This year marks the 30th season of the English Premier League (EPL), and much has changed since the league’s inception in 1992. For many long-time fans, the period was defined by the influx of money into the sport, with player wages skyrocketing, transfer records collapsing, and broadcasting deals totaling billions of pounds.
Some of this wealth has been used to impose major technological enhancements on the league, such as the video assistant referee (VAR), goalline technology, and the referee applying vanishing spray to the playing surface to indicate where set plays should be taken from. Meanwhile, increasingly sophisticated player tracking systems have provided commentators and pundits with access to ever-more-granular team performance metrics.
These modifications have improved the accuracy of referee decisions as well as the quality of pundits’ player analysis. However, it is less obvious how training technology and sports science are used behind the scenes, in and around club training grounds, to improve the quality of the product itself: football on the field.
As someone who has worked in elite football, I’ve seen how clubs have used their newfound wealth to produce more athletic players and more entertaining teams. Before you dismiss football as not being what it once was, consider how these changes, funded by lucrative TV and sponsorship deals, have helped to make the EPL such an internationally cherished sporting spectacle.
It is frequently argued that the English Premier League is the most physically demanding league in the world, and that the athleticism required of players has increased over time. Top European teams now play up to 60 games per season, which is about ten more than they did 20 years ago. Training time has also increased, so that the modern player does 2.5 times the “work” that elite players did 15-20 years ago.
Players at the highest level have had to relentlessly train their physical attributes to meet the demands of the modern game. That training is augmented by technological advances, with elite teams now having access to a plethora of player tracking, monitoring, and testing technologies that did not exist in 1992.
GPS technology is now routinely used, with players’ match and training activity being recorded and analyzed on a daily basis to ensure that they work at an appropriate level, to promote the beneficial effects of training, and to track excessive fatigue and injury risk. Coaches simply couldn’t monitor their players in this manner in the 1990s and 2000s.
Not only does the first team benefit. Tracking now begins in club academies, when players are in their adolescent years, so that clubs have detailed information on each promising player as they progress through the ranks.
Many clubs also use specialized online platforms to examine other aspects of player health. These systems can monitor fatigue and muscle soreness, as well as players’ sleep, nutritional status, and psychological well-being. Trends are closely monitored, and machine learning techniques are frequently used.
Training technologies that were previously only available in the lab are now integrated into EPL club training grounds. That means coaches and performance experts can tailor training to each player, optimizing their schedule to maximize their physical abilities while avoiding injury.
This is dependent on highly trained personnel. Since 1992, the volume of football-specific scientific research has grown exponentially, removing some of the intuition and guesswork that coaches previously relied on. Clubs have made significant investments in their staffing infrastructure, employing more science, medical, and fitness personnel to optimize everything from travel arrangements to sleep schedules.
A more appealing game
The intensity of the work that players do in matches has increased as a result of this innovation.
One study compared EPL players’ match activity in the 2006-07 season to the 2012-13 season. While the total distance traveled by players had only increased by 2%, the study discovered a significant increase in high-intensity actions.
In particular, in just six years, the amount of high-speed running (distance covered at a speed greater than 19.8 km/h during a game) had increased by 30%, and “sprints” (distance covered at a speed greater than 25.2 km/h) had increased by 35%. The number of sprints performed by players had increased by 85%, implying that the game had become far more explosive. This pattern is likely to continue in subsequent seasons.
Notably, elite players’ top speed was found to be 2% faster, which explains the increase in high-intensity actions. And it’s not just physical ability that has improved. The technical performance of EPL players has also improved, with the number of successful passes increasing by 7% between 2006 and 2013.
It’s no surprise that the English Premier League continues to attract many of the world’s best players, coaches, and managers. High wages will also play a role, but access to world-class facilities informed by cutting-edge research will entice those who want to be at the top of their game.
Modern training technology may have had the greatest impact on England’s homegrown talent. Since 2012, all 28 of England’s national teams have trained at St George’s Park, a cutting-edge facility that incorporates all club-level innovations. The recent success of the women’s and men’s national teams must be attributed in part to their access to these facilities.
With the EPL’s revenue expected to rise further, we can only guess where the league and football in general will be in 30 years. What is certain is that, despite the outrage over player wages and transfer fees, some of this money will be used to make clubs more competitive and to improve the spectacle that is the English Premier League.
The English Premier League (EPL) has undergone significant changes since its inception in 1992, with player wages skyrocketing, transfer records collapsing, and broadcasting deals totaling billions of pounds. This wealth has led to major technological enhancements, such as video assistant referee (VAR), goalline technology, and referee applying vanishing spray to the playing surface. Additionally, sophisticated player tracking systems have provided commentators and pundits with access to more granular team performance metrics, improving the accuracy of referee decisions and the quality of pundits’ player analysis.
Training technology and sports science have been used behind the scenes to improve the quality of football on the field. Top European teams now play up to 60 games per season, ten times more than they did 20 years ago. This has led to players at the highest level training their physical attributes to meet the demands of the modern game. This training is augmented by technological advances, such as GPS technology, which records and analyzes players’ match and training activity daily. Club academies now provide detailed information on promising players as they progress through the ranks.
Customized programs and specialized online platforms monitor fatigue, muscle soreness, sleep, nutritional status, and psychological well-being. Machine learning techniques are frequently used to optimize training schedules and optimize physical abilities while avoiding injury. The volume of football-specific scientific research has grown exponentially since 1992, removing some of the intuition and guesswork that coaches previously relied on. Clubs have made significant investments in staffing infrastructure, employing more science, medical, and fitness personnel to optimize everything from travel arrangements to sleep schedules.
The English Premier League continues to attract many of the world’s best players, coaches, and managers, with high wages playing a role but also providing access to world-class facilities informed by cutting-edge research. The recent success of the women’s and men’s national teams can be attributed in part to their access to these facilities.