Google DeepMind’s new AI assistant helps elite soccer coaches get even better (Rhiannon Williams, March 19, 2024, MIT Technology Review)

TacticAI uses predictive and generative AI models to convert each corner kick scenario—such as a receiver successfully scoring a goal, or a rival defender intercepting the ball and returning it to their team—into a graph, and the data from each player into a node on the graph, before modeling the interactions between each node. The work was published in Nature Communications today.

Using this data, the model provides recommendations about where to position players during a corner to give them, for example, the best shot at scoring a goal, or the best combination of players to get up front. It can also try to predict the outcomes of a corner, including whether a shot will take place, or which player is most likely to touch the ball first.

The main benefit is that the AI assistant reduces the workload of the coaches, says Ondřej Hubáček, an analyst at the sports data firm Ematiq who specializes in predictive models, and who did not work on the project. “An AI system can go through the data quickly and point out errors a team is making—I think that’s the added value you can get from AI assistants,” he says.

To assess TacticAI’s suggestions, GoogleDeepMind presented them to five football experts: three data scientists, one video analyst, and one coaching assistant, all of whom work at Liverpool FC. Not only did these experts struggle to distinguish’s TacticAI’s suggestions from real game play scenarios, they also favored the system’s strategies over existing tactics 90% of the time.


San Marino: ‘The ultimate dream’ – world’s worst national football team chase first win for 20 years (Harry Poole, 3/1/24, BBC Sport)

It is approaching 17 years since San Marino captain Matteo Vitaioli, the player with the most appearances in the country’s history, first represented his national team. He is yet to celebrate a victory.

Two decades and 136 games interspersed with crushing defeats and the odd near-miss have passed since San Marino, the world’s fifth-smallest country, recorded the only win in the team’s history.

“The worst memory was the match away to the Netherlands in 2011, which ended 11-0,” Vitaioli tells BBC Sport. “It was already eight or nine with a lot of time left and I remember the supporters cheering on the Netherlands to see more goals.”

Surrounded by Italy and overlooked by the spectacular Mount Titano, San Marino has a population of just 33,000 and covers a mere 61 square kilometres – roughly half the size of Manchester.

According to Fifa’s rankings, it is home to the world’s worst national football team – one which has lost 192 of the 201 fixtures it has contested.

But Vitaioli and his team-mates have the chance to write a new chapter for their country this week when Saint Kitts and Nevis – the Caribbean nation 63 places above 210th-ranked San Marino – visit for two friendly matches.


Terry Venables: the gambler of Euro 96: The England manager embodied an era of optimism (JONATHAN WILSON, 11/27/23, UnHerd)

It would be an exaggeration to say that modern football was born amid the battle between QPR and Watford for promotion from Division Two in the early Eighties, but in their rivalry was encapsulated a key fault line that continues to shape football today. Watford were managed by Taylor, Venables’s predecessor as England manager. When he took over Watford in 1977, they were in the Fourth Division. Within six years, he had taken them to second in Division One. His football then was, as he cheerily admitted, rudimentary: he had his players knock the ball in behind the opposing full-back, then had his side press to try to regain possession in dangerous areas, relying on an aggressive offside trap to offer defensive solidity.

Taylor said that each time his side got promoted he expected to be found out, but that it wasn’t until playing Sparta Prague in the Uefa Cup in 1983 that anybody did, largely because the Czechoslovak defenders had the technical ability not to panic when put under pressure. With better players, he amended his approach to an extent, but he remained always of a school that saw football as a game of chaos, and pressing as a way of guiding that. Venables, in seeking to impose order, was the cerebral Pep Guardiola to Taylor’s Klopp.