Barcelona have a data advantage – so why aren’t they using it correctly?


Ignacio Palacios-Huerta, the former head of talent identification at Athletic Bilbao, repeated a phrase: “It’s better not to have data than to ignore solid data.”

The line is a magnet for agreement in the football analyst community, which operates on the golden concept that their work is only as good as the trust, belief and investment that is poured into it.

This brings us perfectly to Barcelona, ​​a club that is home to the greatest minds in the game in research development, leading to the famous Innovation Hub in 2017, which shares knowledge on analytics, health, nutrition, high performance sports and all other sports-related topics. the greater the impact on society.

Yet for all the advances and smarts of their data team, celebrated and moped up in the industry, the La Liga giants seem to eschew the use of statistics to undo a muddled recruiting approach.

By 2015, powered by the generational talents of their academy and having won a fifth European Cup, Barca could have afforded any player in the world and were generating more than enough funds to build future great teams.

Now it’s a club in debt over £1billion scrambling in the dark for cuts from Arsenal and Wolves at the end of the transfer window.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Adama Traore were signings to kick off sizeable problems on the road, rather than solid stylistic solutions to a bloated attack that manages just 1.52 goals per league game.

These were moves driven by desperation and financial gymnastics rather than intelligent analysis.

Exactly how Barca headed into such trouble is multi-faceted, and former president Josep Maria Bartomeu’s use of five sporting directors in six years deserves special mention, but a major moment was that the Paris Saint-Germain activated Neymar’s £200million release clause in the summer of 2017.

Barca data analysts had suggested two main targets in response, with the aim of fortifying the team in the long term and making it home not only of the best player in the world, but also of future heirs to that throne: Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland.

The two starlets were then even offered to the club, who declined the opportunity without much consideration despite all the research work.

Mbappe – already heavily chased by every major team in Europe at that point – was seen as too raw and unproven by the hierarchy.

Haaland, meanwhile, has been branded as a player at odds with Barca’s passing and movement pattern but they are now desperate to land him at Manchester City.

The chance for a terrific refresh was spurned, and instead extreme money flooded Ousmane Dembele, Philippe Coutinho and Antoine Griezmann – with only the former of those remaining at Camp Nou against the club’s wishes.

Ousmane Dembele set to leave Barcelona as a free agent this summer

(AFP via Getty Images)

These were just the headline missteps, wrapped up in bad business after bad business. Barca’s foresight to compile a stellar analysis setup only to ignore it in an area that desperately needs a data-driven approach is infuriating.

Liverpool’s director of research, Dr Ian Graham, is known to joke with them about it: all those tools, all that rubbish. The Merseysiders ended their three-decade wait to be champions of England, conquering Europe and the world along the way, with great credit due to their surgical transfer strategy fueled by cutting-edge research.

If financially mismanaged Barca want to become a real power again, it will be essential to get rid of an ad hoc buying policy influenced by politics, competing interests, ego, top agents and players. seniors.

Key to this is relying on their research team, but they’ve already handed over the head of the department, Javier Fernandez, to Zelus Analytics – a company that aims to be the best sports intelligence platform in the world. world.

The Independent has learned that Europe’s top clubs – at least two from the Premier League – have been running in circles to weed out the rest of Barca’s data scientists with the promise of greater autonomy.

President Joan Laporta and co. are unlikely to back down from the prospect – and that would be another big mistake given that they have to find ways to get away from their financial difficulties.

Like David Sumpter, author of Soccermatics, already said The Independent“A lot of teams have people who work out the numbers, but they don’t really maximize the talents of those people or don’t want to.

“There is still some mistrust and also issues around the type of people who have influence, such as agents exercising too much control over clubs.”

Barca have the right minds to bring them back to the top, but they need to stop tuning into the soundtrack of bad voices amid competing interests.

There is no other way to end the feeling of looping Gerard Pique’s claim that no matter how much is spent – over £1bn between 2014 and 2019 alone – “every year, we were a little worse.”


Comments are closed.