An Egyptian startup leads the way in football intelligence gathering

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Ahmed Gabr Cairo
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with Hesham Abozekry, center, and Mohamed Osama, left, founded ArqamFC in May 2017. (Supplied_
Updated 11 October 2019

An Egyptian startup leads the way in football intelligence gathering

  • ArqamFC specializes in gathering data from football matches played around the world
  • The Cairo-based startup was acquired in May by a UK football analytics company

CAIRO: Football has long been a sport where talent can bring fame, money and the adoration of the crowds. More recently, however, a lot of big data science has become involved, as well.

While football fans around the world are watching their favorite teams on TV, some geeks are staring at their computer screens, collecting data, charts and analytics from a huge set of variables to feed a model that calculates the odds of every shot becoming a goal.

This is what happens on the premises of ArqamFC, an Egyptian startup which specializes in gathering data from football matches played around the planet and analyzing the information.

It sells the insights gleaned to football clubs, agents and brands worldwide, helping them make better decisions based on reliable information.

Its client list currently features some of the biggest clubs in Europe’s premier leagues, including those of France, England and Italy.

“A visit to MIT’s Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston was my first introduction to the field,” says Ali Fakharany, CEO and co-founder of ArqamFC.

The conference started with less than 100 attendees in 2007 but welcomed more than 3,500 registered participants this year, with tickets selling for $850.

Together with Hesham Abozekry and Mohamed Osama, Fakharany founded ArqamFC in May 2017. The three business partners come from very different backgrounds but share a passion for football and problem-solving through the use of big data.

Fakharany graduated from Northeastern University, in Boston,  in 2015 with a Bachelor of Science in business administration, finance and entrepreneurship. Abozekry is an architect, while Osama is a medical doctor with a deeply rooted interest in content creation.

The Cairo-based company, which was initially funded with the trio’s personal savings, was acquired in May of this year by UK football analytics company StatsBomb for an undisclosed amount.

All 130+ ArqamFC employees moved to the newly created enterprise.

It had been anything but smooth sailing for Fakharany and his team when they started out.

The sports business is still catching up in terms of technology adoption, and for a company from the region, it was even more challenging to bring this technology into the football market, which is largely dominated by the major European leagues.

“Finding a product-market fit was difficult. Sports is a closed industry with long feedback loops and a tremendous degree of inefficiency in business processes,” Fakharany said.

This market segment is clearly taking off, driven by the added value of having the correct data about players’ performance, analysis of where every single player on the pitch is at the point of a shot and other data models that enable all stakeholders to make better-informed decisions.

Sports teams are embracing technology to an unprecedented degree, whether on health, player development or tactical analysis.

Commenting on the acquisition of ArqamFC, StatsBomb CEO Ted Knutson said in an official statement, “We are at a tipping point in football, and clubs that are not part of the data revolution will be left behind.”

Using its own in-house data collection software and help from industry analysts, ArqamFC’s team decides which metrics are valuable through a combination of research, experience and feedback from clients.

The data is then visualized and presented in a simple and easy format by means of an online dashboard with insights for coaches and scouts to use.

“The next big thing, I think, is this revolution continuing to go down the pipeline into youth football and influencing it,” said Fakharany.

His company aspires to continue working on the integration of cutting-edge computer vision and machine learning technology into its applications to help automate data collection.

The team also looks forward to serving additional verticals, such as media companies.

•  This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.  “We want to integrate video products across our pipeline to help make our insights more actionable and easier to see,” he said, referring to future plans.


Thiem into ATP Finals semis as Djokovic and Federer face shootout

Updated 13 November 2019

Thiem into ATP Finals semis as Djokovic and Federer face shootout

  • Austrian fifth seed took fight to the world No. 2, recovering from losing the first set to triumph

LONDON: Dominic Thiem produced a scintillating display of attacking tennis to beat Novak Djokovic and qualify for the last four at the ATP Finals on Tuesday, leaving the Serbian facing a shootout against Roger Federer.

In the standout match so far at London’s O2 Arena, the Austrian fifth seed took the fight to the world No. 2, recovering from losing the first set to triumph 6-7 (5/7), 6-3, 7-6 (7/5)

Earlier, Federer put himself back in the mix at the end-of-season event with a 7-6 (7/2), 6-3 win against Italian debutant Matteo Berrettini in their round-robin clash.

Federer and Djokovic will face off on Thursday in a repeat of this year’s Wimbledon final to determine who else will progress from Group Bjorn Borg.

Thiem was forced to play high-stakes tennis against the 16-time Grand Slam winner, taking the breath away with some of his inside-out forehands and single-handed backhands

Forced to play at his limit, he hit 50 winners compared with Djokovic’s tally of 27 but also racked up 44 unforced errors.

“This was really one of these special matches, what I’ve practiced all my life for, all my childhood for,” Thiem said.

“Really epic one in an amazing atmosphere, beating a legend of our game. And also I’ve qualified for the semifinals, which is the best.

“Coming back from 1-4 (down in the deciding tie-break) was a little bit of luck, but it was an unbelievable match and one I’ll never forget. Novak is the best player in the world and I had to do something special.”

In a captivating first set the players swapped a break apiece but Djokovic, a five-time ATP Finals champion, edged the tie-break.

Undaunted, Thiem broke his opponent at the first opportunity in the second set and, with Djokovic’s error count climbing, went on to level the match.

Thiem also drew first blood in the decider but cracked in the sixth game as Djokovic levelled the match and appeared to have engineered a switch in momentum.

The Austrian successfully challenged at 30-30 in the 10th game after his forehand was ruled out, preventing a match point for Djokovic and he toughed it out to level at 5-5.

He then broke Djokovic to love to earn a chance to serve for the match but stumbled and the decider went to a tie-break.

Still the drama was not finished. Thiem slipped to 4-1 down but battled back to win it on his second match point when Djokovic dumped a forehand into the net.

Third seed Federer had put himself under the cosh by losing his opening round-robin match to Thiem. The six-time champion was not at his fluent best on Tuesday but ultimately had too much for his Italian opponent.

The Swiss upped his game to take the first set tie-break comfortably and broke immediately at the start of the second set to leave the big-serving Berrettini with too much to do.

Federer was asked after his win against Berrettini whether his defeat to Djokovic at Wimbledon had left emotional or mental scars.

“We’ll find out, but I think it’s all flushed away from my side,” said the Swiss.

“A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then.”

Djokovic is hunting a sixth ATP Finals title to pull level with Federer’s record and is also seeking to pip Rafael Nadal to the year-end number one ranking.

On Monday, top seed Nadal lost his opener in Group Andre Agassi to defending champion Alexander Zverev while Stefanos Tsitsipas beat Daniil Medvedev.