Sweet Spot: when the World Cup meets analytics

Welcome to the Sweet Spot for 13 July. The World Cup final is on Sunday, so I thought I’d look at how data has influenced comment on this year’s tournament, and what that means for the rest of us.

I love football because it’s the opposite of science (The Guardian, 4 minute read)

Jorge Valdano, former Argentinian striker, laments the growth of analytics in football. “Big data and mathematical projections are making their way on to the field of play to tell us things I don’t want to know,” he says. I say he’s wrong. He makes the fatal mistake of thinking that data removes intuition, and that data represents a bigger truth than anything else. He says that knowing that someone ran 15km in a match isn’t on its own a measure of success. I agree. But this data adds to a conversation the coach can have with players. Fans love the data in football. It adds flavour, just like it does in business: no decision should be 100% based on data; it helps to be informed by data.

Running at the World Cup (More or Less, 9 minute podcast)

The Russians ran further than any other team in the Group Stages. Some say this is evidence of doping. The analysis in this is very interesting, but the program fails to point out the main issue: running distance is just one factor in hundreds that would indicate doping. Correlation doesn’t equal causation; there may be many reasons Russian players ran so far. It is not possible to use one data point to make such a big conclusion. Either way, this is a fun episode to listen to.

Can Big Data Analytics Save Germany’s World Cup? (Forbes, 2 minute read)

I share this for the irony of PR stunts going wrong. It’s about the German team’s “Virtual 12th man”: SAP’s Big Data and AI-driven analytics platform which is used for player and game analysis. Sounds AMAZING. I’m sure it is. Except…. Germany got knocked out in the Group Stages for the first time since 1938! Which *definitely* proves that data is just one part of an equation in running any team, or business. 🙂

I’m supporting France on Sunday. Vive la France!

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