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.

777 Partners seeking completion of Everton deal

American firm 777 Partners are nearing the completion of their takeover at Everton after a long seven-month process is heading towards its conclusion.

As reported by TEAMtalk, 777 sources have confirmed that they have now passed the Premier League’s Owners’ and Directors Test on the basis that they pay back an outstanding loan to MSP Sports Capital.

The firm are not expecting an imminent announcement from the Premier League but as mentioned, are confident that the takeover will be finalised around May time, ready for the all-important summer window.

However, Everton are keeping their options open and are actively looking at backup options in case this deal falters at the last minute. It remains a real interesting story that has mixed reports and an air of  scepticism about it.

MSP and two Liverpool-based businessmen Andy Bell and George Downing loaned Everton £158m ($303m AUD) which was due to be returned on Monday this week.

A short-term extension of the loan – taken out by majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri but which 777 have to pay if their takeover is to proceed – has been agreed in principle.

777 have stakes in many other clubs around Europe and the world including Hertha Berlin, Genoa, Standard Liege and A-League giant Melbourne Victory.

There is little doubt that there are mixed results regarding the clubs they takeover with a few angry protests and controversies shining the light on a potential shaky move that Everton couldn’t afford to go wayward.

At German side Hertha Berlin, they say that they ‘don’t have as much control as they would like’ and ‘haven’t been able to make the changes they would like there’, hindered by the German rules on ownership.

After the German side’s relegation last season from the Bundesliga and slow start to life in the 2. Bundesliga this season, there were many fan protests and banners attacking 777 owner Josh Wander however the cub have managed to steer the ship this season and sit in 7th place with four games remaining.

777 believe that they have done a good job with Italian club Genoa, however, who were promoted back into the Serie A last season under their stewardship.

They managed to improve finances, particularly through smart transfers like buying Radu Dragusin for £4.3m ($8.25m AUD) and selling him on to Tottenham just a year later for a huge fee of £26.7m ($51.25m AUD).

777 have missed payments on occasion at Standard Liege, but they have since been paid. They claim that they are battling against the financial mismanagement of previous owners and have lifted the carpet at the Belgian side to find many skeletons.

For Everton, after two points deductions that added up to eight points, the key for this move to run smoothly is to remain a top flight club in 2024/25 which they are in a fantastic position to do so after a controversial 2-0 win over Nottingham Forest on the weekend.

Everton will ‘not be a closed shop’ once they take control of the club and they aim to build their income and sustainability in the years.

It also leaves an interesting discussion as to Everton’s transfer strategy following their strict FFP rules that can’t be broken again.

The firm, led by CEO Josh Wander, intend to back the Toffees’ sporting director Kevin Thelwell and are hoping to strengthen the side this summer.

They do concede that the sale of key players such as Amadou Onana, Jarrad Branthwaite and Jordan Pickford may be required to balance the books, however.

777 claim they will do everything they can to avoid a third points deduction which would be placed on the club in 2024/25.

They also say that they will put a big focus on improving the Merseyside club’s academy, insisting that it will be utilised “correctly” and hope to have more homegrown talent break into the first team.

With the new stadium built and ready to go in 2025/26, the revenue streams will improve and there is a tiny light at the end of the tunnel, as long as the Toffees can continue to do their job on the pitch and secure the Premier League broadcasting money that is required to pay off loans and debt.

Despite the very loud outside noise and criticism, 777 remain calm about the debt being paid off before the deadline and the deal will be finalised.

777’s history and mixed results at other clubs leave this one in the air, and despite fans not wanting this move to occur, it could be one that saves Everton from a worst case scenario of administration after years of financial hardship.

Government facilities investment needs to keep up as Women’s Asian Cup looms

In recent times, Football Australia released their ‘Legacy 23 report’ on the Women’s World Cup which was held in Australia and New Zealand last July.

Sarah Walsh – Head of Women’s Football, World Cup Legacy and Inclusion at Football Australia – reflected on the impact of the Matildas after the release of the Legacy report. The Matildas have been at the forefront of transformative societal change, challenging perceptions and gender stereotypes while advocating for sustained evolution within the Australian and international sporting landscape.

“The Legacy ‘23 post-tournament report delves into the success achieved in leveraging the tournament, however, emphasises the need for increased funding to ensure that the legacy of the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia and New Zealand 2023 isn’t merely a momentary triumph, but evolves into foundations for a thriving, equitable, and dynamic future for football,” Walsh stated.

The numbers revealed in the report were quite staggering. The document stated that the World Cup had generated a $1.32 billion impact on the economy – with over 86,000 visitors to Australia contributing strongly to that figure.

1,288,175 tickets were sold to Australian based matches, with a global television viewership of almost two billion people.

The event itself played a hugely significant role in promoting physical exercise and well-being across the nation with an estimated $324 million reduction in healthcare costs due to this increased activity in the community.

A key part of the ‘Legacy 23’ plan from the FA was to garner increased government investment in facilities – due to the expected boom of popularity in the sport after hosting a World Cup on home shores.

Football Australia unlocked more than $398 million in federal and state government funding for ‘Legacy 23’ related projects. $129 million of the total funds also positively benefitted other sports – due to facility upgrades to stadiums such as Perth Rectangular Stadium, Brisbane Stadium, Melbourne Rectangular Stadium and the La Trobe Sports Precinct in Melbourne.

Due to the Matildas’ success, and FA’s advocacy, the Australian government contributed $200 million to the ‘Play Our Way’ grant program. This is Australia’s biggest comprehensive investment in women’s sports, with funding to address participation barriers through safe, inclusive and sustainable facilities and programs.

While the allocation of the investment between sports for this grant program has not been made public, football must be at the forefront for a large portion of this funding with a home Women’s Asian Cup on the horizon.

According to FA’s ‘Legacy 23’ report, under 20% of the $398 million worth of government funding was invested into community facilities.

“There remains a significant deficiency in facility investment across pivotal states that demands urgent attention,” FA’s report read.

“As participation demands increase, the strain on existing facilities within the 2,400+ clubs nationwide, already at saturation levels, requires immediate attention from all levels of government—federal, state, and local.

“Addressing this gap is essential to meet the expected surge in participation, improve the experience and retention rate for women and girls on our journey to the national 50:50 target, and continue fostering the wide-ranging benefits that football provides to its community of over 2 million people.

“It will therefore be crucial that grassroots football club facility upgrades materially benefit from the Play Our Way grant program.”

The AFC Women’s Football Committee recently recommended Australia as the host country for the 2026 Women’s Asian Cup – essentially earmarking another monumental football tournament to be held in our backyard.

According to Australian Financial Review, Football Australia is expecting up to half a million attendees for the event, with visitor/organisation expenditure of between $115 and $140 million, making it the biggest female edition of all time.

With the tournament just two years away, it is essential that further grassroots facility investment is allocated by government parties as the demand and popularity of the sport will continue to grow at a significant rate.

FA claims the Asian Cup represented “a crucial platform to advance the goals outlined in the ‘Legacy 23’, particularly in addressing the shortfall in football facility investment.”

“Australia is ready, one of the most multicultural societies in the world, with over 300 different ancestries and almost 20% of our nation’s population having ties back to countries that comprise the Asian Football Confederation, meaning every team that visits our shores will have a ‘home away from home’ feeling,” the report said.

“This esteemed Asian football tournament provides an ideal platform for all tiers of government to employ football as a tool for effectively implementing sports diplomacy and tourism strategies within Asia.”

The governing body believes there is an overall $2.9 billion facility gap to bring grassroots facilities in line to an acceptable level.

They won’t get anywhere near that level of investment from government authorities immediately, but considerably more must be invested before Asia’s biggest female sporting event comes to our shores.

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