By Sam Song, Data Scientist at Kizuna
When Soccer Meets Artificial Intelligence
If you like soccer, you have seen this: A referee with a serious-looking face, the players anxiously waiting. Then, the referee draws a square in the air, s/he calls the VAR (Video Assistant Referees). Then everyone on the pitch stops moving and turns to the big screen.
They’re now waiting for VAR to make a crucial decision in the game. VAR, officially introduced in 2018, is an advanced technology that helps referees make more accurate decisions or catches a referee’s bad call.
You may already know about VAR, but one of the most remarkable advancements of VAR is the use of Artificial Intelligence to facilitate the elimination of obvious errors or missed incidents (goal decisions, penalty revisions, red card, and offsides). VAR can be trusted by referees with its highest level of precision and efficiency using broadcast cameras and neural network systems.
Meet the Newest Players: Algorithms and Machine Learning
The use of Data Science in soccer is not limited to just VAR. Soccer is much more than 11 players and a coach from each team. At the back of the successful teams, there are hundreds, if not thousands of people fighting for the team behind the pitch.
The most successful teams are leading the adoption of technology to improve performance, make predictions and gain competitive advantages on their rivals. By analyzing a player’s position, history, strengths, or more, characteristics, a machine learning model can yield precise insight otherwise unattainable.
It was not until a few years ago that people began looking at much beyond who scores the goal in the game. Other data and statistics were meaningless to them. However, things have changed: Today, it is regarded as the key to a club’s success. This key, called data science, has now become indispensable.
Behind the Team: Liverpool F.C.
Data Science played an important role when Liverpool F.C. won Champions League title in 2018 – 2019 season and Premier League title last year. This upcoming June, Liverpool F.C. will turn 129 years old. As long as the club’s history, Liverpool F.C. has been gathering an immense volume of data that is now being used to determine which players are most likely to score, which line-up to use against different teams, and even how to be more likely to win.
Liverpool F.C notable technology development is their “Pitch Control.” Pitch control is all about making the right decisions in a way that the team can dominate the entire pitch and determining which area of the pitch has the most potential for a goal. Is it effective? Well, their four trophies in the last two seasons may help answer that.
Obviously, Liverpool F.C. is not the only team that uses Data Science. Most successful teams for their players to perform better. However, considering where Liverpool F.C. lies in the Premier League chart today, Liverpool F.C. seems to be making much better use of Data Science.
What Happens Next?
Despite the influence of Data Science and Artificial intelligence in soccer, there still is a long way to go until this technology becomes faultless. Technology has limitations; and the human assistant is still relevant in today’s world.
One of AI’s most amusing incidents happened recently in November 2020, when the Scottish soccer team Inverness Caledonian Thistle F.C. announced that the game would be live streamed using an AI camera system where the camera automatically finds and tracks the ball. However, the audience at home was not able to focus on the game as the camera was constantly moving back and forth between the ball and a referee because it confused a referee’s bald head for the ball.
We can laugh at this incident, but it only helps to show the extent to which AI is making its exploration. What we see today is only the beginning of a sensation that these technologies will bring about. It will take some time, but sooner rather than later, we will certainly see AI implemented in the entire sports industry.
Data Science and AI have already made a big stir in sports, and there are endless possibilities for these technologies. In this new highly technological era, a club’s success and failure will heavily depend on how well they adapt to, and adopt, innovative technologies.
Considering the positive results shown so far in sports, and the accessibility of these modern technologies, it only makes sense that teams looking to gain a competitive edge, while reducing cost and resource overload, start adopting AI.