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Football data

August 10, 2011

The football geek just got a new toy. Last weekend, the Bundesliga launched its new stat technology on the top division, providing the most ridiculously minute data you can imagine.

Man sitting at computer with football fields
The computers track the players' every moveImage: DW

Obviously it's hard to muster much sympathy for a millionaire whose job mainly involves running and kicking, but it's a job that just came under a lot greater scrutiny in Germany.

As of this new Bundesliga season, the German League Association (DFL) is collecting new floods of data on the players during all matches, in both the first and second division.

State-of-the-art tracking technology is now being used to record how far they run, how fast they run (with and without the ball), how long they take to catch their breath after a sprint, how many passes they completed and how many they didn't, what areas of the pitch they play in and how long for, how many challenges they get stuck into, and how many of these they win and lose - and it goes on.

Every single step a player takes is now recorded, registered and analyzed for posterity, or at least for the banks of journalists and media pundits who want to know, for instance, exactly why Bayern Munich were so bad against Mönchengladbach this past Sunday.

Football field with players highlighted
Players have nowhere left to hideImage: IMPIRE

The technology is being provided by Munich-based company Impire, and they do provide some fascinating insights. For example, Impire calculated last season that the Dortmund team ran an average of six kilometers more per game than the Bundesliga average. Relegated Frankfurt, meanwhile, ran three kilomoters less than the average.

Good weekend's work

Impire spokesman Tim Schober says he is pleased with the company's first weekend's work on the top division. "We've had very positive feedback from our clients so far," he told Deutsche Welle. "You might have seen our graphics were shown on [state broadcasters] ARD and ZDF."

The pitch is covered by two HD cameras - one for each half of the pitch - and a computer locates each player 25 times per second for the entire match. Three technicians watch over the computer during the match. Their job is to calibrate the pitch into the computer before the game begins, marking the touchlines and penalty areas as points of reference. And they let the computer know what colors each team is playing in.

Then, when the players appear, the technicians mark and identify each one with a little box, which then tracks the player.

Problems arise when players run too close to each other or pile on top of each other after a goal. "Sometimes the computer flags up an error during a goal celebration," says Schober. "That's why the technicians are there - to re-mark the players."

Live criticism

Not only that, the data is made available to the teams live. The coach can now tell his misfiring striker at half-time why he's never going get the ball if he keeps running in the areas he does.

The system also gives a coach empirical evidence that some temperamental midfielder is not sticking to the game plan. "There's obviously a tendency towards using more and more statistics in football," says Schober.

The technology is not new. This live digitalization of football has been used by England's Premier League and Spain's La Liga for several years, and many of Germany's top clubs already used a similar system in past few seasons.

Dortmund players celebrate
Coincidence? Dortmund began using Impire's technology last seasonImage: picture-alliance/augenklick/fi

Its introduction by the DFL, however, shows a determination to level the playing field - both in comparison with other leagues, and within the Bundesliga. Now all the teams have access to the same data.

"The cost of tracking data for one match, covering hardware, software and personnel, is about 3,000 euros ($4,300)," says Schober. "Some of the more cash-strapped clubs couldn't afford that before. I think you can say that the playing field has been leveled."

Old versus new

Schober denies that there is a generational battle in German football, with the younger, tech-wise coaches using statistical analysis more than older coaches, who rely on good old instinct and man-management. "It's nothing to do with age," he says. "It just depends on how open they are to technology."

But there is certainly evidence that statistical analysis help. "Dortmund started using our system last season," Schober notes modestly.

Author: Ben Knight
Editor: Matt Hermann

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