The rise of statistical ‘big data’ analysis in professional football is often described as a relatively slow one. While baseball’s widespread embrace of this field was accelerated by the ‘Moneyball’ phenomenon, professional football has been often categorised as being slow to catch on and criticised for being stubborn and insular when it comes to incorporating more advanced scientific and analytical techniques.
Whereas seemingly every major US sports franchise has a ‘vice president of data analytics’ or equivalent as a key part of their front-office staff, football is often characterised by observations such as this from Andre Villas-Boas: “The mind and how the player feels is much more important for us, rather than statistical data. For me it’s useless, but it varies from coach to coach. We all have different approaches.”
Liverpool and their then director of football Damien Comolli received widespread opprobrium for allegedly trying to replicate the ‘Moneyball’ approach with a number of signings in 2011, including those of Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing and Charlie Adam. Following the relative failure of these players at the club, many assumed statistical analysis had been quietly shelved through lack of progress.