What can researchers learn from the beautiful game?

Recently I have been reading a book called “The Nowhere Men” by Michael Calvin. The book details various stories of football scouts who have been responsible for some of the nation’s greatest talent. However, the emergence of performance analysis has revolutionised the way players are now scouted. Whilst arming scouts with empirical data can improve their accuracy, it is important to note that if we were to rely on this data alone, we would be ignoring intangible skills that are vital to football success.

Interestingly, this idea of empirical (quantitative) data vs the eye of the scout, is a footballing example of qualitative vs quantitative methodology. Unsurprisingly, the same arguments come up, the advantage of “reliable” objective data to guard against inconsistent human error. However, without both methods, football is at risk of reducing the amount of talented players that are being developed and I’m sure that we would all agree that even less English talent would be a disaster.

This increasing shift towards empirical data could also affect spectator’s perceptions of players. Players once considered maestros may now be thought of as technicians. Instead of being delighted watching players stroke the ball into the corner, or strike a rocket into the back of the net, we can read their stat sheet and see how good they are. However, as many of us know, football is not played on paper.

An interesting example to think about when considering the qualitative method for analysing football vs its quantitative counterpart, is to look at the recent debate regard Wayne Rooney. Is he the nation’s greatest striker? It is very difficult to use objective empirical data to inform such a subjective opinion as there are other “softer qualities” that can’t be measured.

Now, to be clear, I’m not for a minute suggesting that stats don’t mean anything. They do! My only concern is that they are becoming more and more important to a point, where they might, if unchecked, mean everything. We should embrace the new level of technology, but ultimately, you should look with your eyes and not with your stats. When you watch your favourite players, remember to watch them. Don’t just read the latest articles and make your decisions.

By Alex Richards

This entry was posted in Market research, tagged Research tips, Quantitative, Qualitative and posted on September 16, 2015

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