in attracting families to their sport, which is something that the A-League could look to replicate.

The A-League could learn from both the failures and successes of the Big Bash League to rejuvenate football in Australia, with a BBL style concept to attract consumers and fans to the A-League in a unique manner.

However, an approach into a BBL style experiment would have to be taken carefully as there is a fine line between creating a product that is viewed as a serious competition and creating a product that is looked down upon such as AFLX.

The BBL’s peak was on January 2, in 2016 when 80,883 fans packed into the MCG to watch a match between the Melbourne Stars and the Melbourne Renegades.

While the Big Bash has been in a supposed decline in popularity since, the league has still been able to produce some large attendances.

54,478 people attended a Melbourne Derby on January 4 earlier this year – the third highest crowd for a BBL game in the league’s history.

Meanwhile the A-League’s highest crowd before COVID-19 interrupted the 2019/20 season was 33,523 people at October’s draw between Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City.

Cricket Australia’s success with the BBL came from creating an experience geared towards families and children – with pump up music, fireworks and flamethrowers that were suited to T20 cricket with its high scoring, exciting and shorter format.

Former Liverpool star Craig Johnston has suggested an idea of what an A-League version of the BBL would look like.

“Four quarters, 15 minutes each, rotating substitutes, sin bins, all the things you’re not allowed to do in soccer,” he told The Daily Football Show in 2019.

“So effectively in midfield, you could take a touch, get past a player and you could shoot for goal. Then the goalkeeper’s either saving that shot or it’s a goal.”

“We’re utilising the same players but we’re taking out their midfield and we’re giving the players and the consumers four times more of what they want in the quarter of the time.”

Johnston believes that a Big Bash style format should be adapted by Australian football with A-League teams.

“The big idea is the Big Bash of soccer, but then the kids copy it at their training grounds,” he said.

“It is professional six-a-side with A-League teams. The A-League teams split in half, red versus blue, they play against each other.”

“The Big Bash and the One Day series is the best thing that ever happened to cricket in terms of engaging young minds and future minds.”

If the A-League was to try BBL style product it would need to make sure the best players are available – a weakness of the Big Bash has been that some of the biggest names in Australian cricket do not play regularly in the competition as the league clashes with international fixtures.

An A-League Big Bash competition would also be taken more seriously if the best players were playing regularly.

Perhaps the naming rights sponsor of the competition could provide a cash prize to the winning club, to entice clubs to field their best players.

One lesson that the A-League could learn from the Big Bash is that it has been made too long, something that even stars of the competition like Glen Maxwell have admitted.

“I think the length of the tournament when it was 10 games, I think we all really enjoyed that. I think it was the perfect amount,” Maxwell told SEN in early 2020.

“I just think 14 games is just a little bit much. It just makes for a very long tournament and probably goes for a touch too long.

“With school starting again it makes it a bit more difficult to keep the interest levels going until the end (of the season).”

The Big Bash was at its best when there was a limited number of games played predominantly in the school holidays.

If each A-League team played each other once in a new competition it could have an 11 game season plus a short finals series.

Ideally the A-League Big Bash concept would need to have as many games broadcast on free-to-air as possible – in order to easily accessible to fans.

There seems to be a lack of momentum coming into the 2020/21 A-League season, which is just under a week away. An Australian football version of the BBL could potentially be played as a lead in tournament to the A-League season, bringing attention and hype to the beginning of the competition.

Football Victoria celebrates International Day of People with Disability

Football Victoria has joined the global football community in celebrating International Day of People with Disability (IDPwD).

Football Victoria has joined the global football community in celebrating International Day of People with Disability (IDPwD), as well as several updates from FV’s All Abilities football programs.

IDPwD is held yearly on December 3, a United Nations day that’s observed internationally. It helps to increase awareness, understanding and acceptance of people with an impairment and recognise their contributions to society.

“We are proud to be an inclusive sport supporting people with an impairment to play football,” Football Victoria said.

“Despite not being able to host our usual programs this year, we are more than determined to ensure our players with impairments will have the best football season in 2021 – aligning with the international theme for IDPwD 2020: “Building Back Better: toward a disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 World”.

“We are excited to share some updates across our All Abilities football programs.”

A new FV Blind Football Project Coordinator has been appointed, with Amir Abdi to commence from 2021. He will work closely with Football Victoria’s Inclusion team related to programs for blind or partially sighted Victorians.

At Fitzroy City SC, the second session of their pilot Autism Football Program for children with the condition will take place, with costs of the program going towards the KS Foundation where it ensures kids with autism can play and watch football in a safe environment.

The Disability Sport and Recreation Online Festival will be an online platform this year to make sure anyone can still attend and participate. Football Victoria has given support to the festival that will run from Friday 11th December – Saturday 12th December 2020.

Football Victoria are also looking to launch their GO Sevens All Abilities Competitions on January 9th 2021, at Darebin International Sports Centre. It will involve a six week, 7-a-side social competition for people who have impairments (intellectual or physical) for ages 15 years and over.

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