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Charles Reep: Analytical Genius or the Man Who Ruined Soccer?
By: Anthony Zhang
Charles Reep was a military accountant who found inspiration in soccer analytics after listening to a speech by Arsenal captain Charles Jones while watching a soccer game. After reviewing and analyzing hundreds of soccer games, he created the ultimate strategy of attacking and scoring. “His innovative studies led to the basis of football data collection and analysis as we know it today,” said journalist Rob Haywood. Teams have praised his work as it increased their success rates; however, some audience members have claimed that his deep and innovative analysis has “sucked out all of the fun” of soccer.
Reep observed players often failing to make the most of opportunities of shooting the ball to score. Using those marks, he designed a system of grading the difficulty of chances around the goalmouth. According to Charles Reep, “Players were told to hit long balls out to the wingers, who were to stay just onside without tracking back. Instead, the team would try to win the ball as far up the pitch as possible, with the forwards chasing down defenders in possession.” When Team Brentford used Reep’s strategy, their success rate increased from 31% to 69%. Along with that, the goals scored were higher, going from an average of 1.3 goals to an average of 2.9.
The first team to implement these strategies would be in Iraq after Reep was sent there. The station team followed Reep’s strategy exactly. The strategies proved an instant success in winning games by large margins. One of the match scores was 12 to 1, but he wanted to go further to score higher.
With more matches played, Reep reported that “Seven out of nine goals came from moves of three passes or fewer; moves starting with a long pass from your own half meant a goal was twice as likely to be scored when compared to using only short passes to progress up the field; most goals came from winning the ball back in the attacking quarter of the pitch.”
However, with his findings and fame spreading worldwide, many criticized his work. It was interpreted in some places that Reep only wanted to hoof the ball forwards quickly and without direction. The players were told to be in very specific positions to maximize goal probabilities.
Reep was quick to defend himself. "I must emphasize that my methods are not a declaration of how football should be played," he emphasized. "But it is the most efficient way."
Whether or not his intentions were good-hearted, his contributions to the soccer industry started a new row of clubs specially geared for game analysis. He was not the most successful analyst, but he was the first man to start the evolution of football data.