Tuesday 23rd April 2019

The State of Soccer Technology and Innovation – Pedro Marques, S.L. Benfica

The State of Soccer Technology and Innovation – Pedro Marques, S.L. Benfica

The State of Soccer Technology and Innovation – Pedro Marques, S.L. Benfica
(Logos courtesy of SportTechie and N3XT Sports, photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images)

During the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, SportTechie and N3XT Sports are surveying key soccer experts around the world to understand the current state of soccer technology and innovation. (More soccer technology viewpoints.)

Pedro Marques is the technical director of S.L. Benfica. He joined the club in July, and is in charge of the technical coordination of youth football, developing young players into future stars. Before Benfica, Marques spent eight years at Manchester City, where he helped develop City’s coaching methodology and playing style. During that time, the English Premier League team won all four domestic titles, including three league championships. After the City Football Group was created in 2014, he helped coordinate the expansion of the club’s game model to sister teams in five other countries.

S.L. Benfica is one of three Portuguese teams that have never been relegated from the Primeira Liga, the country’s top soccer division. The Lisbon-based club has won a record 79 domestic trophies, including 36 Primeira Liga titles and 26 Taças de Portugal. Benfica most recently won both of those in the 2016/17 season. The club also won two European Cups in the 1960s—the European Cup was the precursor tournament to the UEFA Champions League.

According to Marques, the biggest advancement in soccer technology over the last decade has been “tech resources and associated services becoming more accessible, and mainstream.” The prices of computers and laptops have dropped, cameras have become more powerful—they can now even automatically track a player’s movement—and there are more ways to access and review video online. Those changes have given almost everyone access to tools they can use to deeply analyze performance, and to improve player development and training. “Overall this allowed for a better knowledge of the game, its tactics and in most cases, preparation.”

Although some techniques like video are now widely used, the generation gap can still be a challenge to the adoption of technology. “Most senior head coaches are not technology natives,” Marques explained. “We’ll see a younger generation of coaches integrating technology in a natural way, considering it more of an added value than something that can negatively impact the perception others have about their football knowledge. Younger coaches will use technology to facilitate the flow of information, and its use might also create ’empathy’ with generations of players that were born with these kinds of tools in their lives.”

Marques believes that the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to extract both video clips for review, and statistics on the events in those clips, will empower human coaches. “This is still some years from being a mature technology, but there are already various companies on the market working with this,” he noted. “With the right football and coaching/analyst brains to power the algorithms generated, this will be big. It will massively impact analysts’ daily workflows, allowing them to finally be able to really focus more time on analysis than on video cutting.”

The richest clubs and organizations may continue to explore the boundaries of soccer technology, but Marques foresees that most teams will concentrate on using Big Data to identify the factors that truly impact performance. Once they focus the use of technology towards those areas, he believes, they will produce meaningful insights.

Not all technology can be beneficial, and Marques has concerns about the rise in popularity of video games and their direct impact on the real game. “Street soccer is disappearing,” he observed. “The impact on the current players’ creativity and adaptation is already noted at the clubs… although more than fighting this growing trend of esports, the solution on how to counter the decline of informal practice might instead rely on the virtual gaming industry, and how can we link sofa-play with new ways to promote outdoors-play.”

Regarding virtual and augmented reality coaching aids, Marques is unsure whether these have a future in high performance soccer, or whether they are best used just for consumer and fan engagement. “I believe that football first of all needs to be experienced and lived with the ball on the feet, playing out there, feeling the interactions—team mates and opposition—and looking to score goals. It’s part of the nature of the game, and we should not break that” he explained. “If we take away any of these elements we risk impoverishing the learning and training context where the players need to develop and adapt in order to perform the game we love.”

Related

  • The State of Soccer Technology and Innovation – Tyler Heaps, U.S. Soccer

  • The State of Soccer Technology and Innovation – Darren Burgess, Arsenal

  • The State of Soccer Technology and Innovation – Xavi Reche, FC Barcelona

  • The State of Soccer Technology and Innovation – Francisco Forner

  • The State of Soccer Technology and Innovation – Eric Miller, Minnesota United

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