Assessment of football playing styles based on factor analysis: a study of teams' styles in the 2014 FIFA World Cup

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School of Business | Master's thesis
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Degree programme
Information and Service Management (ISM)
Within the field of statistical analysis in sports and football, studying teams’ playing style has not been a popular domain. The quantification of football styles based on gameplay data proposed in this research provides a statistical approach to analyze the underlying football styles adopted by different teams during a competitive tournament. The main empirical design of this research lies in the application of exploratory factor analysis to a set of performance-related variables; the objective is to reveal underlying football styles of the teams through the latent factors. Factoring is a practical and helpful method that can be used for investigating variable relationships for complex concepts, hopefully to reveal underlying patterns in a set of variables. Factor analysis is employed by researchers to examine concepts that are not directly measured through contracting a big number of variables into fewer underlying factors that allow better interpretation. The FIFA World Cup is a highly interesting source to study different styles of football. By analysing an extensive data set collected for the 32 teams and more than 600 players competing during the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, the results from this study assert that there are three underlying playing styles among the pool of teams participating the World Cup that can be derived from the data set: possession-based, individualistic, and practical style. An extended analysis provides further insights into the impact that background attributes of the players in the team can have on the underlying styles. The results stemming from the study is expected to contribute to the literature by providing a fresh approach in studying the styles of play adopted by football teams based on the use of exploratory factor analysis. As the players are a critical part of overall team performance, which eventually impacts the financial and business performance of a sporting team, decision makers can utilize the approach presented in this research as a starting point in making decisions related to the team. The extracted playing styles could be used to make assessment about whether a player could fit into the footballing system that the team has been using.
Thesis advisor
Seppälä, Tomi
football analysis, statistical analysis, factor analysis, principal component analysis, statistics, performance analysis
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