Should Premier League clubs be managed by mathematicians?
This was the intriguing title of a lecture delivered at the Mathematical Institute, Oxford, by David Sumpter, Professor of Applied Mathematics at Uppsala University in Sweden. A group of Charterhouse further mathematicians, some of whom are also footballers, really enjoyed the talk which focussed on use of mathematical models to analyse various aspects of the "beautiful game" including passing, shooting and creation of space. The so-called "analytics" is in its infancy but is being used by an increasing number of professional clubs (although Sumpter was not able to reveal which teams in the UK he is working with for contractual reasons). Sumpter showed how his techniques may be used to show the effectiveness of the tiki-taka short passing style of Barcelona. He explained that the Spanish Giants have in fact been using advanced analytics for some time and Sumpter has collaborated with mathematicians at the club.
Using a similar technique, Sumpter has also established that Manchester United's Paul Pogba (who has been subject to criticism from some football pundits) makes the most effective penetrating passes from midfield to attack. He also "proved" that long range shooting at the top level very rarely leads to a goal, even when Cristiano Ronaldo is the striker. A very interesting section was Sumpter's explanation of how he has used mathematics to model creation of space by movement off the ball. Sumpter also used his data to demonstrate how Lionel Messi is the best footballer in the world. Indeed he, only half-jokingly, explained that new models are validated by being put through a "Messi Test". If the model comes up with a different answer than Messi, then the model is probably wrong and therefore adapted. The Charterhouse group left with a new awareness of the exciting potential of their mathematical studies.