An Impossible Boxing Day: Why European Football Stops at Christmas
European football fans ask themselves this question every single Christmas. Why aren’t there matches on?
For the second year, FC Barcelona -through the Barça Innovation Hub- have presented their annual data analysis guide that compiles relevant information and advances made in this field. They do this not only to promote its dissemination, but also to show new lines of work and research that can be carried out. The work will be available on the Sports Tomorrow platform, as will the conference presentations.
Angel Ric, editor of the guide, together with Sam Robertson from the University of Victoria in Australia and David Sumpter from the University of Uppsala in Sweden, explained that the relevance that has been achieved in data analysis and sports science has forced clubs to incorporate new professional profiles into their structures that did not previously exist in this area, such as mathematicians, data analysts and computer scientists. In addition, other established professional profiles, such as fitness trainers and analysts, have had to adapt to the new monitoring methods.
This year’s guide consists of nine chapters, written by 37 researchers from nine countries. It encompasses a total of 155 pages with 325 scientific references. Football is a very complex sport that requires a step further to be taken in its analytics than other sports. One of the fundamental reasons is the multiple scenarios in which certain contexts serve to interpret or evaluate data with very different results.
In the first chapter, Rafel Pol and Natalia Balagué propose the use of the principles and concepts of Dynamic Systems Theory to dilute the linguistic and knowledge barriers that may exist between different changes in science. They also suggest the convenience of incorporating tools and analysis that address the dynamism in the processes in which the relationship between the organism and all around it must be understood at all levels of performance analysis, from the analysis of the team within a club or competition to the functioning of the organs or system within the athlete.
Hans Thies, Bahaeddine El Fakir and Nicolas Evans talked about the need to integrate all the different data sources when different levels of information are available. Carlos Lago and his collaborators have studied the effects of situational performance variables and consider it essential for assessing the influence of context at all levels.
Lotte Bransen and her team have published research on how context affects athletic performance. The result of their study shows how context determines the probability of success, as well as the effects that can be made by a change of score or the proximity to the end of the game.
Laurie Shaw, winner of the Barça Innovation Hub 2019 Summit paper contest, contributes a chapter on the structure of teams and the context that determines their formations. The study shows the possibility of further refining the identification of these formations based on much closer game contexts: the start of the game, the progression towards the opposition goal etc. together with formations when the teams show defensive strategies.
Mattias Kempe and his collaborators argue in the sixth chapter that it is precisely the stability of these formations that characterises the organisation of the team. Its disruption through passing can be used to evaluate player performance. In this chapter, the reader will also be able to find studies published this year on player coordination, which opens up a range of possibilities for future research.
Finally, the last three chapters seek to generate new studies to better understand the effects of training drills. The FC Barcelona Methodology team, led by Paco Seirul·lo, dissect the concept of relocating players around the ball. Instead of the traditional placement of the players on the pitch with the goals as a reference, they propose a system made up of passes as a method to organise themselves and increase the probability of success. It is the organisational system that characterises one of the best known and most traditional exercises in the world of football: The rondo.
Maurici A. López-Felip analyzes a way of understanding the collective behaviour of a team based on the position of the ball and, in the last chapter, Paul Bradley shows that analysis of the physical demands on a player can be contextualised so that the design of the drill is more suitable to the demands of the game.
The Sports Tomorrow congress concluded with an interview by Llorenç Tarrés with Víctor Tomàs, the former FC Barcelona handball captain who unfortunately had to retire this year due to a heart problem after twenty-two years at the club.
Although it was difficult to bring his career to a close, he confessed, he had concerned for some time and making decisions in order to continue within the sport when his playing days were over.
“When you are a player you are in a bubble. It seems as if you don’t have time for other things, but nothing is further from the truth. In the end, you have a lot of free time when you are a professional player,” he revealed. That is why he has underlined the value of a platform such as Barça Innovation Hub and its offer of studies, because it helps the athlete to ensure that their transition is not “traumatic.” Tomás did a Master’s degree and considers that all activities of this kind should be more widely publicised, because “knowledge is always good and allows us to prepare for the end of a career.”
Regarding the technological revolution in sport, Tomás showed his amazement with how each player’s workload is managed. Weight and fatigue control allows each player to be trained with surgical precision, with information fundamentally making it possible to interpret much better what a player needs.
He believes that now it is possible to know precisely what threats are posed by the opposing team. However, he personally did not like watching game footage of opposition players that coaches prepared for him: “I never looked at them, I didn’t like to think that a goalkeeper liked to dive more where I liked to throw the ball. I didn’t want to be hindered.”
The problem with handball in Spain for the future, he warned, is that private investment gets very little tax benefits and the publicity derived from sponsorship of a team “is minimal.” As long as measures are not introduced: “it will be a root problem and very difficult to find a solution for.”
Tomàs is now discovering the other side of sport: Everything that occurs around the game. He is dedicated to managing the games played by four different sections of the club at the Palau Blaugrana, ensuring that there is no conflict between them. Also, as a consequence of the pandemic, he tracks or traces the underage players.
“It is a surprise to learn of all the work that goes into a simple game, the operations and meetings that are carried out so that the players can just worry about playing.”
“Everything works like a big club, but it is a big company at the same time,” he said. Although a former player will never analyse these dynamics like a typical businessman, because he pointed out: “he will always be able to empathise with the problems the players have.”