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Maccabi Haifa - champions in tech, not just football

The Israeli football league title-holder used Track160's optical tracking solution

Everyone associated with Maccabi Haifa finished the 2020/21 season with a big smile on their face. Ten years of drought came to an end in May 2021, when "the Greens" secured the national championship title in front of 30,000 enthusiastic fans, perhaps on the way to becoming once again the most dominant force in the Israeli league. The credit for success was naturally given to the players, the coach, and the owners of the club, and rightly so. But behind them was also a quiet turbocharged engine whose contribution to success has gotten slightly fewer headlines.

This engine is the team of analysts who work around the clock to provide the coaching staff with tactical and physical insights that will give the team a competitive edge over opponents. This includes a constant search for modern technologies in the fields of football data and analytics, something that Maccabi Haifa has always emphasized at the club level.

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The road to quality analytics passes through event data and tracking data

"As part of my job, I'm constantly monitoring what is happening in the industry, trying to understand what new technologies can help us," says Gal Sternberg-Fish (34) - the lead data analyst of Maccabi Haifa, who as a former systems engineer, was long aware of the importance and potential of data. "One of the understandings I gained very quickly through conversations with colleagues from European clubs was that Event Data - necessary as it may be - also has a ceiling. To make a leap forward, a football club also needs tracking data."

Let's pause for a second to explain some basic terms to the non-professional ear: Event Data is the identification and tagging of events that happen during a football game (shots on goal, passes, crosses, corners, throw-ins, etc.). This is information that was already available to Maccabi Haifa, but pure events cannot provide analysts and training staff a complete picture of what happened in matches. For that, they also need the tracking data that Gal was referring to. Why? Well, because the understating of where each player in the team (and the opposing team) was at any given moment provides not only the ideal connection to the actual events but also the basis for advanced tactical insights.

Watch Maccabi Haifa's championship match and celebrations

"I would be happy to see the tracking system integrated at the entire league level, just like in European leagues"

The possibility of obtaining tracking data established the groundwork for the cooperation between Maccabi Haifa and Track160 - an Israeli start-up that developed an AI-driven football analytics solution. By using advanced optical tracking technology, Track160's product can supply highly accurate tracking data, and on top of that, allows teams to fully automate the entire process of event tagging and the creation of highlight video clips.

"We examined the market, and in the middle of last season we installed Track160's system at our home stadium," says Gal. "Basically, the tracking data that Track160 generates provides everything the existing event data can't. I'm talking mainly about location and out-position situations (sequences in which the team doesn't possess the ball). Notable examples of that are average player location data, the distance between players, and the team’s compactness".

"Tracking data also completes the event data in the sense that if I already know how many crosses were made to the box, who is the player that made those crosses, and what was his success percentage - through tracking, I can find out, for example, how many players were waiting for his pass. The whole analysis is upgraded here on several levels".

Watch an overview of Track160's product

A big advantage of Track160’s solution is the technology it uses for tracking purposes. Optical tracking is currently the most advanced method on the market, and it allows any user to get positional and physical data of its opponents (in addition, of course, to those of his own team's players) - without any need for human involvement in filming or analyzing the video. This is an ability that existing solutions are unable to provide. "We have GPSs that provide us with good data on our own players, but they can't give us data on our opponents. With Track160 (using a camera installed in a single viewpoint next to the pitch), there is a solution to that issue as well”.

"Right now there are infrastructural limitations that prevent us from using Track160's product more widely”’ Gal explains. “But if and when the solution will be implemented at the entire league level - just like in European leagues - and I can get data from all teams' games throughout an entire season, those issues will be resolved. Personally, I would love that to happen''.

"Coaches and analysts aren't the only ones that have an interest in data. Players also ask me for data about their performance"

The benefits of using data in modern football have long been clear, as well as the understanding that the trend will only expand from here on. The point is that if in the past only the wealthy European elite clubs had access to the data solution they needed, today the reality is changing dramatically. Sub-elite clubs are progressing, and are looking for products that will provide them with a complete solution, and at reasonable prices. If you ask Gal, even in Israel - not a top European football country - the business is about to go up a level.

"It is true that the use of data is very well established in Europe. Tactical, physiological, and even mental analyses are done there. In Israel, we are still a bit behind, but I have no doubt that we will get there, certainly when it comes to the level of analysis that's based on tracking and real-time data".

And what about the end-users? This should come as no surprise to anyone, but the coaching staff and analysts are not the only ones that can use this wonderful world of data. The stars of the show themselves - the players - can make use of the data as well, and very soon their fans and close surroundings will also be able to get information about their heroes.

"More than once, players have approached me and asked for data about their performance in matches," Gal concludes. "They know that they are being measured, but also want to improve personally and learn how to help the team win. I think the right way to go here is to make the connection between the data and the video right in front of them. This way they not only hear statistics but also understand how to improve them through the videos".

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