Campaign's fate in the laptop of the stats man

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Anyone still tempted to regard the Republic of Ireland as some sort of glorified pub side enjoying the craic and not taking anything too seriously would be surprised by the sight of a bespectacled New Zealander at the team hotel tapping into his laptop. One click and Ian Rogers can, for instance, call up a series of video clips of every corner-kick that today's opponents Spain have taken at the World Cup so far, highlighting the position that each attacking player adopts; every free-kick, every goal-kick, every throw-in – left and right, long and short – is available, as well as every individual contribution from any player in the squad.

Anyone still tempted to regard the Republic of Ireland as some sort of glorified pub side enjoying the craic and not taking anything too seriously would be surprised by the sight of a bespectacled New Zealander at the team hotel tapping into his laptop. One click and Ian Rogers can, for instance, call up a series of video clips of every corner-kick that today's opponents Spain have taken at the World Cup so far, highlighting the position that each attacking player adopts; every free-kick, every goal-kick, every throw-in – left and right, long and short – is available, as well as every individual contribution from any player in the squad.

At team meetings, he will beam the images on to a big screen; otherwise, Irish players can study their own individual performance by consulting the laptop. Lighter relief is provided by a sort of Match of the Day compilation from the manic 10-a-side matches at the end of each training session. "A very, very useful tool, terrific," says the Irish manager Mick McCarthy, whose public utterances claiming not to worry too much about the opposition tend to mask a serious intent to be aware fully of what his side are up against.

The system, called SportsCode, which would once have required truck-loads of studio equipment and editing suites, was devised at the Australian Institute of Sport in the mid-90s. As its name implies, it is applicable to virtually any sport, and clients include the England and Wales Cricket Board, Irish Rugby Football Union and the US Olympic Committee as well as the Football Association and clubs like Bolton, Coventry, Millwall and Watford.

"I think the mood in Britain is changing dramatically and there's an awareness that the country has got to embrace high-performance programmes," Rogers says. "It's becoming an increasingly important part of sports science, especially at the level of elite sport. What it does is identify exactly what the coach wants to see, and deals objectively with a performance, an incident or a technique, either for your own team or athlete, or the opposition. It's primarily about objectivity and reliable feedback – we all see the game in a different way, which is part of the beauty of football, but reading a game can be quite subjective and anecdotal. So video analysis can measure frequency of occasions and most of all can look at any pattern that we can defend or attack against."

For those who can afford it, the days of a scout sitting at the back of the stand scribbling diagrams of opposition free-kicks may be numbered. Ireland have had observers at Spain's matches, but the squad are now able to see for themselves precise patterns of play and set-pieces without having to sit through a 90-minute video. "I'm not bothered about individuals in the opposing team so much," McCarthy says. "If you start highlighting how good individuals are, you just put negative thoughts into players' heads. But Ian can break the game down into any aspect you want to look at. I think it's brilliant."

He was able to convince the Football Association of Ireland as well, and a few weeks ago, Rogers, 37, a former manager, chairman and FA councillor in Wellington, was hired for the duration of the World Cup to operate the system. Impressed by McCarthy, "a forward-looking, open-minded coach", he has enjoyed himself hugely and found the players receptive to his work. Although effectively on his way home from Britain, via Japan and now Korea, he – like them – would be delighted if today's result means staying on for another week at least.

Comments