Meet the men who led football's statistical revolution
When Opta brought their stats to the world, a new era was born; an era in which expertsÃ¢ÂÂ precise analysis replaced grizzled old pros complaining about players falling over, and pub arguments were based on fact for a change.
But who were, and who are, these mysterious, magical masters of the stat? Do they live in spaceships? Are they plugged into a giant mainframe? Do they have spies in headsets watching every game on the planet?
No. Three men sit around a computer and point and click. And somehow, itÃ¢ÂÂs actually more impressive this way.
Ã¢ÂÂWe have a home team analyst and an away team analyst,Ã¢ÂÂ explains Paul Every, Product Manager at Opta. Ã¢ÂÂWhen the home team have the ball the away team analyst is not doing anything, but when possession changes he obviously comes into play. Then the central screen, where all the events actually appear, is checked by a third analyst.Ã¢ÂÂ
Right. It all sounds a bit easy, to be honest: identify the players and trace where the ball goes. Simple, no?
Ã¢ÂÂItÃ¢ÂÂs important to point out our analysts go through six weeks of training before theyÃ¢ÂÂre let loose on a live game,Ã¢ÂÂ says Paul, Ã¢ÂÂand even then itÃ¢ÂÂll be a more low-profile game.Ã¢ÂÂ
OptaÃ¢ÂÂs analysts have to record every 'event' - be it a pass, shot, tackle or save - with incredible precision. Ã¢ÂÂAnd itÃ¢ÂÂs liveÃ¢ÂÂ (with apologies to Martin Tyler). All the stats come in real time, so the data is available in literally just a second or two, including on your phone with FourFourTwoÃ¢ÂÂs new Stats Zone app.
And thereÃ¢ÂÂs more.
Ã¢ÂÂAlongside all the basic events like pass, shot, save, there are a lot of detailed qualifiers,Ã¢ÂÂ Paul reminds us. Ã¢ÂÂThe system will identify a short pass or a long pass, based on the pitch co-ordinates, and the analyst can add Ã¢ÂÂchipped passÃ¢ÂÂ and things like that.Ã¢ÂÂ Hence the third analyst: heÃ¢ÂÂs not only there to provide a general overview, but add extra detail when the home and away team analysts are frantically keeping up with the play.
Look at the detail for passing alone. Ã¢ÂÂCross along the groundÃ¢ÂÂ, Ã¢ÂÂpull backÃ¢ÂÂ and Ã¢ÂÂswitch of playÃ¢ÂÂ are all qualifiers, plus Ã¢ÂÂkick from handsÃ¢ÂÂ, Ã¢ÂÂthrowÃ¢ÂÂ or Ã¢ÂÂ brilliantly Ã¢ÂÂ Ã¢ÂÂhoofÃ¢ÂÂ for goalkeepers.
Ã¢ÂÂEach analyst usually has a specialist team,Ã¢ÂÂ continues Paul. Ã¢ÂÂOne analyst will specialise in Arsenal, and know that team inside out. Because itÃ¢ÂÂs all happening so quickly, they use recognition techniques to identify players: shirt numbers, what type of boots they wear, their latest haircut, even whether their shirt is untucked!Ã¢ÂÂ
So how can someone get involved in all this?
Ã¢ÂÂAt interviews we look for anyone thatÃ¢ÂÂs got an interest in football, and get them in for a quick quiz,Ã¢ÂÂ Paul Pettitt, Senior Data Collection Executive and former analyst. Ã¢ÂÂThen itÃ¢ÂÂs all about hand-eye co-ordination.Ã¢ÂÂ
Ã¢ÂÂWe find people into computer games and with a good knowledge of football often make the best analysts,Ã¢ÂÂ adds Paul Every.
This must destroy the analystsÃ¢ÂÂ fun though. No more enjoying a game at the weekend Ã¢ÂÂ for them it must be all numbers and diagrams, the poor sods.
Ã¢ÂÂOnce you start training itÃ¢ÂÂs pretty intense,Ã¢ÂÂ acknowledges Paul Pettitt, Ã¢ÂÂbut you can still enjoy the games. And some people end up supporting the team they analyse.
Ã¢ÂÂTheyÃ¢ÂÂll have to analyse a French or German team all season, then they pick them up as their favourite team. A few people start buying their kits and supporting them.Ã¢ÂÂ
Well, itÃ¢ÂÂs good to know the people tirelessly providing us with stats are having a good time too. Now you can enjoy FourFourTwoÃ¢ÂÂs Stats Zone even more.