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SBD Global/August 19, 2013/International Football

Premier League Embracing Data Firms To Scout Talent, Avoid Relegation

The Premier League "has a new breed of observer: sophisticated data firms that meticulously track every movement, using statistics to discover the best way to win," according to THE ECONOMIST. Since the team-sheet "can mean the difference between glory and insolvency," clubs employ talent spotters "who travel the globe to find the right players at the best price." Until recently, their intelligence gathering "was pretty old-fashioned." Scouts "would spend hours watching matches in the lower leagues in the rain." Now, however, companies such as Opta and Prozone "collect reams of helpful data, selling them to the clubs and media for a fee." Pitch-side analysts log every tackle, pass and goal, typically collecting information on 2,000 or so "events" per match. Above the stadium, "arrays of cameras track players’ movements, logging their distance, speed and acceleration." Still, computers "are not about to oust scouts entirely." Opta analyst Sam Green points out that human observers "take into account contextual details that computers don’t." Untangling skill and context "is something a computer cannot yet do" (THE ECONOMIST, 8/17).
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