Sevilla teams up with Indian tech to solve the soccer puzzle

By Hugo Barcia

New Delhi, Jun 11 (EFE).- Although the legendary Johan Cruyff had defined soccer as a “very simple” thing, Spanish club Sevilla FC tends to disagree, and the contingent’s emphasis on big data to help decipher the sport has led to it sending a delegation to India’s own “Silicon Valley” in search of a high-tech holy grail.

The visit, which stems from a 2021 agreement signed with India’s second division club Bengaluru United, goes beyond the sports arena, and aims to explore the potential of the southern Indian city, which is home to some of the world’s biggest tech giants along with the local club.

“We have the knowledge of football and Bengaluru is the hub of technological knowledge. (…) We strongly believe that if we use cutting edge technology we would be much more competitive,” Sevilla’s president Jose Castro told EFE during the visit.

Castro is leading the delegation that landed in India earlier this week, along with CEO Jose Maria Cruz and the head of data, Elias Zamora Sillero.

The Spanish club is aiming to exploit the technological capacity of the region to develop an algorithm to evaluate a player’s performance in the field, just like scouts.

“A complicated problem,” Zamora admitted, but added that “if anyone can resolve it, it is India’s data community.”

On Friday, Sevilla set up a Hackathon to generate interest among Indian data scientists, where a problem is given to the community to resolve, along with a data set to help build the solution.

The virtual challenge has been launched along with the club’s India visit, but it is open to anyone in the world.

Soon after its launch, over 4,300 people had already accepted the challenge, with the winner being offered 1,500 euros ($1,580) and club merchandize in exchange for Sevilla getting the rights to use the ideas.

The objective of the exercise is to integrate the algorithms created during the competition to an app known as IA Futbol (AI Football), which is already operational, and help improve its performance, Zamora said.

Moreover, this is not the only data-related project being pursued by the club, its CEO told EFE.

“Maximizing the efficiency of ticket sales, predicting the behavior of our fans to interact with them in real time (…) and social media expansion” are other fields in which the club aims to use big data technology, Cruz said.

A large part of the delegation’s tech-related push during its India visit is aimed at helping their current director of football and architect of the first division team, Ramon Rodrigo Verdejo, popularly known as Monchi.

Although Sevilla’s interest in big data dates back to 2019, a special department for it was only set up in early 2021, months after Monchi returned for a second stint with the club.

Hailed for using big data to sign young promising players who had escaped the radar of other clubs, Verdejo is one of the most well-known sporting directors in the soccer world, having also played football as a goalkeeper in his youth.

He told EFE that he had been surprised by the rapid growth of big data in the sports, calling it the “third industrial revolution.”

“Ten or 15 years ago it would have been unthinkable that engineers, scientists and analysts would not just find a space in football, but also have a seat in the strategic department,” the official told EFE from the Spanish city.

The tech team, of less than 20 people, is key to gathering all the data related to a soccer match, which can generate up to eight million data items within 90 minutes, according to Monchi.

However, all the information is not of much use when not complemented by the human eye, said the sporting director, explaining that the data helps in “reducing time and margin of error,” but a player is not signed until “the circle is squared.”

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