Introduction to Soccer Analytics – The Guys I Follow
The soccer analytics community is currently growing by leaps and bounds, which means that there’s new information being processed almost every single day. It also means that there are tons of new people interested in the topic, and figuring out who to read or where to go can be a bit daunting at first.
Initially I wanted to synthesize the current literature and add links to all of the major work thus far in one spot. Unfortunately things are moving so fast right now (most topics are very much in the discovery phase), that instead I think it’s probably easier and more useful to provide a short profile of people I have found to be interesting and valuable in my exploration of the topic. Consider this sort of a Follow Friday outside of 140 characters for anyone who is interested in getting up to speed on soccer analytics.
Note: As of this writing, all of these guys are currently publishing stuff. Some work for data companies like Infostrada Group, but most are independent and just seem to love numbers and football.
Grayson is a graduate student in atmospheric science, which means he’s used to working on systems far more complex than silly football games. Common topics include Total Shots Ratio (TSR), regular updates on probable league positions in EPL, and he also dabbles in NHL. James’ Blog can be found here.
Mark is incredibly prolific and publishes almost daily on his blog The Power of Goals. His posts usually have a strong math bent, but Mark’s writing makes things easily accessible. Given how much he publishes, and assuming he has some real job to pay the bills, Mark may also be a robot or a particularly mathophilic vampire.
Ben is also prolific, writing mostly for the SBNation community Bitter and Blue as shuddertothink (where his brother Danny is the editor), but also publishing more recently on his own blog. He writes a weekly column called 10 Points that takes a statistical look at the weekend’s English Premier League action, and then publishes on various and sundry topics throughout the rest of the week. He was one of the first analysts to take a heavy look at game states and their statistical effects.
Simon is officially Head of Analysis at data provider Infostrada. He created the ISG Coefficient, which examines how teams have fared from season to season over identical fixtures (which helps to control for opponent strength versus what you see on a league table), and had a hand in the Euro Club Index as well. Some of his work can be found on the Infostrada website, some on his own blog Scoreboard Journalism, and some in the mainstream Dutch publication Volskrant.
He also seems to enjoy rugby, but try not to hold that against him.
Sander is a Dutch doctor who writes excellent analytics posts in his spare time. Being Dutch, he often focuses on Eredivisie, but his takes on some of the more notable analytics topics are always well thought out and sometimes groundbreaking (try this one and this one for examples). He’s notable for his work on Relative Shots Rate (RSR) and like Simon Gleave, has also been publishing in Volskrant recently.
Chris is a professor at Cornell University, is one of the partners of Anderson Sally consulting, and publishes his soccer work at Soccer By the Numbers. His topics are extremely diverse in nature (Age and player valuation, the Value of Corners, Points and Relegation), and he has a book called “The Numbers Game” filled to the brim with soccer analytics, set to be published in late May.
Martin is notable for a number of topics, including simplifying the Pythagorean model for soccer, creating a football Elo predictive model, and for writing some harder core mathy explanations for Betting Expert. In real life, he is a man of science.
As he puts it, Zach “writes statistically informed articles about MLS and EPL” for Forbes magazine. Every week he posts model updates for where teams are likely to finish in EPL, and he’s one of the few soccer analytics writers to get published on a mainstream US site. (Though ESPN has ramped up their game dramatically in the last year or so with Albert Lacarda and Paul Carr). As the European season comes to an end, expect him to write oodles and scads about MLS.
A Different Game
The Shot Position Average Model (SPAM) is far enough off the beaten path that it deserves special consideration and merit, both because it is different and because it seems like a TON of work went into this thing in charting shot position and their ROI. This blog is usually a bit less mathy than most of what I have listed above, but that’s one of the things that makes it great. I like most of the stuff he publishes, but especially enjoyed the look at Bale vs. Walcott.
Right, these are just the guys that I personally find most valuable right now. There are plenty more who have published heavily in the past, who have been snapped up by clubs (Ravi Ramineni) or bigger companies like Prozone (Omar Chaudhuri), and many more that are writing right now that I probably just don’t know about yet.
Richard Whittall, editor off the Counter Attack blog at Canadian site The Score is another mainstream voice who seems to have become hooked on soccer analytics in recent months and follows community publications fairly closely. Be nice to him, he is a long-suffering Aston Villa fan.
Best of luck!
Formerly a professional sports bettor, I have worked for Pinnaclesports.com since April 2007. While there, I have managed their Soccer, European, and Live Sports departments, as well as being the head of Sportsbook Research & Analysis. These days I act as lead trader for the English Premier League. Most of my writing goes toward work-related things, but I occasionally publish here when the mood strikes. I also chat constantly about football, analytics, and gambling on Twitter.