Le sport

Soccer’s Fastest-Growing Market Is the One for Ideas

Most of all, it gave RB Leipzig another edge. “Leipzig spent a lot of time and money to be at the head of the curve,” Rangnick said in a telephone interview last year. Those sorts of things do not stay secret for long in soccer. Quentmeier believes that when he started, only a couple of other teams in Germany were investing in data.

Now, he said, it is “normal” for clubs to have a team of data analysts. That means it is normal, too, for teams to do all they can to make sure they have the best data analysts. That can mean looking outside the sport for expertise. Or, increasingly, it can mean taking the approach that brought Quentmeier to Eintracht, and plucking someone from a direct rival.

Like Quentmeier, a vast majority of data scientists — even at the game’s most decorated clubs — remain essentially anonymous. Only occasionally, when a team makes a particularly significant or an especially unusual appointment, do their names drift to the surface.

Manchester United’s hiring of Dominic Jordan, in October, as its first director of data science was greeted as a major step forward for a team hidebound by conservatism. Last year, Manchester City’s appointment of Laurie Shaw, an academic with a Ph.D. in computational astrophysics who had previously advised the British government, seemed sufficiently exotic to attract attention.

The picture inside the sport, though, is different. “There is much more knowledge of smart people, people doing good work, people making waves at other clubs,” said Omar Chaudhuri, the chief intelligence officer at the data-led consultancy Twenty First Group. “Executives will know them by name. They are much more likely to have them on their shopping lists.”

These are not, in most cases, easy appointments to make. Krösche knew Quentmeier from their time at Leipzig; he could vouch for his work firsthand. Not everyone has that benefit. Clubs are reticent to share knowledge and information that they consider proprietary. Few, if any, are prepared to make public the work performed by their data departments. That makes establishing the credentials of any individual member of a staff extremely difficult.

“Sometimes, proof of their success is enough to convince people,” said Chaudhuri, noting that clubs perceived to be doing well will find their staff in demand from others, eager to acquire a little of the magic. Even then, it can be hard to know exactly where credit should go.