Jun 21, 2011

How a number-crunching economist could soon find work at Real Madrid

You're finishing your PhD in economics and you're not sure what to do with your life? You don't wanna go into academia? You wanna use your skills for something productive? How about using regressions to help soccer teams win and make fans happy?

The data revolution is now invading European football according to a recent FT article. In the US statisticians have been involved in sports teams for some years now, partly inspired by Moneyball, the story of a poor baseball team that became good thanks to an analytical use of numbers (the movie with Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill is coming out soon). Baseball, football, hockey, and basketball teams all started hiring stats guys to help them make crucial strategic decisions. One of Steve Levitt's students is now crunching numbers for the Boston Celtics, a basketball team.

So what could an economist do for Real Madrid? Well, it's all about not taking things at face value and looking deeper to identify which player attributes really matter. It's about facts not impressions. What matters more for goals, is it number of completed passes or number of completed good passes? How do you define a good pass? Is it total number of km ran, or top speed in sprints? How do you identify weaknesness in opponents? Do the number of defensive tackles matter? How do you compute the "goal-probability added" of a player? You'll find some answers to these questions in the FT article, but for the rest you'll have to get the job and do it right!

No comments: