It's not difficult to see why statistical analysis in football has remained in what is essentially the Dark Ages. While there's plenty of interest in advancing the discipline (not to mention plenty of talent available to do it), the data to play with has simply never been available to the public. With the data restricted to teams themselves, who pay plenty of money for the privilege, it's been impossible for the wider community to make the same sorts of breakthroughs that we've seen in other sports.
Manchester City have taken the first tentative steps in removing that bottleneck, confirming that Friday will see the launch of 'MCFC Analytics', which is being described as a game-changing approach to data. And it is -- City are releasing a full year's worth of their Opta database, allowing amateur analysts (or any interested parties) to work their magic on the 2011/12 season. Essentially, they're recreating the sort of data availability that's enabled analytics to flourish elsewhere.
This is a seriously awesome thing to do, and I'm really looking forward to getting my teeth into whatever City are giving away. This database is worth a lot of money, and City should be (and will be) applauded for giving it to the world. You'll be able to download it by signing up by at www.mcfc.co.uk/mcfcanalytics beginning on Friday, so if you fancy yourself as a statistician*, feel free to join the crowdsourced analytics party. It'll be great.
*Or even if you don't -- something I like to emphasise is that mathematical acumen is far less important than rigour of thought when you get into the serious, deep analysis, which is what football needs.
It's important to remember, however, that this doesn't solve all of our problems at once. Data from the 2011/12 season is valuable, but a single year's worth of information isn't enough to create or test predictive statistics, and we'll still suffer from the lack of player positioning information that I've touched on in previous posts. This release will not get us to the promised land.
But that's fine. Football analysis has a long and rocky road to traverse before it reaches maturity, and City have given us a push in the right direction. Whether or not we ever get anywhere is now at least partially up to us. That's the game changer -- instead of just thinking about how stats should be, we've been given free reign to innovate.
Now we just have to make the most of it.