The State of Soccer Technology and Innovation – Raúl Peláez, FC Barcelona

(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 will be surveying key personnel at major soccer clubs around the world to understand the current state of soccer technology and innovation. We will be publishing regular short summaries from the viewpoints of industry experts, and then, at the end of the tournament, we will produce a final report aggregating the thoughts of those insiders and providing a comprehensive view of the soccer technology and innovation space.

Raúl Peláez is the head of sport technology, innovation, and analysis for FC Barcelona. Since 2010, Peláez has driven the club’s efforts in leveraging innovation and emerging technologies to achieve sports excellence. He leads a large, multidisciplinary team comprised of data scientists, match analysts, and engineers.

Peláez is highly regarded globally for his expertise in technology, disruptive innovation, knowledge management, and organizational transformation. He frequently speaks at conferences and events around the world to share insights and best practices from his more than 15 years of experience in the professional soccer industry.

FC Barcelona is one of the biggest professional sports teams in the world. Last year, Forbes ranked Barça No. 4 on its list of the most valuable global sports franchises, estimating its worth at $3.64 billion. The club’s Facebook and Twitter accounts have a combined 130 million followers.

Barça competes in La Liga, the top professional division of the Spanish football league system. It has won 25 La Liga championships, including the most recent 2017/18 season. FC Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi has been named the best player in the world five times.

Reflecting on the last decade of soccer technology, Peláez believes that the most significant advancement is in the tracking and monitoring of players and generation of data and information. “This has allowed us to know more information about individual performance of players,” Peláez said, “[but] this has also generated a big problem. Football is a collective sport, based on talent, and this type of information is insufficient to answer the real questions that [it is] intended to answer.”

Among the challenges that Peláez sees for the greater use of technology in soccer are “the ignorance of the scientific world of the reality of professional sport,” and “the need for a disruptive vision of the professionals working in a very conservative sport.” For technology to be useful in sports, scientific researchers and technologists need to understand what is truly useful. And soccer insiders need to be open to experimentation.

The most important advance that Peláez believes soccer can make it to use position monitoring of the ball and all 22 players on the field to understand the complexity of how the game itself really works. “How to measure synergies among teammates. How to understand the process of the game. Everything related to tactics, and how properties and characteristics of the game emerge,” he said.

“Everyone is looking to predict injuries, results, and the world of betting is distorting everything,” Peláez explained, “but I think it is necessary before [that to understand] the game, the great unknown.”