Unlike most fairytales, Leicester City’s improbable success story last season had a lot more grounding in facts than in fiction.

While a large percentage of Leicester’s win is rightly attributed to hard work, talent, camaraderie and an irrepressible manager, their surprise triumph might well be dedicated to science and analytics too.


In fact, Sky Sports even included Leicester’s analytics team as the “unsung heroes” of the season.

The team’s triumph at the top of the Premier League has had more than a helping hand from analytics. This trend started even before the reign of the current manager Claudio Ranieri. Previous manager Nigel Pearson was often spotted in the stands, sitting next to his stats and analytics team during matches.

But analysis at Leicester is not just constricted to a match day. Analytical insights into the performances of prospective transfer targets are also studied closely prior to any business being completed. Which might explain why a squad that was assembled for under £55million swept aside the far more extravagantly assembled squads of Tottenham (£161m), Arsenal (£252m) and Manchester City (£419m).

Of course, Leicester City aren’t the only team using analytics technology alongside sports science in the Premier League. But what perhaps sets them apart is how manager Ranieri includes them in his plans. As the BBC pointed out – “using beetroot shots as a performance enhancer and ice chambers to improve recovery do mark them out from the crowd…

“In training, everything is monitored, including the density of the pitch to see if it is too hard or soft, with the length of the session adapted accordingly. Player movement is recorded through GPS vests, which show how far the players run, the level of intensity, acceleration, deceleration, and changes of direction. If players have trained too hard and need to be pulled out of certain sessions, Ranieri is willing to listen to the experts around him.”

The result? A team that has suffered the fewest injuries, according to Physioroom.com, and used fewer players than any other Premier League club this season.

Not everyone share’s this outlook. Especially in football. A piece in the Daily Mail pointed the finger (and no little outrage) at Liverpool’s “laptop guru”, blaming the club’s head of technical performance squarely for the sacking of manager Brendan Rogers last year, contrasting the use of analytics with the implied deep understanding of ‘good football men.’

But to create a successful analytics environment in any workplace, you need to foster a culture that blends hard data with opinions. After all, analytics can take intuition much further than intuition alone.

Rory Campbell, technical scout and analyst at West Ham United – another surprise performer in this year’s Premier League – offers an insight into the real value of analytics: “Any market with inefficiency is an opportunity,” he says. “The fact that football doesn’t have a set or agreed way of valuing talent and is so arbitrary is an opportunity. There is a difference between statistics and analytics. Statistics tell you about events that have happened. They don’t mean anything without context.

“Analytics is interpreting those stats to predict future performance. You can measure everything. The hard bit is working out what’s important. One good thing is that football is quite simple. Everything must relate somehow to goals, whether that is enhancing our chances of scoring or preventing them. It must also work within a framework of how the manager wants the team to play.”

As in every business, data helps make better decisions and nudge the odds in your favour. And in football, small advantages can reap enormous rewards. Integrating analytics into the decision-making process has helped Leicester create a perfect model for success.

Making a point

Facts and figures behind Leicester’s Premier League title win (via the BBC, 3 May)

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Posted in analytics On May 11, 2016 By