IA APPLIED TO SOCCER.
The scope of the present revolution brought about by Artificial Intelligence based on Big Data and computational algorithms that self-learn and constantly improve their performance, combined with deep automation, robotics, 3D printing and the internet of things, is just beginning to be understood. On the one hand, it is feared that these new and powerful technologies could put millions of people out of work and that we might even question what is really human, since machines are proving that they can do everything much better than we can in all professions and trades where they are applied, even in art. But, on the other hand, they may open up a golden age of infinite possibilities, a new world of extraordinary abundance and solutions to most human problems, where work and money as we know it lose their meaning in the best sense of the word. Sports, and soccer in particular, are no strangers to this phenomenon and we are just beginning to glimpse the potential of what can be achieved with these cutting-edge tools, which promise to completely change the practice of this discipline in the short term.
Artificial intelligence in all areas is here to stay.
One of the little-known aspects of the German national team’s victory in the Brazil 2014 World Cup was the use of an incipient Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) system from the SAP company that allowed them an exhaustive analysis impossible at that time for human capabilities, in order to improve player performances and employ optimized tactics. Marcelo Bielsa became famous, among other things, for the amount of videos he had and with which he traveled to watch and analyze thousands of soccer matches.
Currently, FIFA allows the use of mini vests for teams, with sensors that measure position, distance traveled and some parameters, such as heart rate, sprint accelerations, etc., which has made it possible to optimize physical performance, know when a player is already tired to replace him and reduce potential injuries during training and matches. It is also used to optimize nutrition and improve results when recruiting players.
But this is just the beginning… If the right algorithms are built, the possibilities are staggering, as has happened and is happening in many professions and activities today. A plausible scenario to imagine could be the following:
AI applied to soccer
A.I. makes it possible to analyze in an astonishingly short period of time all the information accumulated by the devices currently allowed and, in addition, to cross-reference it with other types of information on each player and the opposing team. And, not only sports information, but also what is on social networks, add the weather, the state of the field, the history and performance of each team, add the judges of the match and their tendencies, to finally offer the coach a strategy suggestion impossible to perform by a human being; even if allowed, a properly trained algorithm and with some sensors and cameras, could eventually replace a soccer coach in the near future, with unsurpassed real-time analysis and without favoritism for any player or emotional factors that affect people. In the case of soccer judges, their almost total replacement, on the court and in the VAR room, by an A.I. system is imminent, as happened recently in tennis tournaments, where the debut of these technologies to replace line judges was brought forward due to the pandemic, with overwhelmingly perfect results.
Similarities with chess
Making a comparison with chess, machines were able to surpass human beings as they became more intelligent, thanks to their progressively greater data processing capacity.
In chess, a machine observing a match between two opponents analyzes thousands of probabilities in a second and can predict an outcome quite accurately.
If there were sufficient data processing capacity, the same could happen in soccer, a well-designed algorithm could predict the outcome of a match. Currently, there are algorithms that read something written by a person and can deliver a complete psychological profile in a matter of seconds. Sports bookmakers are developing and training algorithms for use in outcome predictions, and processing power will no longer be limited when another, much more powerful tool, quantum computing, begins to be used.
Conclusions AI Applied to Soccer
The development of this revolution called Artificial Intelligence has implications of such depth and scope that some specialists have come to see the possibility that human beings will manage to build a sort of computational deity, which will be all-powerful, omnipresent and omniscient, which has already given rise to the birth of two new religions to worship the coming digital entity.
Beyond these curious facts, since the revolution that started this phenomenon in 2002, with a new method of applying statistical programs in baseball by Peter Brand and Billy Beane in the Oakland Athletics, the need and usefulness of adopting these technologies and making intensive use of them by soccer clubs and sports in general, in addition to having a professional in these matters to advise the coaching staff and management, has become more and more evident. Spain’s Barcelona Football Club, for example, works with data scientist Javier Fernandez and Manchester City has just hired Laurie Shaw as chief artificial intelligence scientist.