x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The tools that are helping Al Ahli compete for trophies

As the Arabian Gulf League gets back up and running tomorrow, John McAuley goes behind the scenes at Al Ahli to find out how Chris Loxston, the club’s head of performance analysis, and sports scientist Michael Lawson are using technology to help league leaders’ quest for titles. Photographs by Pawan Singh

Chris Loxston, left, Al Ahli’s head of performance analysis, is busy in front of his computer even as a game is underway at the Rashid Stadium, Dubai. The Ahli coach Cosmin Olaroiu, second from left, then uses that information to devise strategies for the team. Pawan Singh / The National
Chris Loxston, left, Al Ahli’s head of performance analysis, is busy in front of his computer even as a game is underway at the Rashid Stadium, Dubai. The Ahli coach Cosmin Olaroiu, second from left, then uses that information to devise strategies for the team. Pawan Singh / The National

SPORTSCODE

What is it?

Live notational analysis taken during a match, where each event – corner, free kick, cross, pass, etc – is coded. Cost: £13,000 (Dh79,000) for licence.

How is it applied?

Club develops a bespoke template, which uses a live television feed to record every event that happens across 90 minutes. For example it can note how many times a goalkeeper plays the ball long or short, how many times a player receives the ball in a certain position, how many switches in play, where crosses come from, etc. Information is gathered absolutely live, to the split second.

Why use it?

1 Has video input, so takes live clips. At half-time, a coach can display clips of whatever event is causing team problems and visually explain where things are going wrong or, conversely, what has worked well. Coaches can see the dimensions of the pitch better than when on the touchline, which helps with team shape/formation.

2 It is bespoke. As a coach wants to focus on different areas of the team through season, a template can be tailored to suit that requirement.

What does it bring to the team?

“It really does allow you to design it the way you want,” says Loxston. “In practise, it’s a brilliant instrument to underline what a player is doing well, or make him aware what he needs to correct. Then, there is no hiding place for the player.”

Example

“In the recent game against Al Saad, we already knew of the movements of Raul behind the defensive line, however, we had managed to clip a few actions during the first half, which we then managed to review at half-time in the dressing room.”

PROZONE

What is it?

Post-match analysis tool providing physical and technical information regarding performance, using a variety of key-performance indicators (passing, shooting, crossing and distance run, etc). Records about 3000 events a match. Cost: £90,000 (550,000) per year.

How is it applied?

Four CCTV cameras are fixed at each end of the main stand that record at six pictures a second and ensure that every part of the pitch is covered by at least two cameras.

Prozone can go picture-by-picture and place where each player is at a specific moment. It calculates distances on the pitch and, from that measure, the speed at which players travel. Coaches then upload the match footage directly after the game and receive the full data back within 36 hours. The coaching staff receive both the technical and physical reports. Olaroiu is also keen for the players to see their data so Ahli provide each player with individual stats for first and second-half comparisons and their overall match performance against the Al Ahli team average.

Technical data for all games but physical data is only available at Al Ahli, Al Ain and Al Jazira as only these stadiums have Prozone cameras.

Why use it?

Identifies technical trends in play. For example, who is the playmaker (who received the most balls) and where did they receive the ball typically? Which full-back makes the most final-third entries or makes the most crosses?

Used to track game-to-game performance and makes seasonal trend comparisons. Can also be linked to other systems such as the GPS used in training to compare the physical output in training against what is occurring in matches and then adapt training accordingly.

Ahli can receive the technical data for their next opposition by volunteering their own information. This allows the coaches to analyse opponents in the same way they analyse their own team.

Coaches have performance data for each player and can use it to reinforce judgements and provide factual evidence of where a player underperformed.

What does it bring to the team?

“The system allows us to be more aware and more prepared of what our opponents tend to do. Humans and therefore teams have trends and that is what we are looking for. By having this information our players are able to make more informed decisions not only about their performance but also the trends of the opposition players on the pitch.”

Example

“Using the opposition technical scouting data we can identify which of the full-backs attacks more by looking at who makes the most final third entries, makes the most crosses and also which positions they typically receive the most balls in. This information allows the coaching staff to make our team aware and try to neutralise that player as much as possible.”

GPS/HEART RATE (training)

What is it?

Live or post-training measurement instrument that calculates physical output in training. Tracks players while they are moving. Cost: £40,000 (Dh244,000).

How is it applied?

Works from satellite in the same way a car uses sat nav. Players wear a GPS vest, with heart-rate monitors. GPS takes a reading 10 times every second and the incorporated accelerometer at 100 times per second.

Measures distance covered, which can be split into speed zones to see how far players are jogging, high-speed running and sprinting. The heart monitor shows the cardiovascular effort. Gives average metre-per-minute.

Why use it?

1 Injury prevention – Primarily for the medical department as it helps them apply correct treatment after a training session. Shows how much stress goes through the body and, in straight running drills, shows weight distribution in each leg (if player has a slight strain, they overcompensate by putting more weight on the other leg). Can highlight injury before it registers with the player.

Can be seen live during a session. If a player is overactive – his heart rate is too high – he can sit out the next drill to allow recovery.

2 Performance summary – Outlines aerobic work done in a session with the information relayed to a fitness coach, who can study findings and tailor future sessions. Gives team and individual average. If performing speed drills, players can be compared and offers measurements on whether reserves are up to first-team standards.

What does it bring to the team?

“This year’s upgraded system gives results immediately after the session, so the coach receives a general report within an hour,” says Lawson. “The accuracy is excellent and the software very user-friendly. If the data wasn’t this accurate, it’s pointless having it. We’re the only ones in the UAE using this particular system, but the top European sides do – Manchester United, Barcelona, Liverpool – which proves its worth.”

Example

Data proves that, when running in a straight line, Grafite is Ahli’s quickest player. In terms of acceleration, Ismail Al Hammadi and Darwish Juma lead the group.

WYSCOUT

What is it?

Extensive library/video archive for international football, used for scouting players. Cost: €8,000 (Dh41,000) per year.

How is it applied?

It allows you to watch video of individual players, their software places a ring around the player when they touch the ball so you can clearly see who you are looking at. You can search for specific things such as a player’s goals, assists, tackles etc. and put these into a playlist, which you can either watch instantly online or download. It also provides information on playing history such as minutes played at which club, number of starts, yellow and red cards etc.

Why use it?

It is a comprehensive illustration of a player’s ability. Can be used to evaluate a player’s attributes and weaknesses. Offers Arabian Gulf League footage, which is typically available a few hours after the match so Ahli have access to HD quality video of all games hours after they have finished.

What does it bring to the team?

“Its coverage is ridiculous,” says Loxston. “If the chairman or manager puts a player’s name on my desk, within five minutes we can have full-game or highlights footage. Using SportsCode we will make our own clips for the match video, which are then shared to everyone involved in our recruitment process. Prozone also has a library, but Wyscout is unchallenged at the moment. Remember, YouTube can make anyone look good so we like to see more full game footage to be sure.”


Example

“Almost everyone that’s come to Al Ahli in the past few years, we’ve used Wyscout,” says Loxston. “With Hugo Viana, Roy (Aitken) would’ve asked for his three most recent matches, so we clipped all his events. It adds to Roy’s existing knowledge of the player and, rather than watching him through 90 minutes again, we have seven/eight minutes of just Hugo. We can then link with Prozone, and compare his stats against the team – are they going to make a difference? Because, at the end of the day, that’s all you need to know.”

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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