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De Jong was one of the standout names at the Sports Tomorrow Congress (WOM+N) 2021 today. Currently away with the Holland national team, a recorded conversation with Ajax's Science and Data Analytics Manager, Vosse de Boode, saw the Dutchman explain that he is in favour of players having as much physical, technical, and tactical data as possible in order to compare their performance and improve as players.
De Jong began by telling an anecdote about his debut with Ajax when he heard some comments singling him out as a technical player, yet lacking physicality and pace. The following day de Jong went to see the team analysts to ask them for his stats, especially the data on sprints. “I wanted to know if I was quick enough. Finding out my numbers made me feel more confident. People said I was too slow but the data said otherwise and I drew confidence from that”.
Since then, the midfielder has trusted data and any information he is provided because it helps him assess his performance and compare himself against his teammates and rivals.
The range of data available to players has grown exponentially in recent years. Only a few years ago, data in football wasn't much more than goals, assists, and goals conceded. Physical and tactical parameters are now available, proving very useful according to De Jong. “I'm not a player noted for goals and assists, and my teammates sometimes used to joke about it with me. However, one day while at Ajax, we were shown some data regarding technical aspects and I was surprised to see myself as one of the standout players in the build up for goals. Data like this allowed me to get back at my teammates”.
His interest for Big Data applied to football makes him think that players would find it really useful to have an app containing all the physical, tactical, and technical data. so that they can consult when and as required. “Some players really aren't that bothered about it, but I think that data can help you improve. After games and some training sessions, I ask for my numbers to see if they match what I felt. Having that information is good as it gives you a snapshot of the work you did”, he explains.
The usefulness of Big Data isn't limited to just players and coaches evaluating performances, however. It can be used for extending contracts or deciding which clubs or competitions are a better fit for the future. Kevin de Bruyne is a notable example. The Belgian player hired a Big Data team to calculate his value when negotiating a contract extension with Manchester City. De Jong acknowledges that he did something similar prior to signing for Barça, as he asked the Ajax analytical department for data on LaLiga, Barça and some of their players in order to compare himself. De Jong doesn't rule out doing the same again in the future and adds, "data will be considered more and more by both players and agents when deciding which competition or club fits them best. Player feelings are important, but data can help you decide one way or another”, he stated.
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