If you’ve ever watched a football match, you’ll know that commentators often come out with interesting and sometimes bizarre statistics about players and teams. It can seem like they’re plucking facts out of thin air, or generating random numbers like a casino does. You may have found yourself wondering how they find these fun facts, or who has been monitoring a player’s every move since the start of their career? Well, wonder no more. We’re taking a look into the complicated world of football statistics, and how they’re constantly being collected.
How do stat-collecting companies operate?
Private companies like Opta and Prozone are tasked with collecting data on football matches. They have rooms packed with analysts who monitor every touch, tackle, aerial duel, throw-in, etc. Even though every single stat is recorded, most of the work comes from logging passes between players and overall ball possession. Every pass must be registered, including the type of pass (short or long), the player making the pass, and its recipient. It’s claimed that the analysts, who work in real-time as the game is played, get 99% of their player identifications correct. Once the stats are collated, they are sold to broadcasters, who can display metrics on the screen or tell commentators to read them aloud.
Most of the people working at these companies are big football fans, so watching game after game seems like a hobby rather than a chore. This means that you’ll occasionally hear a stifled cheer when one team scores – fortunately, the analysts don’t let personal biases affect their work.
Measuring ball possession
Ball possession is one of the most commonly-used stats in football, but it’s also one of the most difficult to measure. Initially it was calculated using a manual clock, but now most companies use a device akin to a chess clock, which is constantly running in the background of the match. Both teams have a counter, only one of which is running at any time. As soon as the ball goes out or a tackle is made, the other clock starts.
Thanks to the tireless work of stats analysts, we’re constantly getting information which can capture the value of a player who perhaps doesn’t score a lot of goals, or make many tackles. Statistics like xG and xA (expected goals and assists) take into account the probability of a player scoring or assisting from an action. If a player outperforms their xG, for example, it means they’re scoring from difficult chances that they wouldn’t be expected to convert.
These statistics, as well as being interesting for fans, are used by teams when deciding to buy a player. Clubs can now create shortlists of players who can provide the extra stats they need, whether it’s more assists, or just someone with high pass accuracy.
Well, there you have it. Stats in football are very time-consuming to collect, but they’re great for enhancing fan enjoyment and also providing useful player information for clubs and scouts.