As the football fiesta winds down in Russia this week, one could not fail to notice the huge technological advancements that have gone into the game at different levels.
The most visible one is of course the contentious Video Assisted Referee (VAR) technology, which allows the main referee to consult video footage and reverse critical decisions during the match.
Whereas many traditional football fanatics find the technology inconveniencing in terms of slowing down the game, one must appreciate the positive impact it already has in reducing the number and nature of underhand tactics previously employed to win games.
The fact that players know that their actions can and may be reviewed later on ensures that their conduct is more aligned towards fair play – which is a good thing for the sport.
COMMENTATORS AND DATABASES
The other area benefiting from football technology is the commentator’s desk.
The amount of historical data the commentator has on each and every player, the team and the coach, among others, is huge and definitely not sitting in the commentator’s head.
To state, for example, that Team X last played at the quarterfinals 38 years ago and lost 4-5 in a penalty shootout in Country Y and town Z is not information that broadcasters would have at their fingertips.
It is the type of information that can only be provided by what is known as data analytics technology, which enables the user to interrogate massive databases in the backend using friendly front-end dashboards.
The backend databases contain a spectrum of data, ranging from trivial to significant.
Trivial data would include things like what the mother of player Y did when he missed a penalty 20 years ago or the superstitious attachment a particular goalkeeper may have to wearing some luminous green uniform.
Significant data would include things like the proportion of all penalties saved when kicked to the left of the goalkeeper, versus those saved when kicked to the right – ever since the World Cup started.
ENHANCING VIEWER EXPERIENCE
These types of information when shared by the commentator enhance the user experience from a spectator’s point of view.
Just like the referees, today’s sports commentators are therefore knowledge workers, smoothly integrating technology into their work processes in ways that were previously impossible to imagine.
Not to be left behind, the coach and the technical bench were also seen consulting their tablets during the games.
Using wearable computer sensors, statistics about each player’s performance are being relayed back to the technical bench for analysis.
The speed of the player, the distance he has covered so far, the number of successful passes he makes, the power behind his shot, and the direction of his movements are all being tracked and recorded.
Various strategic and tactical decisions are being made in real time as the game progresses.
This data could be used to inform the coach on which player needs to be substituted, which tactics need to be revised or which players should NOT take free kicks or penalties – all based on their current state of play.
All the above is known as data-driven football – football made in the 21st century.
It is hard to imagine winning against a team whose coach consults data for decision-making, while your coach continues to consult his instincts or, worse still, witchdoctors to decide the game plan.
African countries and teams must begin to integrate ICTs into their refereeing, commentating and coaching processes. Without that, we are unlikely to win the World Cup in the near and immediate future.
European coaches and teams are only going to get better, courtesy of their data-driven football. Raw and individual human talent will never beat an averagely talented team augmented by technology.
Mr Walubengo is a lecturer at Multimedia University of Kenya, Faculty of Computing and IT. Email: [email protected], Twitter: @Jwalu