England amputee side boost Euro hopes by adopting technology used by PSG and Barcelona

By Andrew AloiaBBC Sport
Split image of screen shot of Metrica app and England amputee team in training
England's amputee side added an analysis team to their backroom staff as part of their preparations for this year's European Championships

What started out as a technological experiment could help England win the next Euros.

For when the nation's amputee team take part in the European Championship in Poland later this month, they will do so with the help of hi-tech analytics used by some of the continent's biggest clubs.

The last time the event was staged - in 2017 - England finished runners-up to Turkey, with the final played in front of a crowd of 41,000 at Besiktas' home ground in Istanbul.

Since then, video analysts Sophie Bone and Dan Towers have joined the team as they look to go one better this time around.

And they have made their players feel like they are starring on Sky's Monday Night Football - with the help of three men who have gone from tracking lab rats and the eyes of monkeys, to the movements of Lionel Messi.

It is done by a tool developed when two neuroscience PhD students in Amsterdam teamed up with a video expert in 2012 to try to break into the emerging field of data analytics in football.

Within four years, Ruben Saavedra, Bruno Dagnino and Enzo Angilletta had developed a video and data system powered by artificial intelligence.

And not only do they now work with AC Milan, Barcelona and Paris St-Germain - whose manager Mauricio Pochettino sought them out when he was appointed in January - but they are also supporting amateur teams around the world with free access to their technology.

It is that which England's amputee team are using to get an edge leading up to the European Championship, which starts in Krakow on 12 September.

PSG boss Mauricio Pochettino talks to Kylian Mbappe
Mauricio Pochettino was appointed PSG boss in January 2021, having been sacked by Premier League club Tottenham in November

"From a data point of view, it doesn't matter what it is that you're tracking - forget if it is a mouse or an eye, a football player or football," Saavedra says.

"For a data analyst it is a co-ordinate, an X and Y. You put it in a context that moves in time. On a football pitch, there are 22 elements and a ball.

"We had experience in tracking data. You analyse this data to find patterns in how decisions are made and football is all about patterns."

Towers says Metrica's software has "streamlined" how they work, saved time, ensured they can "get stuck into the devil in the detail" and has allowed them to better engage with players by "painting" clips - which includes having a spotlight track a player or illustrate movements in a passage of play.

Bone says it has quickly become "massive" for them and was particularly important during lockdown, when trying to illustrate points in presentations delivered on video conferences or shared on social networking apps.

"As a charity organisation we haven't got a lot of money," says Bone. "We are all volunteers trying to access the best resources we can to help develop international players to win the Euros.

"Feedback from players has been that it's like being involved in the Monday Night Football and that we are like Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher highlighting different areas and working on different themes.

"Our jobs are made a lot easier."

The founders of Metrica Sports
The founders of Metrica Sports, (left to right) Enzo Angilletta, Bruno Dagnino and Ruben Saavedra

England boss Owen Coyle Jr says the technology helped ensure his team - which includes some of the world's finest amputee footballers, such as Ray Westbrook, David Tweed, Helder Silva, Jamie Tregaskiss and Michael Chambers - were able to stay connected when forced apart during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic.

"What we started to see happening was that other countries - some of the biggest challengers for the title like Turkey, Poland and Russia - were back training and playing one another while we were in the middle of a very severe lockdown," said Coyle Jr, the son of the former Bolton, Blackburn and Wigan manager of the same name.

"There was nothing we could do about being locked down or getting out of that, but we worked hard to adapt the programme to make sure we didn't lose ground on our competitors.

"The support we have had has helped players understand, learn and thrive."

In what Saavedra calls a "fiercely tough world" of data analytics - one in which clubs are hiring astrophysicists and companies like Analytics FC firmly establish themselves - the competition for relevance at the top and intense interest is what drove them to look beyond world football's elite.

But even then, there is competition - with AiSCOUT just one tool also powered by artificial intelligence which has been adopted by Premier League club Burnley to help globalise their search for talent.

Saavedra, Dagnino and Angilletta have developed slimmed-down versions of their main tools, which led to the free programme being made when demand in what they did was high but uptake low.

"The software, the interface, is the same as what Mauricio Pochettino sees when he opens it," Saavedra says.

"Nowadays, every single game can be recorded, not just at academies or professional clubs, but also by coaches who are looking after their neighbourhood team. And if they are recording them, then they want to analyse them."

"We are trying to provide something for everyone," Saavedra said.

"Teams like PSG and AC Milan are the top of the football iceberg, but we all know there is so much more to football than that."

European glory for England this month will underline that.

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