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The important evolutionary role of data in football
Fri, 24th Nov 2023

It was 1863 when the first professional football match took place. A game which quickly rose in popularity due to its reliance on grit, determination, and passion. Fast forward some years, and while these attributes still exist, technology has brought significant changes to the game and now impacts almost every corner of the footballing world. This includes everything from on-the-field decision-making to club development, player identification and growth. In line with these technological advancements, the reliance on data is only increasing. 

Let's take a deeper dive into how data affects every phase of a football season.

At the start of each season, clubs aim to enhance short-term performance and improve year over year. Teams set out with their own goals, whether that is a title challenge, European football, or simply avoiding relegation. These targets determine how preparation is made for the upcoming games and will differ depending on the quality of the side. Data is the key determinant in setting these targets, evaluating the probability of winning, and ultimately, what would be considered success. 

At the heart of this preparation is a comprehensive study of previous seasons. Teams look for effective ways to store, analyse, and utilise the insight available to them. Now more than ever, data is affecting every decision made and is becoming more attributable to the success and failure of running football clubs right from the grassroots to the highest levels. 

An Analytical Approach to Transfers
Player movements between clubs have always been an integral part of the evolving cycle of the footballing world. However, modern transfer has evolved, and purchases are more data-based nowadays, analysing every statistic, fact, and growth/decline path of a player. 

The data could include everything from how far they run, how hard they work during matches, and whether they fit into a team's style of play. For example, a striker who plays in one set-up won't necessarily fit into a team which likes to play another way.

Enhancements in Player Medicals 
Player health and fitness is a key metric which is measured using data. This can help determine whether a player is fit enough to join a new club but is also key in uncovering any potential underlying health conditions. This has even led players to be treated for conditions they may otherwise be unaware of. In some situations, this could be lifesaving. 

This medical data also helps determine the long-term health and injury status of current players at a club. Data on medical conditions, injuries, and other reasons for absence from matches is key to establishing treatment plans, rehabilitation, and the road to recovery. Every match missed can prove detrimental to a team, so ensuring a player recovers quickly and safely is imperative, and data on the development/recovery of an injury could shave weeks or months off an absence while reducing the risk of a reoccurring injury. 

Analysing Performance
Player performance data is also analysed, with this insight used to monitor and review statistics, movements, and figures related to performance. Players are monitored on how far they run, their movement patterns, distances covered in sprinting versus jogging and walking, shots on goal, tackles, and much more. Teams video record overall performance and training sessions, sometimes lasting for hours at a time. The ability to store high-resolution videos requires a huge amount of storage capacity. 

The information is stored and analysed to assess individual performance work rates, identify strengths and weaknesses, and optimise tactics and strategies. 

The storage required for this type of analysis is enormous. With fifty-plus players having their individual data stored and reviewed every session from beginning to end, there are potentially hundreds of data points to be collected. 

To interact and utilise this data, high-capacity, high-performance storage solutions are needed to help facilitate collaboration between different teams across the club. 

Football's Future: A Reliance on Technology 
There can be no dispute that football's future is being shaped by technology. The introduction of Video Assistant Referee (VAR), for example, is one of the most pivotal and game-changing introductions in the modern era. The data required to operate a complex system like VAR is enormous and requires a large storage capacity to match. During major tournaments, there can be as many as twelve cameras in operation across every stadium to track the ball and collect data from every player, and a sensor inside the ball sends data to the video operation room more than 500 times per second. 

At the 2022 World Cup, the VAR team had access to tens of cameras, eight of which worked in super slow motion and four in ultra slow motion. If such recordings are stored at 800 frames per second (800fps) or more for "just" three days, data volumes of up to 26 terabytes (TB) can be generated per game.

The technology in football isn't slowing down – even within VAR. Semi-automated offside decisions are now being implemented in some competitions, and more automation will become a mainstay in football, enhancing data storage requirements. 

A Need for Storage
The data storage requirements in football will only continue to increase in the coming years. As technology advances, player analysis will deepen, and clubs will demand greater insight into business and player trends. Combined, these elements require more data to be produced, and in turn, that means having somewhere to store it.

Being able to store vast volumes of data has become an integral part of the modern game, aiding teams to perform better, recruit better, and streamline their operations. For teams to keep winning or, in some cases, turn their fortunes around, there will be more reliance on analytics, statistics, and data, and for this to be possible, the storage solutions have to be fit for purpose.