An Introduction to Soccer Analytics - spacespacespaceletter

What are analytics? The dictionary tells us the word entered English in the late sixteenth century from Aristotle’s analytiká, an Ancient Greek root meaning “sports talk for nerds who’ve never won a tackle.” Since formal syllogisms aren’t much help in scouting left backs, in soccer we usually reserve the term for data analytics—you know, stats. Tables and figures. Messi vizzes that’ll do numbers on Twitter. Anything that sets out to ruin the beautiful game by turning it into math class, that’s analytics.

The best reason to try to measure the sport is the same reason people used to say it couldn’t be measured: soccer is hard. Even coaches and analysts and scouts who’ve spent their lives learning to watch it won’t see games quite the same way. There are too many moving parts, too many possibilities to hold in your head at once. Had we but world enough and time, you might rewatch each match over and over to pause and study it and it’d still be impossible to see and remember it all. And if you have to do that for an opponent’s entire season, or a continent you’re charged with scouting? Pretty soon it starts to look like the nerds might be onto something.

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