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Sep 20, 2017
Sep 20, 2017

The Football Code book review: Using analytics in soccer

How analytics has changed how we think about soccer

Why betting is important in soccer analytics

How do soccer teams use expected goals?

The Football Code book review: Using analytics in soccer

The Football Code written by James Tippett is an insider’s view of the fusion of the probabilistic approach used by most of the successful bettors and syndicates within the newly burgeoning industry of soccer analytics. Continue reading to learn more about how important analytics is in modern soccer.

James Tippett is a former employee of Matthew Benham’s Smartodds, a company who specialise in collecting innovative datasets for soccer and turning this data into predictive models.

Benham, who features extensively throughout the book is best known in soccer circles as the owner of Brentford in the second tier of English soccer and also recent Danish champions, FC Midtjylland.

In this capacity he has used the fruits of these models both to unearth undervalued assets in the transfer market and to give his teams an advantage on the pitch, particularly through the often neglected area of free kick routines.

A sabermetrics approach to soccer

The Football Code is the most public airing of a soccer team attempting to run their organisation along the principles made famous in “Moneyball” as practice by baseball’s Oakland A’s Billy Beane. The book describes some of the deals that have help Benham’s two sides punch way above their financial weight in their respective competitions by buying low and selling high.

Many of the prime movers in the recent explosion in analytical based thinking about soccer come from a betting based background.

Of more interest to the wider betting community, the book is an excellent checklist for the disciplines and pitfalls that await many contemplating a bet.

The principle of expectation is explored early on, along with essential concepts, such as regression to the mean, the dangers inherent in drawing faulty conclusion from statistically noisy, small sample sizes, the multitude of cognitive biases that often cloud our decision making and the catastrophic effects of “once in a lifetime” Black Swan events.

Many of these topics will be familiar to readers of Pinnacle’s Betting Resources articles and Tippett eases the reader into this probabilistic world with entertaining and informative real life illustrations of each concept.

Why betting is important in soccer analytics

It is no exaggeration to place betting concepts as one of the founding fathers of soccer analytics.

Many of the prime movers in the recent explosion in analytical based thinking about soccer come from a betting based background and this book is a fine primer for anyone interested in the current state of the industry and the skills needed to thrive or merely as a gentle learning curve for those wishing to blog on the subject.

As in other sports, blogging has become a recognised step along the career path in soccer analytics.

Expected goals have been a staple tool of many analytically inclined clubs for a long time and the metric has begun to creep into mainstream media.

If Benham is the human star of Tippett’s book, along with a supporting cast well known within the field of soccer analytics (Rasmus Ankersen being one such example), then expected goals takes the conceptual centre stage.

Predictive models for teams and individuals are often built on the cornerstone of expected goals, a measure of the chance quality based on location and type of attempt, which attempts to quantify a side’s creative and defensive process, rather than simply relying on the often luck ridden but more obvious outcomes seen in the actual goals they score or allow.

If you’ve wondered how data is collected and transformed into an expected goals model, Tippett provides explanations based on his own experiences and tracks the primacy currently enjoyed by expected goals and the deficiencies inherent in some of its predecessors in the evolutionary chain of key performance indicators.

Throughout, Tippett is generously appreciative of the contribution of others. He cites my own published work on the marginal advantage gained by spreading the same cumulative expected goals total into fewer, higher quality opportunities.

The trade-off between potentially scoring a higher number of actual goals and the improved chances that just one or two goals are scored favours the second scenario in a low scoring sport such as football.

Another regular Pinnacle contributor, Joseph Buchdahl and his book Squares & Sharps, Suckers & Sharks is featured in a final list of influential works.

There's more to soccer than just data

For those hoping for a book crammed full of complex algorithms and equations, there might be a slight disappointment, but the book is all the better for it. It adds a human side, often with a deep love and understanding of the beautiful game, to the frequently maligned influence that analytics is perceived to exert on soccer.

Predictive models for teams and individuals are often built on the cornerstone of expected goals, a measure of the chance quality based on location and type of attempt.

Most importantly the book gently instructs in the mind-set needed, not only to begin to explore the still young and developing area of soccer analytics, but also enables the reader to view the punditry and reporting of their favourite sports and teams with a new and healthy scepticism.

Expected goals have been a staple tool of many analytically inclined clubs for a long time and the metric has begun to creep into mainstream media.

In “The Football Code”, James Tippett charts the rise of analytics as an increasing influence in soccer. It is a highly recommended book that guarantees a rewarding read for anyone wishing to go beyond the tired clichés and flawed convictions that have dominated the sport for too long. 

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