What is it that makes football so endearingly popular? Why does it have such a strong global appeal? There are many reasons we can point to, one being the pure simplicity of the game. All you need to play is a football and some means of setting goalposts and you’re away. This simplicity has enabled the game to flourish even in less economically developed parts of the globe. Contrast this with a sport like Ice Hockey, which requires ice skates, body armour, pucks, sticks, and, of course, ice to be present before you can even begin to play.
At the top flight of the sport though, things are somewhat more sophisticated nowadays.
March of Progress
Football, being the most widely spectated and played game on the planet, is no stranger to cutting-edge advancements in technology and sports science. In recent years, the adoption of disruptive technologies has proceeded at a rapid pace. Take, for example, the xG (expected goal) system. Once branded by Jeff Stelling as the most useless stat in the history of football and little known by the public five years ago, the predictive algorithm is now a major source of discussion and analysis for pundits and backroom staff alike.
Below we take a look at two new technologies that are set to change the way football is played over the next 10 years.
This innovation first came to public attention during the 2014 World Cup and since then has been filtering out into other international and league competitions. Vanishing foam is a special aerosol employed by referees in order to temporarily mark the ground. This has a range of applications but is most frequently used during free kicks, both to clarify the placement of the ball and to highlight to the defending team the minimum distance they can stand from it.
This method has come about for several reasons. First, it allows greater precision and for the referee to convey instructions to players with ease and without discussion. This leads to the second, and primary reason, for its growth in popularity - Vanishing foam saves time. At the top flight of the game, every second counts, both in terms of the match clock and with respect to the finite endurance of the players.
The foam is similar in appearance to shaving foam and is made from a blend of butane and water. It is designed to disappear after one minute, leaving only a trace amount of water which does not impact the game beyond its required use. At present, this adoption is down to the discretion of individual leagues and organising bodies, as it is not regulated by association football’s Laws of the Game. In spite of this, it can now be seen in all major competitions, including the Scottish Premiership.
One area where technology is having a decisive impact on the sport in a way that many would agree is an improvement, is in determining the outcome of goals and off-side positions. Modern top-tier football pitches are now packed with a variety of optical, magnetic, and radio-wave sensors used to track the position of the ball on the pitch with extreme accuracy.
One example of this is the Smart Ball System, which utilises a “smart” football, rigged internally with a range of sensors that enable it to feedback a whole suite of data such as velocity, position, and pressure. This technology also has great benefits for training and can be used to help a player analyse their performance in penalties and free-kicks. The smart ball also interacts with other systems in order to determine when a goal is scored. This information can be relayed back to the referee in real-time.
In addition to smart balls, goals have seen some substantial technological upgrades in recent years. One example of this is the Goal Ref System that utilises low-power magnetic fields to interact with the ball and determine whether it has crossed the goal line in its entirety. This is compounded by the better-known goal-mounted Hawk-Eye system, an optical camera that captures footage at a rate of 600fps, enabling it to relay high-quality slow motion footage to match officials for analysis.