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Ranking Soccer Players By Following the Bouncing Ball 142

Posted by timothy
from the well-it-ain't-baseball dept.
sciencehabit excerpts from an interesting report on statistics for soccer, in the stats-obsessed world of sports: "Only a handful of soccer ranking systems exist, most of which rely on limited information: the number of goals scored in a match, the number of goals assisted, and some indices of a match's difficulty and importance. ... So researchers turned to an unlikely source: social networks. Applying the kinds of mathematical techniques used to map Facebook friends and other networks, the team created software that can trace the ball's flow from player to player. As the program follows the ball, it assigns points for precise passing and for passes that ultimately lead to a shot at the goal. Whether the shot succeeds doesn't matter. Only the ball's flow toward the goal and each player's role in getting it there factors into the program's point system, which then calculates a skill index for each team and player."
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Ranking Soccer Players By Following the Bouncing Ball

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  • Um ... (Score:3, Funny)

    by WrongSizeGlass (838941) on Thursday June 17, 2010 @06:28PM (#32607656)
    Points for not scoring? Isn't that the same as a woman telling you that she just wants to be friends because your friendship means more than a relationship would?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by oblio_one (1182111)
      Not the same, if player A passes the ball to player B, who then blows an excellent set up, player A still gets credit for providing an excellent set up.
    • You don't get points for how many yards you move a Football (American), but that's still an important statistic in analyzing players.

      This is the same sort of thing for soccer, except with a clever algorithm.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Pharmboy (216950)

        But you get 1st downs, which has nothing comparable in soccer. It also can put you in field goal range, which has no parallel in soccer. In US football, the team with the most offensive yards almost always wins. Does soccer have a similar outcome? And in US football, yards are only counted FORWARD. If the fullback runs 30 yards left, then 30 yards right, then is tackled on the line of scrimmage, he has gained exactly zero yards. Comparing to US football isn't a fruitful exercise, they are just too dif

        • Re:Um ... (Score:4, Insightful)

          by biryokumaru (822262) <biryokumaru@gmail.com> on Thursday June 17, 2010 @07:00PM (#32607942)

          NFL football is more like a blend of chess and raw violence.

          If NFL football is chess, soccer is go. The difference? It actually requires talent to be good at goh, whereas a supercomputer can beat anyone at chess. Skilled athletes excel at soccer, overweight drug addicts who should have failed out of high school win football games.

          • now now, soccer players are not athletes, they are artists.
          • Re:Um ... (Score:4, Funny)

            by Eevee (535658) on Friday June 18, 2010 @07:46AM (#32611408)

            If NFL football is chess, soccer is go.

            I don't recall Go masters diving to the ground and writhing in fake agony every time the opponent's hand gets them.

          • Re:Um ... (Score:4, Interesting)

            by stewbacca (1033764) on Friday June 18, 2010 @10:25AM (#32612756)

            Drug addicts? Racist much? I think the NFL does a good job at keeping illicit drugs AND performance enhancing drugs out of the league.

            And not very many NFL athletes "fail out of high school". As a matter of fact, very few NFL players get into the NFL without going to college. Would you like to tell me about the 16-year old English phenoms, how they go right into EPL feeder leagues, and how THEIR education worked out for them after failing A-levels and finishing school at 16?

            I play soccer and not football, but I'm not going to pretend that the reason more people in the world play soccer because it's hard. More people play soccer in the world because it's relatively easy and all you need is a flat space and a round object. Because it is easy (but hard to perfect) is what makes it the beautiful game. NFL football is not subtle but it is not easy. I played in a third-tier professional German soccer league (as an American), but regardless of my skill, I'd never be able to play professional American Football at ANY level.

            • by Urkki (668283)

              As a matter of fact, very few NFL players get into the NFL without going to college.

              Isn't it the other way around: very few NFL players got into college without being NFL-material athletes to begin with?

        • Re:Um ... (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Opportunist (166417) on Friday June 18, 2010 @12:11AM (#32609726)

          Yes, in general the team with the longest possession, most corner shots and most penalties (in an offensive, goal-able position) for them usually wins. There are already a few comparable statistics in place to gauge whole teams, but estimating the "game value" of a certain player is often rather hard. A player may be "valuable" just by being on the field without a single ball contact. There are players who have to be covered tightly so they CANNOT touch the ball and cannot be a sensible place to pass to, because there is ALWAYS an opponent with him. His value lies in the ability to tear apart the defense of the opponent because he has to have a watchdog, often two. He will not be counted as "valuable" in this new scoring system, even though he is probably one of the most valuable players in the team.

          It's like using yards carried for football and considering the offense line useless because they don't really carry the ball anywhere.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by stewbacca (1033764)

            That's what's great about soccer though. You can dominate all the stats, time-of-possession, corner kicks, chances...but all that matters is goals. It's the ultimate "bottom line" sport, which gives fans lots of time to bitch and complain about "we should have won because...". It's fun.

        • Football already has the measurement of yards built in. In futbol this measurement is not used in the game so looking at it this way is interesting.
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Jazzbunny (1251002)

          NFL football is more like a blend of chess and raw violence.

          No, chess boxing [guardian.co.uk] is more like blend of chess and raw violence.

        • "In US football, the team with the most offensive yards almost always wins. Does soccer have a similar outcome?"

          Yes, in the sense that the team that stays near a goal the most often almost always wins.

          Obviously, it's stupid to think they're directly comparable, but the idea is the same: there are many statistics more valuable than points to measure in many sports, including soccer.
    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It really isn't up to a midfielder/playmaker whether or not the final shot in an attack he helped create will be a good one or not. Hence the only fair way to evaluate that aspect of a player's game is to disregard whether the attack leads to a goal or not.

    • by mangu (126918)

      Points for not scoring?

      Well, as TFA mentions, "I am from Portugal, and I was disappointed in how we played Tuesday," he says. (His team tied 0-0 with Ivory Coast.) "I'm very curious to see what score the program gives us -- maybe we played better than I thought."

      Sorry, dude, no matter what the program says, the result is still 0-0.

      • Re:Um ... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by CannonballHead (842625) on Thursday June 17, 2010 @06:47PM (#32607800)

        But that could be because both teams played AMAZINGLY well.

        Or it could be because one player messed up a lot on each team (the one that actually shot).

        Basically, this is just software that analyzes individual players performance leading up to shots - assists. Their JOB is to get the ball up to the striker. Their job is not necessarily to actually score. The scorers, though, get all the glory. Perhaps this software will help that?

        • by mangu (126918)

          But that could be because both teams played AMAZINGLY well.

          Any football fan will tell you that when two teams play AMAZINGLY well the result will be more like 5-5 rather than 0-0.

          Zero goals is much more often due to a shitty attack rather than an awesome defense.

          • Re:Um ... (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Viski (1647721) on Friday June 18, 2010 @12:49AM (#32609918)

            Any football fan will tell you that when two teams play AMAZINGLY well the result will be more like 5-5 rather than 0-0.

            I strongly disagree. There is much more than offense to consider in a good game of football. If the game results 5-5 it is rather clear that both defenses have failed at their job. Even a game ending 0-0 can be extremely interesting to watch for a football connoisseur. Football is not just about making goals, it's also about not conceding them.

            • by cowscows (103644)

              Agreed, and this applies to other sports as well. A lot of the news of baseball over the past month or so dealt with perfect games by pitchers, in which the complete lack of offense by one of the teams was the interesting thing.

              I think the mindset of more scoring = better game is mostly born out of casual fans, because scoring is generally exciting. Not that there's anything wrong with being a casual fan, but if that's all you're interested in being you should just accept that there are aspects of the game

        • by pjt33 (739471)

          Maybe the analysis it performs is better than the impression given by the article (yes, I RTFA, apologies), but it seems that it would give all the glory to the strikers and midfielders and undervalue the defenders and keeper, whose job is more about keeping the ball out of their net than getting it to the striker.

    • Soccer is a game of statistics. Get the ball close to the goal, and your chances of scoring go up. Whip a cross into the box or slip a ball through the defense, and there's a chance a teammate will be in the right place to manage to kick it toward the goal. Take a shot on target, and there's a chance it will get by the goalkeeper.

      So anything that increases the likelihood of a shot on goal is increasing the likelihood of scoring, even if it's not the final step in the process, and even if it doesn't happen

      • I think the article is trying to put statistics to individuals to evaluate their performance. The statistics you provided in your example are already tracked and reported on.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by fractoid (1076465)

      Points for not scoring? Isn't that the same as a woman telling you that she just wants to be friends because your friendship means more than a relationship would?

      No, it's like giving a guy points for how many numbers he gets and how many hot chicks actually flirt back with him. Then you can see who's better with the ladies even if you're comparing two Slashdotters and the scoreline would typically be a nil-all draw.

  • incomplete metrics (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Red Flayer (890720) on Thursday June 17, 2010 @06:32PM (#32607690) Journal
    Of course, this is an incomplete metric for player worth.

    How about off-ball activity that contributes? Moving across a zone or defender to clear space for someone who actually handles the ball? What about the guy who makes a brilliant cut but doesn't get served well by a teammate, so never handles the ball?

    What about defense?

    Never mind the fact that this metric would be biased against Italian league players, where ball control and quality opportunities is more important than number of shots. You could game this system very easily by cranking shots from 30 yards.

    Soccer doesn't lend itself well to statistical analysis of players. That's one of the things that makes it a beautiful sport and fun to discuss, IMO.
    • by fiannaFailMan (702447) on Thursday June 17, 2010 @06:36PM (#32607734) Journal

      Moving across a zone or defender to clear space for someone who actually handles the ball?

      Handle the ball? Someone like Thierry Henry?

    • by timothyf (615594) on Thursday June 17, 2010 @06:50PM (#32607836) Homepage

      Defense seems like it'd be easy to solve, just add a metric that counts number of times a player gains possession of the ball from the other team or otherwise interferes with a pass or goal.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Dahamma (304068)

        The problem is, the best defense is often one where a player is so well marked no one even tries to pass it to him.

        Also, how do you "interfere with a goal"? It's either a goal or it isn't and if it is then the interference sure didn't do much.

      • by HolyCoitus (658601) on Thursday June 17, 2010 @09:06PM (#32608750)
        Defense is much harder than that. If I shut someone down and take their angles and force them to pass the ball backwards, I get 0 points. If I go for a tackle from a terrible angle and get blown by, I get the same. Even if you take away points, it's not able to count marking someone or positional play shutting things down. It just rewards defenders who are hard tacklers or good at poking a ball free.
    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      What about defense?

      From the journal article: "We take into account defensive efficiency by letting each player start a number of paths proportional to the number of balls that he recovers during the match." However, you're right about movement off the ball.

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I agree, basing the judgement on how the player handles the ball is missing most of what really goes on.
      Its not all about the ball.

      Things are a bit more obvious in American Football, its obvious there that many players are never intended to interact with the ball at all. Instead their job is to block the other teams players and keep them out of the action, or to create a distraction, or to keep the other sides best players out of an area of the field due to threat of injury etc.

      A player may never touch the

    • by fractoid (1076465)

      How about off-ball activity that contributes? Moving across a zone or defender to clear space for someone who actually handles the ball? What about the guy who makes a brilliant cut but doesn't get served well by a teammate, so never handles the ball?

      Good point. As someone said below, an excellent defender may never get anywhere near the ball, because he has his mark so completely shut down that no-one ever passes to them.

      As for Italian league players - the system also rewards control, doesn't it? Strings of successful passes etc? So their style of play where they pissfart around with the ball in the back line for half the game would still be scored well IF they then took those long chains of controlled passes and converted them into attempts on goal.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by drsmithy (35869)

      Never mind the fact that this metric would be biased against Italian league players, where falling on the ground and begging for a foul when another player is within arm's reach is more important than number of shots.

      FTFY.

      • Never mind the fact that this metric would be biased against Italian league players, where falling on the ground and begging for a foul when another player is within arm's reach is more important than number of shots.

        FTFY.

        Can we please end this epidemic of acronym abuse? I'm fed up having to google for meanings all day long.

  • by LurkerXXX (667952) on Thursday June 17, 2010 @06:33PM (#32607712)

    assigns points for precise passing and for passes that ultimately lead to a shot at the goal
      calculates a skill index for each team and player.

    Wow, that's really going to tell you about a players defensive skills, isn't it.

    Not that those could possibly important in a game where usually only one or two balls make it to the net the whole game. I mean, it's not like defense would play much of a role there.

    • Not to mention that "passes that ultimately lead to a shot" can be upwards of 10-15 passes on a good team. Does everyone in the chain of 15 passes that lead to a goal get a point?

  • Bouncing ball? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by LordSnooty (853791) on Thursday June 17, 2010 @06:37PM (#32607740)
    "If God had meant football to be played in the air he would have put grass in the sky" - Brian Clough
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by iNaya (1049686)
      In rugby, it seems that the grass does indeed spend more time in the air than on the ground.
  • Flawed metric (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Doesn't measure defensive contributions and doesn't account for stronger defense against known good players. Someone remind these people that soccer is a team sport.

    • Re:Flawed metric (Score:4, Insightful)

      by gregfortune (313889) on Thursday June 17, 2010 @06:48PM (#32607814)

      It is less flawed than the current methods mentioned in the summary. In fact, it does MORE to measure the team effort than a metric like goals scored. This is what we might call an incremental improvement. /facepalm

    • Of course it measures "defensive contributions". A "defensive contribution" is one where a person takes the ball away from the opposing team. Guess what: that counts towards a "handling point".

  • Say whaa? Yeah, I guess with the scores always so low, you gotta find something to hype.. I think they should light the ball on fire...

  • I assume there is already some kind of decent metrics for rating players to enable fantasy leagues - the sort where average joe picks a bunch of players (from all teams) that he likes, and compares his "fantasy team" to all the other average joes who choose to spend their time doing the same. What metrics do these fantasy leagues use?

    Aussie rules football (AFL) has very specific player scoring, developed from the work of Champion Data [championdata.com.au] (not a large amount of detail there). These data and metrics are now us

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Actually football (okay, soccer...) fantasy leagues follow quite simple metrics, it's just about goals, assists, yellow and red cards.
      Some system takes into account only individual stats, others also team stats (eg, a bonus for a defender if his real team doesn't concede goals).
      There may be some more or less convoluted bonus and combo rules (say, all your forwards score goals and all your defenders' teams don't concede...) but that's pretty much it.
      Here's an example:
      http://fantasy.premierleague.com/M/help.m

      • by Viski (1647721)
        Actually, Fifa is currently running a World Cup fantasy league, which features rather diverse scoring system [fifa.com] for individual players. Players are awarded points for e.g. offensive and defensive action, scoring, and keeping a clean sheet. The scoring is also dependent on player's position on the field. It's not a perfect system, but works okay. IMHO, the system favours offensive wing backs, since they're often active in the offense, but are also egligible for the large bonus for shutting out the opponent. Of
  • by hibiki_r (649814) on Thursday June 17, 2010 @09:18PM (#32608824)

    Under those circumstances, Spain played an amazing game against Switzerland this week: Hundreds of accurate passes that ended in shots. More passes in one half than most teams make in an entire game. And yet, they didn't score, and lost the game against a team that had 25% ball position, but actually managed to score.

    It would also mean that every Italian national team from the last 30 years happens to be terrible, despite their world championship titles.

    • by Al Al Cool J (234559) on Friday June 18, 2010 @03:09AM (#32610428)

      Spain *are* a much better team than Switzerland and this system would show that. Have them play a thousand times, and Spain would win the vast majority. So I'm not sure I see your point.

      You do make a good point about Italy. However I'd be interested to see what the system actually says about Italy before condemning it.

  • by horza (87255) on Thursday June 17, 2010 @09:21PM (#32608834) Homepage

    If you've watched any English match in the past decade, you will see there are a slew of stats. When a player is on screen, stats are displayed such as: number of passes, % of passes completed, assists, shots, shots on target, tackles, total km run, and more.

    On the other hand, as we've already had these stats for a decade or two we know how irrelevant they are. There are plenty of players that run around waving for the ball and when they get it simply knock it back or sideways in a manner that contributes little. They have great stats and may touch it in the build up to a goal but are far from being the architects.

    Using the same software to analyse companies and creative team, mentioned in the article, that is a joke. As is the original researcher trying to understand why his team isn't winning when it only has one decent player.

    Phillip.

    • If you've watched any English match in the past decade,

      I tried to watch EPL when I lived in England from 2005-2008, but Rupert Murdoch made sure that wouldn't happen.

  • There is a company called Champion Data that currently does a similar thing for Australian Rules football. They generate player rankings based on a whole range of minutae. A pass is worth next to nothing if it is a short distance to an open teammate in the backline but worth a lot if it is a long accurate pass to a player in a dangerous position - and the player gets credit regardless of what happens next, so if they pass to a teammate in good position who fluffs the shot at goal, the passer still gets cre
  • by Anonymous Coward

    This is a must-watch for all soccer fans:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5xLn-X8YJRg [youtube.com]

  • by DuranDuran (252246) on Thursday June 17, 2010 @10:43PM (#32609298)

    For the benefit of World Cup viewers, this may seem more familiar:

    "Only a handful ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ exist, most ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ information: the ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ match, the number ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ a match's ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ So researchers ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ Applying ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ the ball's ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ ultimately ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ ball's flow toward the goal ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ for each team and player."

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      Is that really different from watching coverage of American football?

      Running play, gains 4 yards, down at the 46. [1 minutes of ads] Passing play, incomplete, no gain. [1 minutes of ads] Passing play, complete for 15 yards. First down at the 31. [3 minutes of ads] ...

      At least with World Cup matches for the vast majority of the time something is going on on the field that could reasonably be described as athletic competition.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by iB1 (837987)
        I think he's referring to the incessant drone of the vuvuzelas, rather than the match being boring! They do sound like a swarm of bees!
  • Call it right (Score:1, Redundant)

    by obdulio1950 (1084823)
    Please, stop using the word soccer. The real name of the game is FOOTBALL. It goes for that name in all the world but the US (even in Italy, even if there it is also called Calcio) What americans call Football is called in the rest of the world American Football or US Footbal. Regarding this scoring method, how would a player with an outsanding dribbling like Garrincha be rated?
    • by drsmithy (35869)

      Please, stop using the word soccer. The real name of the game is FOOTBALL. It goes for that name in all the world but the US [...]

      It's fairly commonly called Soccer in Australia as well. Though at least here we have 3 other "football" codes that are (more) popular as a reasonable justification.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by pmontra (738736)
        There is only a handful of countries that need to distinguish between different football games. Most of the world has only one such a game, the one played in the World Cup right now, so calling it football is right in almost every country.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Changa_MC (827317)

      I call that other game "American Rugby," since that's what it is.

    • by Spacelem (189863)

      Even though I'm not a fan of football, I never call it soccer (which is slang for "association football").

      Meanwhile, I'm always puzzled why American football is called "football" at all, since the whole point of football is that you kick a ball with your feet, you don't carry it. Having said that, rugby is also short for "rugby football", and American football is a derivation of rugby.

      I don't really understand American football; it seems far more complicated and much slower than rugby.

  • Have the spectators estimate the player's worth. There's an old saying, everyone would be the better coach, even more than the better president. When you listen to soccer enthusiasts, they all know by far more about how much the players can and cannot do than the idiot coach that put the idiot up again while ignoring that spectator favorite.

    Yes, these players won't be as "good". Most likely not. But let's look at the bottom of the reason for this ranking. Why do we want to rank players anyway? To find out h

    • by Cidolfas (1358603)

      And while Italy and Germany are probably amongst the best teams of the world currently, they play horribly unattractive soccer games. Very defensive, very little action.

      Wait, what? Have you ever watched a German team play? They didn't score their 4 goals off the counter....

      For that matter, the Italians don't really play defensively until they're ahead by a few goals, or until late in the game.

      • I take everything back. At the time of writing this, Italy is 0:1 behind New Zealand.

        For anyone not familiar with soccer: Imagine Canada playing Ice Hockey against Mongolia...

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I thought it was going to be a story about testicles...

  • Not a huge fan. Nevertheless a movement should be started to address the game played and enjoyed by billions of people as "football". IMHO there's "football" and there's "American football".

    Not trolling, just plating a seed in the hope a sporty /.er will .... Oh forget it.
  • I definitely do not want to be goalie for my team. Or maybe my team doesn't want me to be their goalie.

  • Nobody really cares at about how well a team plays if that team never wins anything. Or: nobody cares how bad a team plays if it wins a trophy. You can play awfully but if you win the World Cup all your country will celebrate at least until the next day.

    A metric could be more interesting for single players but again: if the computer says that you're good but you never win anything maybe your not so good. Getting in the right team at the right moment is also an important skill.

  • Prozone (Score:5, Interesting)

    by maharg (182366) on Friday June 18, 2010 @02:48AM (#32610360) Homepage Journal

    The top UK teams (and others around the world I guess..) all use Prozone - http://www.prozonesports.com/ [prozonesports.com]

    From what I have seen at the International Broadcasting Convention http://www.ibc.org/ [ibc.org] some TV production companies do a fair bit of of markup on their footage too

  • by stewbacca (1033764) on Friday June 18, 2010 @10:16AM (#32612626)

    Trying to measure a qualitative activity with quantitative tools is meaningless.

  • Any ratings system that ranks Sergio Ramos on the same pitch as Xavi Hernandez needs work.

  • Does successful diving with impunity count?

    Would love to see some results of this analysis.

    This stats company will offer it in time:
    http://www.optasports.com/ [optasports.com]

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