From VAR to AI Algorithms: The Future of Football

Top level football is forever looking for ways to be more competitive; after all, it’s a huge industry with an estimated 4 billion fans. Now some clubs, including Arsenal, Manchester City, Liverpool FC and Inter Milan, have signed contracts with the Swiss data storage company, Acronis, which will help them develop their performance using artificial intelligence.

It’s all a bit hush hush, so we can’t know exactly how the data will be used. “As we collect a lot of video data, we can analyse those videos,” says Acronis’s Senior Vice President Jan-Jaap Jager. “So we got several kinds of asks from teams who said, ‘Hey, can you do something with all the data that we are now storing in your data centre?’.

Acronis has suggested that clubs use their footage to enhance players’ performances by looking at patterns, in the vast amounts of data they store, which could show things like: a weaker left foot, level of endurance, accuracy of passes, shots on target and so on. That way, training sessions could be tailored more closely with the needs of the individual player.

A winning game plan also requires analysis of the opposition – studying their passing style, touches, set piece goals and other tactics too. This type of data can enable a team to gain a vital advantage. It’s not only football that benefits from AI - Boston Red Sox and Formula One have also signed up and there are discussions with cricket teams on the cards too. If digital game analysis becomes more popular, it could change the face of professional sports, making it less subjective and more mathematical.

In addition to the number crunching, Man City for example, is making footage available to players in the locker rooms pre-matches, so they can make last-minute adjustments to their game before going onto the pitch. Arsenal FC has data stored on every single training session at London Colney; this can be analysed and reviewed to enhance their game.

At Loughborough University too, computer scientists have developed technology to enhance football. Theirs will show how individual players move (not just distance covered and speed), how they pass and how effective they are. It will also study their positioning on the pitch and in relation to other players.

By taking player performance analysis to a new dimension, we could expect major changes in how talent is scouted. Clubs would be able to identify and recruit potential players much more efficiently, using less human judgement (which can be quite subjective) and without bias.

Although professional clubs have been manually looking at this kind of footage and analysing their games for some time, that has been very labour intensive and time-consuming, as someone has to watch and log individual players’ actions. We are now moving into the era of algorithms; they do the work for you, making it more efficient, scalable, and probably more accurate too.

Further reading:

Football was slow to embrace data. Now AI is eating the beautiful game | WIRED UK

AI technology developed at Loughborough University could reveal the next big names in football as it | Loughborough University (

Here's How AI Will Change The World Of Sports! (

Acronis Becomes Official Data Backup and Storage Partner of Manchester City Football Club