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Charles Reep: The game-changing soccer analyst
By: Samuel Lin
Thorold Charles Reep was one of the first soccer analysts, and he provided teams with a new winning strategy. His new tactic of kicking the ball long and far into the opponent’s half helped many struggling teams to annihilate their opponents. Though Reep is not alive today, he and his set of tactics still affect modern soccer.
Reep was born in 1904 in Cornwall, England, and grew up to be an enthusiastic soccer fan. Reep became an accountant for the Royal Air Force (RAF), and was assigned to the Henlow base.
In 1932, Arsenal midfielder Charles Jones gave a lecture on football tactics at the Henlow base, and Reep was elated to get to hear him talk. Jones talked about the tactics Arsenal manager Herbert Chapman used to lead Arsenal to win the F.A. Cup.
Jones’s talk inspired Reep to dive into soccer analytics. Reep created a new system of notations, as well as a primitive version of expected goals (xG), a soccer statistic used widely today.
Charles Reep was frustrated by the way soccer teams were playing: They were moving the ball too slowly. He decided to create a new tactic, which was to kick long balls up into the opponent’s half, then win the ball closer to the opponent’s goal.
Reep also collected data from soccer games, and produced important statistics. For instance, he found that on average, nine shots were needed in order to score a goal. In addition, he found that seven out of nine goals came from possessions with less than four passes, and many goals came from winning the ball in the opponent’s half.
His new strategy and his findings helped his RAF soccer teams triumph. This gained the attention of professional soccer clubs. Brentford F.C. manager Jackie Gibbons saw what Reep was doing and invited him to become a coach. Soon, with Reep’s advice, Brentford was able to go from 16th place to 9th place, and win nine out of their 13 games.
Reep also worked for other soccer clubs, such as Wolverhampton Wanderers and Sheffield United F.C. At Wolverhampton Wanderers, his thorough and diligent analysis helped the Wolves succeed become league champions in 1954.
Reep, a very controversial figure, is viewed poorly by some. Some think his method of attack has no precise direction, and is just booting the ball forward as far as possible. This is not necessarily true, as his strategy requires the forwards and wingers to be in precise locations at precise times.
"I must emphasize that my methods are not a declaration of how football should be played," Reep said. "But it is the most efficient way."