It has been announced that London based football club Wingate & Finchley will become the first club in the world to use an Artificial Intelligence Coach to recommend tactics, formations and much more to the players and coaching staff. The Football Club, which currently plays in the Isthmian League Premier Division, plans to use the AI Coach for their game against Whitehawk next month. As a business which spends a lot of time researching, using and installing tech, Customised were very interested in this story and we were keen to speak to a representative of Wingate & Finchley to find out why they’ve brought this piece of Technology through their doors and into the footballing world. We are delighted to bring you an interview below which we were able to conduct yesterday with Paul Lerman, who is a Director at the Football Club.
So firstly Paul, what made the Football Club give the green light for the use of AI Technology? Was it something the manager and board thought a lot about?
PL: We were approached by the Big Bang Fair with this idea, and we immediately said yes. We are a community club and will do anything we can to assist any sector of society and our local community, of which encouraging students to get into STEM careers is an extremely worthwhile endeavour. It is an added bonus that we are at the forefront of a new development in football and hopefully it will be able to assist our coaching team in these early stages.
Wingate and Finchley are the first Football Club in the world to use Artificial Intelligence to choose formations, tactics etc. I imagine the club is pretty proud and also confident that the AI can be a success?
PL: Yes we are indeed very proud of being ahead of the times, and it fits in exactly with the ethos of the pioneers who created Wingate FC in 1946 for the purposes of combating racism. Technology is increasing its role in football year on year and this without doubt will be a success across the sport in the future. It is there to assist the management team by offering insights and advice rather than makes the detailed choices itself, and how ready it is now remains to be seen and we are excited to find out.
What have the first impressions from the players and even yourself been like towards the AI? Has it impressed you or changed the teams approach to training & matches already?
PL: It is only in a prototype stage at the moment and so its advice (outputs) are only programmed specifically with the Whitehawk match in mind, which as we speak is still a few weeks away. However the management team has been very keen to test it out and familiarise themselves with it in preparation for the inaugural day.
Obviously the manager and coaches are usually the people who have a big say in which formation the team plays and what tactics will be used, what have they had to say about the introduction of AI? I suppose you could argue that the technology may help them as well as the players?
PL: Yes that is actually it’s intended purpose. It is not at all here to replace the management, but to assist them and offer AI-modelled advice that they can choose to use to affect their decision-making if they want to. It is therefore perfectly placed to grow into something that can help and guide young up-and-coming coaches of the future, and in a reversal of responsibilities our staff are in a unique position to help guide the AI's future development.
I know i mentioned a couple of examples above, but what exactly can the AI do and what is the Football Club hoping to achieve with it's help?
PL: At such an early stage the main thing we are hoping to achieve is to encourage students and inspire them to get into STEM careers by giving it a platform. What it does now is take in a series of inputs, such as the unique strengths and weaknesses of each team as well as the exact match scenario minute by minute, and then provides suggestions for formations and substitutions. Going forwards it will be developed to take in a vast array of statistics, such as in-game player-tracking by GPS, to further improve the AI and its outputs. We are proud to be at the forefront of innovation and helping to shape whatever it becomes in the future.
How big of a step do you think this is in regards to the use of Technology in sport and in particular Football? Do you think that it is the future of management and coaching in the game? I guess the next step is to have an AI System that can do scouting reports on players!
PL: The first step of introducing a new technology is always a very big one, but we are well aware that it is limited at the moment. It will undoubtedly become very sophisticated in years to come at which time it will be completely ingrained into all clubs, at least at professional level. Analysing opposition is already done manually, Clive Woodward's 2003 World Cup win being a famous example, and letting automated technology do that for you and then providing analysis on that scouting is certainly within the AI Coach's scope.
Finally, if the Artificial Intelligence does prove to be a success at Wingate & Finchley, will the club be open to add more Technology Systems in the future? Is that something that has been spoken about at all or are you just taking it step by step to see how the team gets on with it?
PL: We are just taking it step by step, and are making sure that we are fully aware of its limitations as a brand new technology. For that reason we are looking to initially focus on how we can benefit the UK community, by inspiring the youth of today into STEM careers that they may not have previously considered by showing how varied and fun technology's uses can be.
Customised thanks Paul for agreeing to to this interview with us and we of course not only wish the AI to be a success for the Football Club, but also the remainder of Wingate & Finchley’s season too. We will be sure to keep you updated if we hear from the Club in the future in regards to how they’ve got on with their new coach!
Image - Paul Lerman