It IS rocket science! Manchester City hire astrophysicists to their data analysis team in bid to move Premier League leaders further ahead of their rivals
- Laurie Shaw was employed by the City Football Group as ‘lead artificial scientist’ in January
- The group have since made at least three other similar appointments
- All of these new appointments have backgrounds in physics
Former astrophysicist and Treasury policy adviser Laurie Shaw was employed by City Football Group
Manchester City have employed several rocket scientists as they seek to gain an advantage on their rivals.
The former astrophysicist and Treasury policy adviser Laurie Shaw was employed by the club as ‘lead artificial scientist’ in January and Sportsmail understands City have made at least three other similar appointments.
When asked by Sportsmail, City would only confirm they had made ‘new hires’ in the data area, adding that all recruits have backgrounds in physics and that they will work across City Football Group’s (CFG) 10 clubs.
The group are expanding their data analysis team at a time when off-field marginal gains are a high priority for Europe’s elite clubs.
The use of data has soared in recent years, with optical tracking of players — a kind of 3D technology using multiple cameras — now commonplace.
This kind of analysis logs every action by every player on the pitch and determines its goal probability — or how it affects the team’s chances of scoring.
But the more innovative clubs are searching for the next advancement.
Champions Liverpool were credited with leading the field last season with a data wing boasting a chess champion and an astrophysicist who specialises in coding.
City have made a number of ‘new hires’ in the data area that all have backgrounds in physics
And City have been restructuring their data department following the departure of head of insights, Lee Mooney, during the 2019-20 campaign.
Industry sources believe CFG are experimenting with technology in a bid to move clear of their rivals, pointing to a recent artificial intelligence competition they ran in conjunction with Google.
The competition, which ran until December, challenged technological whizzes to develop artificial intelligence ‘agents’ — effectively a player within a match situation — and programme them to react to normal in-game situations.
Brian Prestidge, the group’s director of data insights and decision technology, said: ‘A physics-based football environment is a place to learn through simulation… and to test tactical concepts so they are strong enough for a coach to stake their career on.’
The phrase ‘test tactical concepts’ suggests technology could be developed to simulate opponents. Sources believe it could act as a predictability test as to how matches may unfold, although the scale of imitating every opposition player would be a huge task.
City are, however, one of a number of top clubs in partnership with global software firm Acronis, who store countless hours of game footage and have proposed to use it to enhance algorithms.
‘Whether analysing what happens on the pitch, or working in one of our many offices around the globe, data is essential for our success,’ says Greg Swimer, CFG’s chief technology officer.
Pep Guardiola’s first-team coach, Rodolfo Borrell, gives instructions to City’s substitutes using software from another club partner, SAP. City would not divulge details of the device’s advantages when introduced three years ago, but the club’s website says ‘analysts load tactical plans and opposition insights on to tablets’.