Xavi Hernández, coach of Barcelona, and Unai Emery, of Villarreal, share a video analyst. He is not a person.It is a software developed by the Spanish company Kognia that is capable of automatically detecting key tactical situations in soccer. Barcelona’s own coach, Iker Casillas and Joan Vilà, one of the parents of ‘La Masia’, appear among the partners of a project that in 2022 plans to close its fourth round of investment.
The tool automates the process of video editing and analysis of game concepts, being able to detect more than 200 static situations structured by player, line and team. Tactical dispositions from how a striker traces breaking unchecks or the splitting of a lateral in the band.
This is the third year of development of a technology whose seed began to be cultivated in 2008. It was in a student flat in the Sants neighborhood of Barcelona, where Maurici López-Felip, at that time a student of Physical Activity and Sports Sciences, earned extra money by editing video analysis that Joan Vilà used so that footballers like Carles Puyol, among others, could improve tactically.
“You had to cut the moment, make it shorter or longer depending on what the player wanted, download the video, use another tool to do the painting… andIt was an inefficient process and I realized that it didn’t make sense,” López-Felip, current CEO of the company, explains in an interview with EFE.
This football fan crossed the pond thanks to a scholarship to study in the United States, where he completed his studies in Illinois and received his Ph.D. from the University of Connecticut.
They were key years. “It was clear to me that football could not be explained solely by physical concepts”, remarks Maurici López-Felip. It was precisely in the United States where she met in 2015 Henry Harrison, current chief technology officer of the company, who with his computer knowledge helped him finish shaping the idea.
“At that time the coaches had knowledge of the player’s careers, but not of the game. What a coach wants to know is: have we won the defenses back when we had to win it, have we generated situations of spaces between the lines at the moment of receiving? These semantic aspects of the game were not generated by anyone,” he recalls.
Maurici continued to maintain a close relationship with Joan Vilà, Barcelona’s head of methodology until 2018 and one of Xavi Hernández’s soccer parents. And so it was when they presented the project to the soccer player from Egar, who at that time was spending his last months as an Al Sadd player before becoming coach of the Qatari league team.
In the words of the company’s CEO, the Barça legend saw it “very clearly” and, in addition to being one of the project partners, in 2020 he became one of the first technicians to test the toolwhich he now also uses at Barça.
Villarreal, semi-finalists in this edition of the ‘Champions’, is another of Kognia’s clients. With the arrival of Emery in summer 2020, the Castellón club decided that all teams from the cadet category to the first team would use their technology. “What Unai liked is that the tactical concepts of the game are not only detected automatically, but there is also a telestration (painted on image),” reveals Maurici López-Felip.
The tool is useful for analyzing actions of the team itself, of rival squads, as well as of players. The coaches only need video images, whether produced by the club or those offered by the competitions, so that the software, through algorithms and advanced computer vision techniques, treats them and converts them into data for analysis.
“If what the software is doing had to be done manually, we have calculated that it would mean about 300 hours of work just detecting tactical situations”, reports Maurici López-Felip.
The ‘startup’, based in Sant Just Desvern (Barcelona), already has 25 workers. This year it plans to raise a fourth round of investment with which it intends to carry out a capital increase for its international expansion, focusing on markets such as the British and German. Clubs, leagues and football federations are your potential customers.
For now, the company has already incorporated a group of investors as strategic partners, all of them professionals with experience in the football and technology industry, among which, in addition to Xavi and Casillas, stand out Bolt Ventures, an investment firm with experience in the sports industry in Europe and the United States.
In the medium term, from the year 2023, Its promoters hope to develop software to analyze tactical situations in other team sports.