It sometimes happens that the unobtrusive player proves to be the most productive performer in his team. Often playing the part of the plodder, he is the one who drags his side back from the brink in the nick of time. Now, new computer software could give this very player the recognition he deserves. FIFA Magazine has been peering over the shoulder of specialists in the field.

Even at the height of his career, the Brazilian player, Carlos Verri, better known under the nickname "Dunga", was the target of scorn and slurs that he had betrayed his country's footballing tradition. When, as the Brazilian national captain, he lifted the World Cup trophy high against the blue backdrop of the Californian sky in the Rose Bowl, Pasadena, on 17 July 1994, the euphoria in his home country was blemished by criticism from the local media of the newly crowned champions' defensive display. Lambasted by Brazilian journalists as the symbol for counter-productive play, Dunga saw his performance in the USA belittled and derided. What probably hurt most was the comparison with Gerson, Brazil's no. 8 in 1970 - the superteam whose victorious ghosts had returned to haunt every subsequent "Seleçao" at the World Cup ever since and who, even after the fourth capture of the title, have still not been laid to rest.

But there comes a time when the wonders of today tear away the veil of mystery enveloping the past. Computers, and particularly the ever-increasing sophistication of their programmes, have a knack of burying such myths and it was only a matter of time before they would invade the world of sport.

Originally they were used for word processing or mathematical computation but now comprehensive computer graphics have opened up new worlds for futuristic analyses of the game of football.

Of all people, it was two Americans, Zvi Friedman and Jonathan Kotas, who, after years of experimenting, developed a programme that can retrace the technique and tactics of a football game using computer graphics. The final target is the football coach whose life will supposedly be made easier as a result of it, especially in his analysis of the game and his method of coaching the players.  
In the 1970 World Cup final, the Brazilians returned the ball to their goalkeeper eleven times during 90 minutes of play

The principle is very simple and the information that is gathered from the data has converted even the most sceptical football experts. It does not take a computer freak to master the software; after a few finger exercises any novice can soon cope with the programme. All it takes, basically, is a team of two people whose duties are split as follows: the "spy" observes the action on the field through binoculars and comments briefly on the run of play by quoting the number of the player touching the ball. The second person traces the path the ball takes using the mouse on the mat and the screen, which represent the pitch. Every time the ball is touched (e.g. Brazil 5, Brazil 8, USA 2, USA 16 etc.) the number is typed into the portable computer and the mouse clicked. The keyboard is set up before the game to reflect the configuration of players who have been fielded and the programme records each entry as a separate move, which would signify nothing on its own. The action on the field can then be analysed thoroughly by posing specific questions using pull-down menus. The passes and tactics show up as lines on the screen's pitch that speak volumes to an expert eye about the strengths and weaknesses of the teams in question.

The world of opportunities that this programme opens up after analysis is - since the introduction of video film "post mortems" - tantamount to a second revolution in the evaluation of football matches and similar team sports. The team's backbone - the axis of key players - suddenly becomes apparent and zone marking appears at the click of a finger. The observer's impressions are transformed into objective patterns of play on the computer and tactical counteraction can then be devised and implemented.

The US side had been concentrating its attacks in the first half on the left wing, leaving a gaping hole on the right
  As in the case of Teflon, which was a by-product of space research and which happened to prove useful in the daily domestic scene too, the programme called "Second Look" is a type of software that had its intellectual origins in space too, or more precisely in tactical air warfare, and has been modified for football purposes. That might sound a little more military-biased than it really is. Friedman used to be an engineer who specialised in aeronautics. Working for various aeroplane manufacturers gave him the job of developing visual devices for pilots in dogfights and other air battles.

Starting from the premise that even the most complex maneouvres can be condensed down to repetitive movement, he and other experts worked out appropriate programmes. Sooner or later Friedmann - a passionate soccer coach in his spare time - suddenly realised that such findings could also be applied to his favourite sport. The idea haunted him for a long while before he came across Jon Kotas, a programmer who made his dream come true.

Friedman and Kotas only realised that their software had a promising future at the 1994 World Cup in the USA. As partners of the American football association, US Soccer, they plied coach Bora Milutinovic at half-time with thorough analyses of his team's play. Their evaluation of the first half of the game against Colombia produced definite results. The US side had been concentrating its attacks in the first half on the left wing, leaving a gaping hole on the right for the Colombians to exploit for dangerous forward thrusts. Bora, who was no stranger to diagrams to drive his strategy home, used the graphics to prove to his prot,g,s that they would have to start using the right flank as well to strangle the Colombian corridor. The result of this piece of advice went down in the history of American soccer and the World Cup. Soon after, Ernie Stewart ran onto a long ball downfield, shook off his Colombian antagonists on the right wing and raised the score to 2-0, the turning point in the game.

Friedman and Kotas had another client on their list - Brazil's coach, Carlos Alberto Parreira. They avoided potential conflicts of interest by agreeing to work only for the Americans if the USA met Brazil, otherwise they would act as advisers. When Romario, given to inspiration as well as moods, complained after the semifinal that he had been deprived of passes, Parreira knew exactly where to look to respond to his star's grumbles. Armed with graphics showing the entire sequence of Brazilian passes, he soon produced convincing evidence for Romario that his complaint was unjustified. A glance at the computer print-out, proving that the World Cup's best player had been on the receiving end of 45 passes, left him dumbfounded.

One-way football: the evaluation of the match between Norway and England (Women's World Cup in Sweden) revealed much better finishing by the Scandinavians.

But let us return to Romario's team-mate and combative captain, Dunga, who is now cashing in on the twilight of his career with Jubilo Iwata in Japan. Disgusted with the scornful remarks from Brazilian reporters who had accorded Dunga the same lamentable fate as the great Gerson, Friedman set about researching the facts. He acquired the video of the legendary 1970 final and subjected it to meticulous analysis with his programme. He realised his determination had been worthwhile as soon as the graphics began to appear on the screen. The more defensive player had not been Dunga but, in fact, Gerson. The computer proved mercilessly that Gerson (even calculated at 120 theoretical minutes) had touched considerably fewer passes than Dunga, many of which had been square passes. Gerson's favourite taker had not been Pelé but Carlos Alberto, the recipient of twenty such passes. "Destructive" Dunga, on the other hand, had intercepted opponents' attacks and immediately propelled the ball forward. Romario had received the ball no fewer than 29 times with no reason whatsoever to complain of being neglected by his team-mates. What probably pleased Carlos Alberto Parreira was the fact that his figurehead had bungled only 15 per cent of the passes in the oppressive heat of the day under the Pasadena sun. Gerson seems to have suffered more from the altitude in Mexico because a little more than 22 per cent of his passes had landed at the feet of Rivera, Mazzola and consorts.

A comparison between the two finals in 1970 and 1994 threw more light on other facts too. Until the back pass to the goalkeeper was banned it had been a surefire method, as everyone knows, of wasting time or of relieving pressure from opponents. Even the "best team of all time" was no exception to this rule. In 1970, the Brazilians returned the ball to their goalkeeper eleven times during 90 minutes of play and Gerson had been the instigator of this emergency brake three times. The computer programme also revealed that the very last back pass originated from Pele, himself after 89 minutes and 43 seconds. And what of the Brazilians in 1994? As a consequence of the changes that football has undergone in the meantime, only three throw-ins and five back passes landed back with Taffarel in the space of 120 minutes. More convincing evidence of the impact of the ban on the back pass would be very hard to find.

Of course, a 4-1 triumph is more inclined to create myths or glorify the performance of solo stars than a goalless draw. In the eyes of the fans and in the history of the World Cup, the 1970 final will surely maintain its cult image. Having been vindicated by the computer, Dunga will now be able to lay legitimate claim to being at least as constructive on the field as the famous Gerson himself.

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