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Pervasive AI in Soccer (and football)

An Ai revolution is in the making in soccer. Data are flooding trainers, coaches, players and the business and AI makes sense out of them. Image credit: StatsEdge Pro

That Ai is pervasive and supporting more and more activities is not a surprise. However, I should say I was intrigued listening the other day to a radio station focussing on soccer (Radio Sportiva): The discussion was on whether a certain soccer club should buy or not a soccer player from another team. The person discussing the point mentioned that there are now software packages using AI to evaluate the probability that a given player would increase his value when playing in a given team. This software analyses the characteristics of the player, both technical and temperamental (the mood), to evaluate the compatibility with a given team. This compatibility would result in (likely) better performances that in turns would increase that player value on the market in the following season.

I was aware that several trainers have been using drones to monitor both training and matches, that television recordings of matches are analysed by image recognition software to evaluate a number of parameters (like the position of players in a match, the movements, the distance run in the match, the peak speed and much more). I was also aware that many players are wearing sensors during the training and the match and the data harvested are analysed to find out any physical issue.  Yet I was not aware of the possibility to use these data to evaluate business aspects.

In the first image you can see data analytics applied in real time to a soccer match: it creates heat maps showing where action is most of thee time, patterns of movements of each player and the ensemble of a team movement on the field. versus the movements of the other team, plus indicators showing variations in the performances of each player (like speed, ball control and hit force…).

Soccer is rapidly becoming a science both in the field and off the field! This goes way further than soccer, artificial intelligence is now embracing all kind of sports and will have an impact on the evolution of training, practicing and competing.

At the Tokyo Olympics, Omega is equipping athletes and the sites with sensors, getting over 2,000 sets of data “per second” to be processed using AI.

Interestingly, those same data are being used, along with AI, to provide realistic and fluid motion in software games like FIFA that in its 2022 release promises to deliver a real life experience, (how could that experience be real life as you are sitting on a couch beats me…, I guess they refer to the images you are seeing and the kind of movements you can orchestrate).

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.

One comment

  1. Thanks for sharing this interesting article! I remember that already at the last World Cup. the players of the Brazilian teams wore sensors. For various years now, such numbers get used for video games like “FIFA”. When published, always a big discussion for the fans. Such “operative data” coming from the sensors gets combined with statistics.