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How Technology is Transforming Football as We Know It.

There can be no doubt that football as we know it has changed radically in the last couple of decades. Since the creation of the Premier League in 1992, technological advancements have evolved the sport into a business rather than a game. Top-flight football is now big business for all involved, with the ordinary fan also having to make significant sacrifices to pay for season tickets and one-off match tickets to see their team play.

The implementation of technology in football has long been a bone of contention among players, pundits and supporters alike. The argument among the footballing fraternity is that technology distils the raw emotions and eliminates the highly-charged atmospheres that make the beautiful game just so. On the other hand, those who argue in favour of technology in football insist that it's a necessary evil with so much money on the line with every ball that's kicked.

The implementation of VAR

Video Assistant Referees (VAR) are undoubtedly the hottest topic in world football right now. They've been recently trialled in the FA Cup and are already in operation in some top-flight leagues throughout Europe, including Portugal. Despite significant frustrations and confusion surrounding the VAR system among managers and fans, the decision has been taken to approve the use of VAR at this summer's World Cup finals in Russia. Although the FA of Wales were reported to be the only Home Nation to raise concerns over the use of VAR, the International Football Association Board eventually voted unanimously to implement the technology in Russia.

Jonathan Ford, chief executive of the Football Association of Wales (FAW), labelled the decision a 'landmark' for the world of football. Ford revealed there had been significant analysis of more than 1,000 football matches involving VAR. The outcome of the analysis was that VAR increased the accuracy rate of on-field decisions from 93% to almost 99%. Welsh rugby union referee, Nigel Owens, has also spoken out in favour of VAR implementation in professional football but warned that the technology should only be utilised to iron out key decisions rather than small technicalities that should be decided by the on-pitch referee and their assistants.

Cryptocurrencies on board

Another important buzz word in today's digital world is cryptocurrencies. Bitcoin enjoyed a boom year in 2017 and blockchain technology is increasingly acknowledged as a potential solution to securing a plethora of industries against the threat of digital fraud. Cryptocurrencies are also being adopted in the world of football too. At the turn of the New Year, Arsenal became the first top-flight football club to sign a cryptocurrency sponsorship deal, promoting new cryptocurrency CashBet Coin as a digital partner. Bitcoin and other cryptos are also expanding quickly in the sector, becoming a popular method of payment for sports betting, proving particularly popular in countries where sports betting with fiat currencies remains largely prohibited.

In the backwaters of Turkish amateur football, there is an amateur club that's claimed to have completed the world's first football transfer using entirely Bitcoin. Sakarya First Division Group B outfit, Harunustaspor signed Omer Faruk Kiroglu, who was handed ฿0.0524 plus 2,500 Turkish Lira to sign on the dotted line. Although after the deal the club's chairman admitted that it was a gimmick to try and put the club in the world media limelight, there's no doubt that the security of the blockchain could mean the world's biggest clubs could start using Bitcoin to complete multi-million pounds signings in the future.

Big data for selection issues

Data analysis has become the bread and butter for modern-day football managers and coaches. Even modest-sized clubs have been utilising innovative technology to analyse the performances of their players, right down to the minute details such as how many miles a player covers in a match and how many times an opposition player was able to pick a pass in the final third.

Long-serving managers such as Harry Redknapp were somewhat scathing of using such software to understand his players' performances. But clubs such as Brentford have enjoyed tremendous success from using technology to get extract every ounce of ability from their players vital for clubs operating without benefactors and sugar daddies to bankroll them.

Digital scouting

Football is now a global game, with clubs snapping up players for the first teams and academies from all four corners of the globe. Part of the reason why the sport is now so far-reaching is the adoption of tools such as Wyscout. This digital software has revolutionised the way that teams scout potential signings and discover hidden gems. The likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Arsenal all utilise Wyscout, now the world's largest football database, with multimedia and extensive data on professional players from around the world.

Various updates have been made to the Wyscout system over time, with the newest versions giving clubs the chance to network with players and agents alike, organising speculative trials and even complete transfer deals through the software. The Wyscout developers created a transfer zone where clubs could promote their players for transfer, incorporating data and live clips of the player in action. The online transfer zone was trialled in the Middle East first, making it clear to clubs from the outset which players in the Middle East were available for transfer to clubs in Europe, South America and Asia. Today, the Wyscout database features over 200,000 professional players, allowing managers to study a player intently and make a decision on their suitability in a matter of hours.

The football industry cannot be seen to be standing still in the digital age. Although some might not like it, if football doesn't dare to move with the times it could risk being left behind in favour of other professional sports.

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Posted: Tuesday 27th March 2018
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