Liverpool's 2013/14 Premier League title challenge might've fallen at the final hurdle but elsewhere in the city a different team is changing the way titles are won around the world.
Globall Coach, based in a hub of start-ups called the Baltic Triangle just up the road from the city’s famous docks, is the brainchild of ex-Liverpool boss and current Napoli manager Rafa Benitez and Emile Coleman, a Scouser who doesn't like football (something so rare he should be known locally as ‘The Merseyside Unicorn’).
The ultimate football manager
At a glance this multi-platform app looks like a game of Football Manager, with a list of players and a top-down pitch graphic showing the formation of the team’s starting eleven. Select a player and it’ll bring up a similarly videogame-style screen listing his vitals: name, position, height, weight, DOB, preferred foot, squad number, current value, etc.
The difference is Globall Coach is for real. Real coaches creating real tactics, set-pieces, drills and exercises for real players at real clubs all over the world. There’s much more at stake here than your saved game.
Ditch the ring binder
Creating a new drill or tactic is a bit like editing a movie clip. The screen is split into frames with a timeline along the bottom. The bigger the frame, the slower the action, so you can dictate the speed of player movement and passing by moving your markers around the pitch and adjusting the frames accordingly. If you’re doing a set piece you can even indicate where each player should look, while you can add grids, cones and measurements for training drills so the ground staff know what goes where when it comes to setting up.
In the dugout on matchday Globall Coach’s main aim is to make things simple. It avoids the embarrassment of being caught flipping through a ring binder with ‘set pieces’ written on the front as David Moyes did during Manchester United’s fateful mauling by Everton last season, or having to employ a translator just to communicate with your players on the touchline as Rafa witnessed with Borussia Dortmund and Japanese number 10 Shinji Kagawa back in 2011. “It doesn't matter what your mother tongue is,” says Coleman, “as long as you know what number's on the back of your shirt you can tell which way the arrow's telling you to go.”
But Globall Coach is more than just a fancy way to animate training drills – it’s a complete squad management tool, with real-time player status visible to all users so they can see who’s available, who’s injured and how long for. It’ll also collect data on players from the GPS trackers and heart-rate monitors they wear during training, allowing coaches and medical staff to build up a complete player profile for every member of the squad, from the long-serving club captain right down to the kids in the youth academy. That means when they move club the manager has all the info he needs to help stop a former fan favourite becoming public enemy number one.
Data is beautiful
Data is clearly becoming a much bigger part of the game. Newly appointed Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal recently had a camera system installed overlooking the club’s training pitches, and while Coleman won’t reveal which clubs are Globall Coach customers he believes data generated in training will become more important: “99% of stats come from competitive games. That's 180 minutes a week maximum. How many hours do you train? 8 to 12 hours a week? I'll take that over 180 minutes any day.”
The next step for the Globall Coach team is to plumb the software in to live feeds from sources such as Prozone or Opta, and Coleman is keen to make the most of wearable tech where possible, with everything from GPS-enabled stickers to Adidas’s Mi tech and Leap Motion on his radar.
Valencia coach Juan Antonio Pizzi wore Google Glass on the touchline last season but all it supplied was stats on the game. Coleman wants to take it a step further: “We want to overlay the tactics live as they're looking at the pitch,” he says, while feeds from player-tracking cameras positioned around stadiums could also deliver info on how far players have run and where they touch the ball to help inform substitutions and tactical changes.
A tad more than 69p
That doesn’t mean the software’s designed – or priced – to be used exclusively by the gaffer. For £5000 a year the club gets a package for 10 devices (typically four laptops, four tablets and two larger touchscreen displays) although they’re open to tailoring it to each club’s needs. There’s also a phone app that’ll allow players to log in and see their own personal schedules, while coaches will be able to check when they logged in and how long for.
The personal player app has a secondary use within America’s youth system, where funding is suitably high – some colleges have higher budgets than English Championship football clubs – to pay for this level of tech. The player app could then be used to prove to parents accustomed to stat-heavy sports such as baseball that all the money they’re spending is actually helping little Jimmy Jr to become the next Jozy Altidore.
The Germans app-rove
You never know, the 2018 World Cup winners could be Globall Coach users. The Wall Street Journal recently revealed that this summer’s triumphant Germany team had used a custom-made analysis tool in Brazil, which sent player-specific feedback to their phones over the course of the tournament.
The English FA has signed up for a similar but less sophisticated package called i-Drills, which Coleman admits means Globall Coach will never get anywhere with the England football team – but he’s not worried about losing out elsewhere. “Certain FAs have approached us that want to use this for their pro licence courses because it's a great teaching tool.
We have the unique ability to be able to call some of the best managers and coaches in the world and say: ‘What do you think about this?’ Nobody else is doing anything like this. Academies tend to work off player initials rather than squad numbers, so we added that to the app. If we were a tech company we wouldn't know that.”
Just because the season’s about to get underway that doesn’t mean Coleman and the Globall Coach team have put their feet up. “You pay for the year and we constantly update you throughout that year,” he says. “Next we're adding video in that'll allow you to draw over it and tag the players. This app is an infant but we're going to get to junior school by the end of the year. We will never stop developing at all.”
Coleman aims to have Globall Coach in use at half of all Premier League and Championship clubs by the end of the year. So even if the England team is unlikely to be following in German footsteps anytime soon, there’s a decent chance the team you support is.