Around the time that Manchester United secured their infamous treble in 1999, winning the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League, the club embraced Prozone.
Prozone was a football analytics software that hadn’t previously been seen in English football, and Sir Alex Ferguson was one of the first to adopt it as a tool, largely thanks to his innovative assistant at the time, Steve McLaren.
The club had climbed to the top of England on the back of Liverpool’s decline but over a decade later, the Reds would start to progress towards reclaiming their perch.
As Ferguson lifted the Premier League title in 2012/13, his Anfield rivals finished seventh in the table. It was a dark period, but one that was set to end before too long.
Behind the scenes on Merseyside, Liverpool had began investing in data science on the back of John Henry’s interest in the field; Dr. Ian Graham started as the club’s Director of Research in 2012 and the Reds began moving towards more of a data-driven approach than their competitors.
As the team steadily began to improve on the field, the club’s data department evolved to become more and more advanced, helping out in areas involving tactics, injuries and – crucially – recruitment.
Michael Edwards, who had previously worked with Prozone at Portsmouth under Harry Redknapp, was appointed as Liverpool’s new sporting director. His background in numbers and informatics would bring Henry’s data-fuelled vision into reality.
The likes of Andy Robertson, Mohamed Salah and Naby Keita in particular have been described by those involved with Liverpool’s recruitment as transfers who profiled well in the data department.
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Meanwhile, in Manchester, United have struggled since Ferguson’s retirement. David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho had each taken charge of the Red Devils, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer currently in charge.
United are yet to win a Premier League title since Ferguson departed from his post six seasons ago, and they have won just one Europa League when it comes to European silverware.
The departure of the Scot alongside the appointment of Jurgen Klopp at Anfield is deemed to be crucial, and the impact of the two legendary coaches cannot be underplayed, but Liverpool have left United behind in football’s data arms race.
Last week, the Manchester club appointed Dominic Jordan as their first Director of Data Science, a role which essentially makes him United’s equivalent of Graham at Anfield.
Jordan does not have a background working in football and more importantly, he’s been identified as a worthwhile signature almost a decade after Graham started his work at Anfield.
He will almost certainly begin to aid United’s football operations over time, but catching up with Liverpool could prove to be almost impossible.
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