Big data has become a buzzword in corporate boardrooms, but it could also mark the difference between winning and losing a football world cup final. reports Gareth van Zyl of ItWebAfrica
Collecting millions of data sets that are difficult to process using on-hand database tools is referred to as ‘big data’. This data can then be analysed to help boost the likes of business and operational performance.
Applications for big data range from ensuring cranes, which are connected to the internet, don’t collide with each other on construction sites to IBM’s supercomputer Watson beating top human players on US television game show Jeopardy!
And just a month before Germany stunned Brazil with a 7-1 defeat in a FIFA world cup semi-final game this week, business software firm SAP at its US SAPPHIRE NOW conference in Orlando, Florida was quietly demonstrating how the German football team is using big data.
“The German team uses a customised data system by SAP that identifies individual details of each player like distance covered, shots on goal, and correct passes in matches,” public relations manager for sports and entertainment at SAP, Kamila Joanna Laures, told ITWeb Africa.
“They have also taken advantage of revolutionary SAP technology that uses big data for better informed coaching decisions on tactics, player fitness, scouting, preparation and game management.
“SAP Match Insights assists players and coaches to prepare themselves for upcoming matches by dissecting key situations that may present themselves throughout the course of the match,” Laures told ITWeb Africa.
This SAP technology uses the likes of video footage of previous games to track these data points and; in turn, help the German team strategise.
“Statistics and soccer have always belonged together. In many cases being better informed than the opposition has meant winning a match, and our software makes the analysis of big amounts of data much easier and much more reliable,” Laures said.
The German national team also used the technology, for example, in its world cup game against Portugal, according to SAP. Germany beat Portugal 4-0 in that Group G game.
“Oliver Bierhoff (Germany’s team manager) told us that prior to the match against Portugal; for example, Jérôme Boateng received several key scenes with Cristiano Ronaldo on his app so he could study his every move in the penalty area,” Laures said.
ITWeb Africa has reached out to the German football team for comment. But, at the time of writing, the team has not responded.
Nevertheless, prominent football writer, broadcaster and analyst in South Africa, Neal Collins, has said that Germany could have had extra efforts regarding their preparations for their semi-final clash against Brazil this week.
Studying statistics of the Brazil-Germany game this week interestingly reveals little difference between the two sides. For example, Germany only had 12 shots on target compared to Brazil’s 13. Germany also had 49% possession compared to Brazil’s 51%.
Brazil was missing its superstar Neymar da Silva Santos in the key Germany game owing to an injury.
But Collins has said that considering the match statistics, it is surprising that the goal difference between Brazil and Germany was so large in the semi-final game this week.
“No one can explain what happened last night (Tuesday night); it’s never happened to the host nation,” Collins has told ITWeb Africa.
“In the absence of any logical explanation for what happened to Brazil last night (Tuesday night), perhaps the Germans have just moved the game on,” Collins said.
Tablet and smartphone technology being used by European football teams’ strategists and coaching staff is becoming more common sight in leagues such as Germany’s Bundesliga, according to Collins.
For instance, video streaming on tablets is even used by these strategists to help players on the pitch analyse which direction certain goalkeepers typically dive in penalty shootout situations, Collins said.
“So, conceivably with this kind of technology and with the European leagues being so much richer than the South American, African, and Asian leagues, they’re now able to employ all these people, and all this software to create a situation where, you know, the players are told to get into certain positions and certain parts of the pitch, because that’s more effective,” Collins told ITWeb Africa.
“If somebody’s added computer software to the way that people play football and if the coaches can get that message across, then, yes, it’s conceivable that high technology makes seem like Germany is better than teams like Brazil.”
However, Collins said, “I still think football revolves around innate, instinctive skill.”
And SAP agrees its technology can only go so far.
“Of course we’d like to believe that the German team’s recent success at the world cup has also been helped by the power of data software support. At the end of the day; though, it is still the players who score,” Laures noted.
“The software is intended to help customise each player’s training, as it objectively helps identify individual strengths and weaknesses,” Laures said.
Regardless of whether technology helps sports teams or not, it is being used increasingly more in sport, especially as big sponsorship deals put more pressure on teams to perform.
Former South African cricket coach Bob Woolmer was regarded as a pioneer in using video analysis to prepare for games in the 1990s. Other top coaches, such as South Africa’s 2007 rugby world cup winning coach Jake White, has also been known for using video analysis.
Technology’s use in sport is therefore opening up unique business opportunities for technology companies.
According to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), global sports revenues have been predicted to grow to $145.3 billion by 2015.
And as the stakes in global sport grow bigger, the application of technology in big games such as Sunday’s FIFA world cup final between Argentina and Germany could mean the difference between fans’ jubilation and despair.