FOOTBALL: Stats, no lies and video tape: Norway's latest footballing export

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The Independent Online
Home-grown players wounded Juventus as far as the scoreline was concerned on Wednesday night, but it was Manchester United's Scandinavian backbone (Schmeichel, Berg, Johnsen, Solskjaer even) that stood firm against the Old Lady's wiles. Alex Ferguson clearly admires Norwegian and Danish footballers, who represent the best value pound for pound (particularly so in the case of John Jensen and Jan Molby) of our foreign imports.

There are more than 20 playing in the Premiership, and apparently plenty more where they came from. The young striker Lasse Olsen has made such an impact at the Norwegian Premier League side Stromsgodset that he is expected to play a pivotal part in the impending Norwegian Cup final against Valerengen, and his manager, Dag Vidar Kristoffersen, believes Olsen will eventually follow the Tors, Jans and Egils down that well-trodden path to the English Premiership.

However, British interest is also focused on another product of Norway's footballing expertise which is influential, versatile, and (in footballing terms at least) extremely cheap.

Certainly, pounds 10,000 sounds a snip, but the catch is that it comes packed in a box, has a plug on the end, and goes by the very un-Norwegian name of Tacticus. In short, it is a computer system; not just any old computer system mind, but (according to the Norwegian Trade Council) "the most advanced and complete football analysis tool on the market".

A sense of objectivity is plainly called for, but it is a view endorsed by Kristoffersen, whose team began using the system this season in an effort to end their seesaw-like existence; the Cup finalists are also second in the Premier League, and Kristoffersen attributes much of their success to Tacticus.

Without getting too technical, the beauty of Tacticus - apparently - is that it allows a manager to analyse and edit a match both from the team's and the individual player's viewpoint, and presents the information as easy-to-understand statistics and video graphics. Kristoffersen claims player development is the biggest plus: "Show a player his mistakes rather than simply tell him he's making them, and there's more chance of him putting things right." He is even considering installing a television in the dressing-room and using the system at half-time.

The Norwegian national team has been using the system since the early 1990s, and the proof of that particular pudding is in the eating: Norway qualified for USA 94 at England's expense, and for France 98 at a canter. But if this system is all it is cracked up to be, why is it not top of the shopping list of the Fergusons and Dalglishes of this world?

Actually, it might well be. Many Premier League clubs apparently showed an interest when the system was presented on recent FA coaching courses, but do not want that interest made public, prompting a claim from Kristoffersen that "English clubs are like fortresses: they don't want to share anything".

He claims the Norwegians admire English football for its pace and basic skill, but reckon it lacks a lot in organisation. That is where he thinks Tacticus might prove its worth. The only club manager who will admit to using Tacticus is Crewe's Dario Gradi. Instead of having to flip through an entire tape using time code, he now has a sophisticated editing system that will record the game's key features and serve as concrete video evidence when he assesses a player's performance.

Tacticus is already used by the Swiss side Grasshopper and the Estonian national side (who must have a blank tape from their home game against Scotland). However, its popularity in this country will largely depend on English football's willingness to embrace new technology. Of course the purists will always prefer the beautiful game to remain a simple game rather than one over-burdened with facts, figures, stats and systems.

But Gradi denies that Tacticus is a substitute for good old-fashioned communication between player and manager. He stresses: "It's simply an aid, albeit the single most important coaching aid that I have. We used to have someone sit in the stands and monitor individual players, but this presents all the evidence in black and white, or better still, in colour."

Evidently, video use has its place in football, if not yet among the refereeing fraternity. Terry Venables' wife admits he studies videos avidly and often determines his tactics accordingly. The opposite, however, is true of Barry Fry who even admits he "doesn't do tactics"... and we all know who is the more successful.