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New Data, New Boss, Same Great Content

By Mike Goodman | May 11, 2018 | Analytics

Welcome to the new Again. This time from the new guy.

It’s impossible to do an introductory post without being at least a little self-indulgent, but I’ll try and keep it as brief as possible. I owe my career to StatsBomb. Well, I owe my career to a lot of things. One of them is definitely StatsBomb though. Five years ago, when StatsBomb launched the first time, I wrote a piece about Manchester City’s new manager Manuel Pellegrini and the ways his style differed from Roberto Mancini's. An editor at Grantland saw it. The rest, as they say, is history (provided history means getting to work with amazing editors, having an incredibly understanding family, and working my butt off). Having an outlet where I could spend an unnecessarily large number of words writing about how Manchester City’s volume of final third touches compared to the rest of the Premier League literally changed my life.


A Different Landscape

In the intervening years the football and media worlds changed. Back then, football's statistical work was in its infancy. The barrier to entry was pretty low. All it took was an Excel spreadsheet, some half-baked ideas, a willingness to experiment and there was progress to be made. Lots of work was done in public, lots of it was done on personal blogs, and lots of it was done by hobbyists in their spare time. Those days are gone.

Two things happened. First, as fearless leader Ted talked about yesterday, a whole bunch of people got hired to be professionals. It wasn’t just Ted at Brentford. A number of early stats bloggers got gobbled up. Clubs all over the world, from Roma to Toronto to West Ham, hired people who had at one point done at least some public work. Bloggers becoming club employees meant that they had more resources to do more groundbreaking work. It also meant that nobody but the clubs paying for it got to see it.

Second, as analytics got more advanced it got harder for any old blogger to jump right in. When I started writing about analytics there were no public expected goals models. Now, they’re everywhere. Ideas like xGChain, which are currently nowhere near cutting edge, were then, at best, a theoretical possibility. All of these tools are great. They help teams make better decisions, both on and off the field. They help fans understand the game better. They also make it harder for hobbyists to do work publicly.

When the models were simpler, and the methods less advanced, it was possible for hobbyists to get the data they needed simply by poking around on the internet. There’s plenty of free and accessible data to play with if your methods are simple. That’s still possible today. It’s still possible to do good work with simple stats like shots and passes. There’s still space to analyze teams, develop testable hypotheses and use publicly available data smartly. But, it’s also undeniable that the frontiers of analytics are moving. More complex modeling needs more granular data. Using analytics to help understand the game means using data that better describes it.

Right now, public analytics work has slowed to a crawl. The people that have access to the tools to do cool new things are using them in private. The people working in public don’t have the variety of building blocks they need to produce groundbreaking work. Luckily, here at StatsBomb, as you may have heard, we happen to have some data lying around. I have been extraordinarily fortunate over the course of my career to work at outlets that have provided me with extensive data to use to help explain the game of football. Now, I get the chance to give that same opportunity to other writers.


The Plan for

My hope for is to build a website that does smart football coverage. We’ve got a budget to pay writers and the whole suite of StatsBomb tools they can use to support the work they do. But good work isn’t just about numbers. It can’t be. The best analysis combines all sorts of different factors. The list of tools we have to analyze football is long and ever growing. Using analytics without understanding tactics is doomed to failure, so is the opposite. Research and reporting help broaden and deepen any understanding of what’s happening on the field. The best work, the smartest work, recognizes that the tools we have at our fingertips don’t detract from each other, they’re complementary.

Now, obviously we’re a data company with a strong analytics background. And, of course, I’m going to be writing frequently, and what I do depends largely on using numbers to help explain what I’m seeing on the pitch. I'm super excited to start using all the cool new StatsBomb toys to that end. But, hopefully that kind of work is only a part of what we ultimately build on this here website.

I want this to be a home for smart coverage of all types, a place that is not limited to StatsBomb’s data, but rather one that is reinforced by it. Do you want to see in depth tactical analysis? So do we. Scouting of prospects in lesser known leagues? Bring it on. Insight into the process of hiring a new coach? Heck yes. The areas of football that smart coverage can extend to are boundless, and we firmly believe that using StatsBomb tools makes all kinds of coverage better. Being smart about the sport is our ultimate goal here. Using our tools is a way to help do that.


What That Means for You

That was a bunch of high minded mumbo jumbo about lofty goals and philosophical aims. Now for some brass tacks. As we relaunch the site you can expect to see content that’s a lot like the stuff you’re used to seeing here. There will be deep tactical breakdowns using the tools your used to seeing. We’ll have articles talking about statistics you know and are familiar with, and the usage of stats in general. Those kinds of articles will look exactly like what StatsBomb has always done.

At the same time, we’re going to be rolling out some big new toys. At Wednesday’s launch event StatsBomb premiered a whole lot of heavy statistical artillery. We’ll be doing the work of breaking that down, making it accessible and bringing it to a wider audience. We’ll have video from the live event and continue to turn the data we’ve been collecting into interesting, understandable chunks. Now that we’ve got the data, it's time to start talking about what it can tell us.

Those two tracks won’t stay separate for long. The more we talk about the new data we have, (and the more new data we have) the more it will naturally become a part of the general analysis we’re doing. When the concept of xG was new, there was a lot of writing about what xG was and how it worked. Eventually, what had been a newfangled curiosity of a statistic became something that people could simply use while doing other analysis. That’s what I expect to happen on StatsBomb. We’ll spend a while writing about our tools, but gradually we’ll begin using them as part of making the rest of our coverage better.

And finally, if you would like to play with our fun toys and write about soccer and data, and do all sorts of smart analysis, I want to hear from you. The realities of the business of analytics mean that most data can’t be public, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t do a better job of supporting public work. We want this website to be a place where smart people can do good public facing work with our private facing data. So, pitch me at I can’t wait to get started.

Article by Mike Goodman