The Mamelodi Sundowns Digital Magazine crew recently had the opportunity to interview Head Coach Rulani Mokwena and Senior Analyst Goolam Valodia about the role of AI in enhancing the quality of football not only in South Africa but also globally. Coach Rulani expressed that AI can be used to improve football on the African continent and highlighted its impact on the sports industry worldwide, where it has yielded positive results.
“Societies are moving into an era where everything will soon be technologically driven. The fact that we can now be in different locations and live stream press conferences and be able to grasp every piece of information from afar is already an indication. An example of this is an intelligent software called ‘ChatGPT’ which re-creates the human brain. It is the first linguistic form of AI and I’ve already told all the players to download it.”
He further expressed that, “Even in competitive sports, some of the roles that form part of technical teams won’t be as significant because artificial intelligence will take up human capacity, and AI will be able to provide data and information to the players,” said Coach Mokwena. The Brazilians coach emphasized the effectiveness of using artificial intelligence in football by citing the example of Trent Alexander-Arnold, an English football player, “When you observe how Trent utilizes AI at the highest level of football, it becomes evident that this advancement is necessary to bring about change in the industry," he explained.
Last year, Alexander-Arnold underwent a six-week study led by Dr. Dan Laby, a specialist in Sports and Performance Vision. The study aimed to improve the player's sports performance using a brain sensor developed by Neuro11, a company that specializes in improving players’ set-piece output. During the study, the defender was tested on his vision, speed, decision-making, and ability to transfer his decision-making skills. After the training sessions, there was a notable improvement in all categories he was tested on.
Liverpool FC, the six-time Champions League winners, partnered with Neuro11, utilizing their innovative brain sensors to assist players in maximizing their mental efficiency for improved performance. The collaboration yielded great results, as Liverpool went on to win the 2021/22 Emirates FA Cup and the Carabao Cup. They also finished as runners-up in the UEFA Champions League and Premier League. The Reds expressed gratitude to Neuro11 co-founders, Dr. Niklas Hausler and Patrick Hantschke, for the rapid outcome of their invention.
Back home, Mamelodi Sundowns has implemented AI to analyze their performances and understand each individual player better. The reigning Premier Soccer League giants use GPS vests that track metrics such as speed, distance covered, and movement of players during training and matches to identify specific areas players need to improve on. Valodia spoke about how the club’s analysis department uses AI to stay ahead of the curve, “As a club, we are constantly seeking ways to improve our performance both on and off the pitch, and AI plays a crucial role in this endeavor. However, it is important to note that AI is not a form of thinking, but rather an application designed to provide answers to specific questions. It does not actively engage in the thought process to arrive at a solution. The same principle applies to football as well. Despite the widespread belief that AI offers objectivity, its objectivity is limited by the absence of context. Therefore, there can be multiple perspectives and opinions on a particular topic, leading to winning and losing arguments on both sides.”
Goolam further spoke about AI being used to support scouting efforts especially for youth players, “We have seen how Brentford have been able to employ statistical modeling to analyze player performance, particularly focusing on leagues across Europe where the markets are less inflated but player quality levels may exceed those in the Championship. By leveraging AI, they have been able to evaluate a broader range of players, including those who may have gone unnoticed in traditional scouting methods.” Aside from deploying AI, Mamelodi Sundowns are also leading the charge with cutting-edge technologies such as GPS vests and bicep bands to track player performance metrics during training and games. These technologies allow the coaching staff to make data-driven decisions when it comes to training regimes and player selection for upcoming matches. By utilizing these technologies, the club can identify specific areas where players need to improve and develop tailored training programs. This can ultimately help the team perform better on the pitch and achieve long-term success.
Furthermore, the Brazilians recently hired Michael Loftman as their set-play coach. His experience in performance data analysis will provide valuable insights into player performance and enable the club to optimize their training and match strategies. Loftman's expertise will complement the existing technological infrastructure of Mamelodi Sundowns, allowing the club to gain a deeper understanding of player data and patterns.
As the world continues to embrace the technologies accompanying the fourth industrial revolution, Mamelodi Sundowns is poised to join other leading football clubs worldwide to leverage these innovations and stay ahead of the curve. By embracing these technologies, the club is positioning itself to achieve long-term success on the pitch and continue to be a leading football club in South Africa and globally. With a commitment to improving player performance through cutting-edge technology and expert analysis, Mamelodi Sundowns is demonstrating a dedication to staying at the forefront of sports science and innovation.