Game Plan: What AI can do for Football, and What Football can do for AI

Main Article Content

Karl Tuyls
Shayegan Omidshafiei
Paul Muller
Zhe Wang
Jerome Connor
Daniel Hennes
Ian Graham
William Spearman
Tim Waskett
Dafydd Steel
Pauline Luc
Adria Recasens
Alexandre Galashov
Gregory Thornton
Romuald Elie
Pablo Sprechmann
Pol Moreno
Kris Cao
Marta Garnelo
Praneet Dutta
Michal Valko
Nicolas Heess
Alex Bridgland
Julien Pérolat
Bart De Vylder
S. M. Ali Eslami
Mark Rowland
Andrew Jaegle
Remi Munos
Trevor Back
Razia Ahamed
Simon Bouton
Nathalie Beauguerlange
Jackson Broshear
Thore Graepel
Demis Hassabis


The rapid progress in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning has opened unprecedented analytics possibilities in various team and individual sports, including baseball, basketball, and tennis. More recently, AI techniques have been applied to football, due to a huge increase in data collection by professional teams, increased computational power, and advances in machine learning, with the goal of better addressing new scientific challenges involved in the analysis of both individual players’ and coordinated teams’ behaviors. The research challenges associated with predictive and prescriptive football analytics require new developments and progress at the intersection of statistical learning, game theory, and computer vision. In this paper, we provide an overarching perspective highlighting how the combination of these fields, in particular, forms a unique microcosm for AI research, while offering mutual benefits for professional teams, spectators, and broadcasters in the years to come. We illustrate that this duality makes football analytics a game changer of tremendous value, in terms of not only changing the game of football itself, but also in terms of what this domain can mean for the field of AI. We review the state-of-the-art and exemplify the types of analysis enabled by combining the aforementioned fields, including illustrative examples of counterfactual analysis using predictive models, and the combination of game-theoretic analysis of penalty kicks with statistical learning of player attributes. We conclude by highlighting envisioned downstream impacts, including possibilities for extensions to other sports (real and virtual).

Article Details