Big data and algorithms in the service of tradition

In Belgium, Union Saint-Gilloise was one of the leading companies in the first half of the twentieth century and was revived also thanks to the “Moneyball Method”.

When the urn of Nyon teamed up with the name of FC Lugano and the Royal Union Saint-Gilloise on August 7 last year, many must have wondered from which meander the Belgian club emerged to fight against black and white on Thursday night, in the first leg leg. qualifying for the Europa League group stage. In fact, few have heard of the association gialloblù, an emanation from the municipality of Saint-Gilles on the outskirts of Brussels. Also because, starting from the second post-war period, the USG moved between the Second and Fourth Belgian divisions before suddenly resurrecting and establishing itself not only on the national but also on the continental stage. And we can really talk about the resurrection, considering that eleven titles and two national cups proudly flaunt on the bulletin board of the Belgian club, second only to Anderlecht and Brugge. Trophies, however, were won before 1935, the year that began his precipitous descent into anonymity. A fall that was stopped just three seasons ago with a return to the Jupiler League (Belgian football’s top division), promotion was immediately followed by a second place behind Brugge (after winning the regular season) and a third place in the last championship, equal on points with Ghent. and just one distance from Antwerp. In Europe, she took part in the 2022–23 Champions League qualifiers in which she was ousted by Glasgow Rangers (after winning the first leg 2-0), but consoled herself with a superb performance in the Europa League, finishing top of the group at ahead of Union Berlin in the group stage, then the rivals met in the 1/8 finals and lost 3: 3 away and 3: 0 in Brussels. The adventure then ended in the quarter-finals at the hands of Bayer Leverkusen after a draw at the BayArena (1:1) and a home defeat (4:1).

The Billy Bean Method

As such, Usg is a club that boasts an important, albeit outdated, tradition in Belgian football. However, since British poker player and entrepreneur Tony Bloom took control in 2018, the method by which we tried to create a lineup that would be available to a coach was very innovative and not very traditional. German Alexander Blessin. This method was made famous by the feature film Moneyball starring Brad Pitt as Billy Bean, general manager of the Oakland Athletics. Also in Saint-Gilles, the idea is to study the players to be acquired thanks to a series of big data and algorithms: assumed scientific criteria, ranging from chances created by a goal to kilometers covered, from speed to the percentage of passes completed. but go as far as specific interviews with family members and former coaches and monitoring the social profiles of each individual candidate. All this is processed with the help of special software, which should establish whether the purchase of a particular player is worth the requested transfer amount. A system that should allow you to find young profiles suitable for the needs of the technician, without having to spend money beyond any logic.

From Duden Park to Lotto Park

A method that seems to have given positive results and brought the society of a very popular and multi-ethnic municipality-capital district back into the almanac of Belgian football, just as popular and multi-ethnic are the stands of the football club. Joseph Marien Stadium, small, less than 9,000 seats, located in Duden Park and home to Usg since 1919. However, like Cornaredo, it is not considered suitable for international matches by UEFA, so Thursday’s match against Lugano will be played at the nearby Anderlecht Lotto Park. But the multinationality of support for the yellows and blues has been said: Union Saint-Gilloise has been adopted as their favorite team by numerous foreigners working in various European institutions of the Belgian capital, and in the stadium the fans are divided into “local” (about 65%) and “expatriates” (35%).

The Swiss is also on the field

As should be the norm for a medium to small company, the outbound market is just as important, if not more important, than the inbound one. There are no big names to wear the yellow and blue Usg jersey and the best known, especially due to the kinship that links him to Alexis, world champion and Liverpool’s new midfielder, is perhaps Kevin Mac Allister, Argentine centre-back, arm in hand with right foot in Blessin’s three-man defense. There are some elements in the smell of the national team, such as the Japanese Machida, the Ivorian Amani, the Malagasy Lapoussen and the Swede Nilsson, as well as apparently new signing Amur, who, however, will not be available for a double challenge with Lugano. . Among the faces known to the Swiss fans is Cameron Puertas, a former Swiss under-21 player who grew up in Lausanne.

Compared to last season, Union Saint-Gilloise lost, in particular, the Nigerian Victor Boniface, 17 goals and 12 assists in 51 games with a Jalloblu shirt, transferred in the summer for 20.5 million euros to Bayer Leverkusen, where he immediately stood out, with an assist in Saturday’s victory over Leipzig (3-2). The overall balance of the current transfer window is clearly positive for the Belgian club: they spent 10.1m in revenue and received 35.75m in sales. In general, Union Saint-Gilloise costs 32.4 million euros against 24.16 million euros for Lugano. For both, the highest market value for a single player is fixed at 4 million (Celar for black and white, Mac Allister for yellow and blue).

Three wins and one loss

Both teams are in good shape for Thursday’s game. Not counting the 7-0 they got rid of Gunzwil in the first round of the Swiss Cup, the Bianconeri have won three in four games, the last of which was a resounding 6-1 against Yverdon; Saint-Gilloise scored the same balance with three wins over Anderlecht (2-0), Standard (1-0) and Louvain (5-1) before a clear setback on Saturday night away in Mechelen (4-0). ). Tactically, Blessin has so far opted for a 3-4-2-1 formation with Germany’s Dennis Eckert Ayensa (who has already scored four goals in as many games) as an offensive terminal to form a pair behind. Swiss law Puertas and Norwegian Rasmussen. Also note the physical strength and danger in the team’s aerial play, which boasts seven elements over 190 centimeters (two in the back, with Burgess of England and Machida of Japan) and eight over 180.

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