Middlesex University students will be helping FIFA collect sophisticated data on top professional footballers at the 2022 World Cup which will be shared with all competing countries to help them improve their performance in future.
Four graduates and three current students of the MSc in Sport Performance Analysis at MDX have been employed in the new FIFA Performance Analysis & Insights department which aims to develop all levels of football through technology.
Instead of third parties collecting data, FIFA will have control over the quality and quantity collected using their new FIFA Football Language, which has been created by their football experts.
"This is about providing greater levels of insights on and off the pitch for technical directors, coaches and performance analysts, especially in major FIFA tournaments like the World Cup," MDX Senior Lecturer in Sport Performance Analysis Dr Nimai Parmar.
Real-time data from the FIFA Arab Cup 2021 has already been studied as a test-run of the FIFA Football Language- providing greater detail, new metrics and insight- in preparation for the 2022 World Cup.
After the tournament in Qatar between November and December, key data will be given to all 32 nations in the hope that the smaller countries will be able to use the information to develop and close the gap.
One of the FIFA analysts is Mohammed Koroma, who began on the MDX ‘Diversifying Sport Performance Analysis’ Scholarship in September last year.
The scholarship, devised by MDX Senior Lecturer in Sport Performance Analysis Dr Nimai Parmar, aims to address the glaring underrepresentation of people from Black, Asian and other minority backgrounds in full-time Sport Performance Analysis positions within professional sport.
It includes a tuition fee scholarship sponsored by Middlesex University and mentoring provided by prestigious performance analysis departments from major sporting bodies including the Football Association (FA), the Rugby Football Union (RFU), the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) and the English Cricket Board (ECB).
Mo, who is mentored by analysts from the LTA, said: “My time at FIFA has been really enjoyable and I have learnt a lot of new stuff especially in the work placement modules and where we have been able to use industry software.
“I was really proud to get the scholarship and it meant a lot because I knew that it would serve me well in the future so I am glad that Middlesex offer it.
“I am pretty sure it is not done everywhere so it was great to get and I am very grateful for it.
“I am somebody that may not have had as many connections as the others on my course so I feel like the scholarship has really allowed me to have a mentor to speak to who has gone quite far in the field. He was able to give advice and help me with my weaker areas.
“The FIFA experience has been really good and hopefully it will help me to stand out on my CV.”
Hannah Wheelan came to MDX to study a Masters in Sport Performance Analysis after taking an undergraduate degree in Sport and Exercise Science at Liverpool. She now works full time at FIFA and is one of just three women in a team of 25.
Hannah said: “The course has been so interesting, I have learnt a lot of theory as well as the practical side of the job too. The hands-on experience is great.
”When the opportunity for a temporary analyst position came up at FIFA, Hannah applied despite having a lack of coding experience.
She said: “The role was really eye-opening, it was a whole side of analysis I didn’t know existed. “I just thought it would be in the clubs and teams themselves rather than the over-arching role that FIFA has in football. To work with such a big team was a great experience. I am very grateful for the opportunity that Middlesex has provided.”
Hannah says that one possible reason women are under-represented in football analysis could be “imposter syndrome”.“
In this day and age it isn’t necessarily a case of companies choosing men over women, I think that it is women not having the confidence in their ability to actually go for these positions,” she said.
“I struggled with that a little bit when I was there because I knew I didn’t have the best football knowledge so that was a bit of a challenge for me to get my head around.
“There was a little bit of imposter syndrome and I think the worry of not being able to keep up is what holds people back.”
The new FIFA performance analysis and insights department is being headed up by project leader Chris Loxston, and falls under former long-serving Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger’s role as FIFA’s Chief of Global Football Development.
Mr Loxston said the project and Mr Wenger’s aim is to combine 'football data analytics and technical expertise' and he described it as an 'exciting, high-level project that we hope will set a standard within the industry moving forward.'
Dr Parmar said: “This is about providing greater levels of insights on and off the pitch for technical directors, coaches and performance analysts, especially in major FIFA tournaments like the World Cup.
“As well as current students we have got graduates involved from the past three cohorts of our MSc course demonstrating that the MSc in Sport Performance Analysis at Middlesex University has a strong reputation for producing students with the right skillsets to gain employment within an organisation like FIFA which is great recognition.
“I am glad that our scholarship recipients are being positively impacted by our sector leading mentoring initiative.
“It has always been important to me, as a person from an ethnically diverse background, to champion and support equality, diversity and inclusion initiatives, particularly within professional sport.
"It is a testament to all of the hard work and support our partners have given to support this mentorship scheme, as well as the support given by Middlesex University to provide a scholarship, enabling us to make a real-world impact.”