Ask Me Anything!




Cole Bassett

Cole Bassett

Cole, a Colorado native, joined the Rapids in 2018 as a junior in high school at age 17, making him the youngest signing in club history at the time. As of this writing he has 2 goals, 1 assist in 10 appearances in the MLS this season and was called up for the USNT friendly against El Salvador last December!

Q: What keeps you motivated?

A: I love playing, I get bored when I just sit at home and there's no football. I love training and I love getting better, I feel like I have such a long way and that motivates me to continue outwork everyone else because I want to get to the top and play for my national team. I would love to go to a top 5 league, there's also a couple leagues like Brandon Harrison went to Austria and found a team that helps him, there's leagues like Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, if you're at one of the top teams in that league it's good. It's hard to jump into a league like the Prem or the Bundesliga .

Q: Favourite team

A: When I was growing up I always supported Arsenal, I loved watching Barcelona too when they had Pep as coach but I'd say Arsenal is my favourite team. I turned on the TV one day and I saw Arsenal play when I was about 11 or 12, I wasn't completely into soccer until I was about 12 years old. Ramsey was one of my favourite players growing up, Santi Cazorla, watching those players made me fall in love with the club, they were consistently one of the top teams in the prem. I would say those players that played for the club at the time drew me into being an Arsenal fan.

Q: Messi or Ronado?

A: I think I have to go with Messi, I love watching him play and he has a game that really doesn't seem human to me. I don't understand how he can be this good at every single facet of play. He can do everything he wants with the ball. I think for me he has the top qualities everyone would want. I respect what Ronaldo has done and I don't think many people realise how hard it is to work and train as much as he does and consistently stay up at that level and be the top goalscorer in multiple leagues.
For me it's watching guys like Kevin de Bruyne or Mason Mount, these attacking midfielders who are kind of 8s but 10s as well, I think this is kinda who I want to model my game after and I try to emulate what they do.
I think Italy has been too good this tournament, and my nationality besides American it's Italian, for me it's tough to go against them even though I love all the talent England have, but you never know, England has been playing well as a team

Q: What would you consider a big difficulty being a pro player?

A: There's many things, I think the mental side, a lot of people don't realise how tough it is mentally when things aren't going well, especially if you're not playing at your club level. For me, I've got high standards and I want to be a part of the US and move to Europe. I feel frustrated that I haven't scored enough goals and that motivates me to work harder. I got cut from the squad that was going to take part in the Olympics qualifiers and that hurt too. For me it's continuing to do what to do so when the coach makes the selection I deserve to be in the squad.

Q: How would you improve the American soccer system?

A: I think the good thing is that you can tell that American soccer has been growing in the last few years, all these new soccer specific stadiums are really gonna help grow the game here. Just playing in those environments it's a different type of atmosphere that you wouldn't get in an American sports event. It's a cool experience for you to be a part of a team and culture because it's not really like this anywhere else in America with the other sports. The academy system helped develop many younger players, that's why you see many talented American young players.

Q: Did you play for your elementary/middle school/highschool team?

A: No, I didn't. I played just for the local youth team then when you get to a certain age you go to the academy. For us it started at U14. Once I became U14 I stayed in the academy and stayed there ever since. We don't have as many age groups as they have in Europe but it's kind of the same thing and I moved up like in Europe, you move to the U19, U21, U23s then you get promoted to the first team. A lot of kids have had to go through the college system, but I think around 2 years before me is when they started signing a lot of young kids before they went to college.

Q: At what age did you decide to become professional?

A: I told my parents when I was 14 I didn't want to go to college, I wanted to go to Europe and play in their academies, McKennie and Pulisic were breaking through and I was stuck on that idea that I had to go to Europe. I committed to a college when I was 15, I was ready to go there, it was a good team but when I found out that Rapids signed me it was a no brainer for me because I felt I was ready

Q: Looking back, what was the silliest thing you spent your money on from the first paycheck?

A: I'm pretty cheap, I never spend my money and go out, having fun, enjoying spending money. For me I wasted a fair amount of money on clothes, I'm really into fashion and sometimes it's hit or miss, but you make mistakes along the way to develop your style. I wasted a lot of money on clothes I wanted to try out and only wore once. I'm into not spending money just to show off, I'd rather spend it on stuff I like and feel connected to.

Q: Do you spend big on soccer related items?

A: I'm an Adidas athlete so I have a deal that gives me boots, I don't really have to spend money on soccer related stuff, it's all provided. I can't be wearing Nike, Puma stuff like that gotta stay with Adidas.

Q: How mad are you at your FIFA rating?

A: When I see other people's ratings across the league, players that I go against and I see what I have I get a little mad, but I know no one likes their FIFA cards, there aren't many people that can be satisfied with that. I'm wondering what's mine going to be next year after having my breakout and playing well this year. Last year I wasn't very happy about it.

Q: Do you want the fame or do you just like football?

A: I think fame just comes along with it, I'm in it just because I love the sport and I love playing. If you reach certain heights of European football it's one of the things you have to deal with and have to embrace. Of course I'd love to be on the cover of FIFA, you'd have to be at the top top to do that, but it's not one of the things I'm looking for, I'm just focusing on my football.

Q: If you could pick one song to listen pre-match, what would it be?

A: I really like Jason Derulo even though that wouldn't be a good walkout song, I'd probably go with Winner by Jamie Fox if I'm walking out, but I also like a lot of stuff that's coming out recently, Post Malone, Kygo, maybe Lose Somebody by Kygo.

Q: Long range or short range goal?

A: Long range for sure. I think being able to master that technique is pretty tough, I don't think many people realise how hard it is to beat the keeper. That's one of the things I've been trying to work on too, it also looks better than a short range goal.

Q: What other sports do you follow?

A: There's two big ones for me, basketball and hockey. I've been with basketball ever since I watched professionally and my dad still plays hockey, we're all hockey fans I also grew up playing it a bit.

Q: Is hockey the sport you would've pursued?

A: I'm not sure, I wasn't as good as hockey as I was at baseball. It was baseball or soccer at the end and I chose soccer.
It's been really hot here, we've had a lot of rain in the last week but now it's hot, you can go out, we haven't had many days when you could do that
The Black List, I love crime/mystery shows, Criminal Minds, Prison Break as well. Recently there hasn't been too much for me to watch.

Q: Advice on what to do as far as training, when to decide, how to decide if they wanna pursue a pro football career.

A: I think for me it was never really a question about whether I want to do it. A lot of people I think really love the sport and have that natural dedication to get better. If you're questioning yourself is when you have time away from the sport, you get injured or just some time off, that's when you're questioning it if you wanna play. Kids who are younger maybe are questioning it, when you have some time away that's when you know if you want to do that.


 
 
The Analyst

We sat down again with Matt Furniss (of OptaJoe fame) and fellow colleague Duncan Alexander! for another AMA and to talk about their new venture, The Analyst!

The Analyst consists of a small group of writers, editors, analysts, data visualizers, producers, animators and designers who’ve moved across from parent company Stats Perform to create a fan-facing digital destination with the goal of turning stats into stories with data driven ideas all of us can understand. The result is differentiated storytelling formulated through unprecedented access to the numbers that make up the undercurrent of sport.

Q: Do you think Ronaldo is gonna retire soon?

A:Physically he's probably able to play for quite a bit longer, we're not really seeing a massive decline in his performances this season, he's still scoring lots of goals for Juve, I'm sure he has a big part to play for Portugal this Euros. Zlatan is going to be the oldest outfield player at Euros this year so Ronaldo definitely got at least 3-4 more years in him. Not Portugal, I think MLS, I could see him going back to United this summer, I think Cavani has worked out fine but I think he wants to move on at the end of the year and if someone's gonna cover Ronaldo's wages I think Manchester United would work okay. If you think about how United play with all the wide attackers, Ronaldo is a kind of frontman, he would work quite well in that team. It's all about his wage demands and what he sees as his legacy. I think at the moment his goal is to end his career as the highest international goalscorer of all times. This weekend Kazakhstan scored an own goal, Ronaldo should have theoretically been happy but he looked more angry. I can't see him going back to Portugal, maybe PSG and Manchester United and then MLS. I'm sure there's plenty of time in him left.

Q: Mbappe and Haaland or someone else?

A: It really feels like a transition from the Messi and Ronaldo era to Haaland and Mbappe. There are others though, I think Joao Felix went for Atletico for a lot of money and I don't think he suits the type of football Simeone plays, under a different system I think he can match those players, Phil Foden too. If you look back at the point where Mbappe and Haaland are now Ronaldo didn't score a Champions League goal. Some of the bigger names like Sancho has just turned 21, you think he's been around for so long. One of the best Portuguese players for me is Trincao at Barcelona. By the time Mbappe turned 22 scored over 90 goals which is way more than what Ronaldo and Messi scored by that point. Haaland is already on 60 goals and he's got 16 months left, he's probably going to surpass Mbappe. Mbappe and Haaland are already ahead of Messi and Ronaldo at the same age so if they can keep it up I don't see why they wouldn't surpass them.

Q: Do you feel like you gain something from your experience with us on Discord?

A: We haven't really branched into other platforms like Discord, Twitch we tried for a while but it proved a bit challenging. We never really tried to do much on Facebook, Instagram a little bit. On Discord I feel we can build a bit of a community and educate people on how to use data. We have the opta-chat where people can ask questions when I'm actually able to answer them. It's one more way to get in touch with people. I've had plenty of messages from people how to get into the industry and I'm trying to answer as best as I can. Matt has a really good point, we're best known for Twitter. Twitter was essentially, other than Facebook, all there was. Part of our philosophy over the years was that data wasn't this kind of complicated boring thing that people think it is. Numbers aren't there to complicate the game, they're there to provide a different point of view and make it more interesting. We're trying to find stuff among the numbers that'll appeal to general fans and Discord is the perfect place to do it.

Q: Do you think Barcelona will make radical changes to keep Messi or to get rid of Messi and rebuild?

A: The latest news was that he signs a new contract. Personally I believe the only place he could go is Manchester City. We all know that Lionel Messi is the peak of football, but there are only so many years left on him. I think his only real option is to take a big paycut or lower the quality of football by going to the MLS. For PSG Neymar and Messi together again could work, but I can see him signing at least another year at Barcelona. Barcelona have no money left but they pay so much to Messi, but if you lose Messi you lose so much. The ridiculous situation with Messi is that he's 34 this summer and he's had a decline this season. It feels like maybe he's lost a bit of interest in football as well, but I don't know if that's just because he's at Barcelona. It probably wouldn't take Messi long to adapt but he's so old in footballing terms that it's a huge change. I'd love to see Messi in the Premier League but the thought of him coming to the Premier League and not perform at the same level as he has in La Liga is upsetting, I'd rather have him stay in La Liga and perform at the same level. Barcelona got no money so they might look to sell Messi and get some money. Barcelona might start to think about the life after Lionel Messi and build on the youngsters. Real Madrid are still not at the level they were with Ronaldo. Messi is like a La Liga version of Glenn Murray at Brighton, the team will be weakened by him leaving but you have to move on. Real Madrid about 15 years ago were in a lot of financial trouble and they sold their old training ground to the government for about 200 million € which mysteriously was the amount of debt they were in. You won't see a massive European club go bankrupt, their brand loyalty is so huge. This is what you see with the push of changes in the Champions League in the summer, it's been designed to kind of help big teams that don't make it every season

Q: Do you think Dinamo Zagreb will win the UEL?

A: Europa League is weird, I've got literally no interest in the Group stage, but when it gets down to the quarter finals, the final is generally pretty good because of the pressure. The final this year could be Manchester United - Arsenal. They used to dominate the Premier League and just the thought of them playing in Europa League would have been ridiculous.

Q: Who do you think could be the dark horse for Euros?

A: Denmark. They're in really good form atm, they've got some really good young players. A couple years ago in the UK we were in charge of the Danish Superleague and had to pick a few promising players that made moves to big leagues. They beat Austria, they beat Moldova and Israel. To beat those three sides 14-0 over a week is pretty good. They beat England quite recently, Iceland. They look like they could be a true dark horse. I think they've got a really good chance to finish second. Belgium are my favourites for this Euros, them and France. Belgium always seem to capitulate at the semi finals. France is a good side, Spain, you never know what you can get from them at this level. I think Scotland could be better, I'm not backing them but I'm saying there might be a chance. There's no flawless team in Europe, France are good, Belgium are good, England got pretty good players but there's no flawless team. I think the delay helped some teams, Portugal being one of them, they have some really good youngsters, I think on paper they have the best team. In international football if you're this kind of totem player you get I think international football is not as good as club football anymore

Q: Who's gonna be the next manager of Germany?

A: The talk was Nagelsmann, but the German way of doing it is to promote from within. I think Klopp wants to go to Bayern, going from revitalising the second best club in England to the best club in Germany. Being a national team manager is very different, I think Mourinho will end his career as Portugal manager. National management is unpredictable, you can't really say who will take charge next. I wouldn't even know who could take the England job right now if Southgate were to go. Generally if you're a good club manager you wouldn't really be a good national team manager, it's so different.

Q: Who do you think is the player who will be a top tier manager

A: Generally the very best players don't translate into being good managers, because they kind of expect all their players to have the same ability they had. Glenn Hoddle would ask his players to do certain things they couldn't do it then he would take the ball and do it and the players were really annoyed, thinking their manager was trolling them. Pep Guardiola was a good player but wasn't pivotal, it's really hard to spot. You can spot a few players who think the right way, like Conor Coady at Wolves, he sees things other wouldn't see. Gary Neville in the UK is probably the best pundit we have, he understand the game brilliantly, but he was manager at Valencia and he was horrible. I don't think many people saw Steven Gerrard be such a successful manager and I think people would have seen Lampard be a better manager than he was. Gerrard's been excellent at Rangers and I think there's a really good chance he'll be the next Liverpool manager. Lampard got the Chelsea job after he failed to get promoted with the biggest Championship budget at Derby. Chelsea won 6 Premier League titles, 3 of those with Mourinho and sacked him I think players from Spain or Portugal understand the game better than we do in England. There are some young managers in Portugal like the Sporting manager, he's basically won the league already with a very young Sporting squad, I think he'll be the next big manager. Villas-Boas didn't even play, he went straight to manager but he still manager Porto, Marseille, Spurs, Chelsea. He had a better record than Mourinho at Spurs and at Chelsea than Lampard, but he was younger so I think they were more inclined to sack him.

Q: What was Opta's toughest moment?

A: Back in August 2013, we became the official data provider in the Premier League and Scottish League. It was a big decision to give it to Opta because we were small, we had maybe 50 full time staff, it wasn't a big operation at all. We basically made a name for ourselves from OptaJoe on Twitter. We got the kind of brand name that everyone wanted to associate with us so we got the deal. Were we ready for it? Probably no. The next day we had a big meltdown, no one knew what the scores were. Imagine, you have all the programs that have the running scores, "oh Manchester United scored etc." We got to half time, there was a bit of delay. The 2nd half kicks off and nothing happens. We know various goals have gone in but nothing shows up. Then we heard the presenter on the TV call us out "oh our friends at Opta in their first day, they aren't doing so well." You had clubs on Twitter go "I.. think we're winning 2-0?" No one knew what the score is. There's a non football related story that still makes me laugh. Duncan and I don't really know much about F1 but we have to work on races. We signed a deal with this guy in Germany to collect the races like 11-12 years ago. There was this guy in a garage in Germany type where every car is. Pre qualifying was slow, it didn't work great, qualifier 1 was a disaster, qualifiers 2 and 3, everything stopped. I think ESPN was going to take this feed and show it. It was the Australian race too so we were up at 2-3 am in the UK trying to figure out. So we try to get this guy in Germany, no response. We got a guy on ground in Germany, we send him to the guy's house knocking on the door, guy's not answering the door. A few days later we get a phone call and the guy had a heart attack trying to collect all stats. He survived thank God, but that was a really good story. I don't think anyone believed us either, the guy nearly died collecting data, "yeah sure we've heard this before."

Q: Who is going to retire first, Ibra or Buffon

A: Buffon definitely. Ibrahimovic is going to play forever, I'm pretty sure. I don't know how much you know about xG but it's basically chance quality and how good you are in getting in position to score goals. Ibrahimovic has the best xG/90 in the top European leagues. He'll play for Sweden at Euros, the oldest outfield player to play in the tournament. I think he'll go for 2-3 more years.
Rashford and Martial are a little bit freer, Luke Shaw has a great season, he brought Greenwood, he's a much better appointment than Mourinho at Tottenham, because what's the worst that can happen in appointing someone younger rather than appointing some old cliche manager like Mourinho. He's not going to win the Premier League, teams like Manchester City are much better. He went on the longest unbeaten run for Manchester United away from home. He's a good manager, just not top.

Q: West Ham's success

A: Declan Rice. For me, I think it links back to the last section. David Moyes got appointed to succeed Ferguson, he had a way of playing at Everton that played really well, but if he played at United like Everton the fans would have been mad. I think Moyes lost his focus and his confidence for a long time. He's been to Real Sociedad, Sunderland, but I think now at West Ham he's playing like Everton used to play in the 2000s. West Ham are a really strange club. They've got a lot of support, but they've never really done anything. If they got into the Champions League that would be amazing. You look at West Ham's squad, and maybe apart from Rice and Soucek and Ghoufal, those three you could probably say that bigger clubs could snap up if West Ham don't get into Champions League. It probably helped them more than any other club not having fans, their fans are so negative. The pressure is quite big at West Ham, especially from the fans. I think West Ham are a really good side, Rice looks like he's gonna be a key player for England. They're a good side but not gonna finish top 4. This is a season for pragmatism, even Guardiola has been pragmatic. Managers who are quite dogmatic like Klopp who stick to the same are the ones that have been caught out. Pragmatic managers like Moyes rise to shine. It just shows that you can bounce back. The model thinks West Ham will finish 7th but I disagree with it, I think Liverpool will get back in it, Leicester will finish outside top 4.

Q: Why is Dawson not the best PL defender

Dawson is weird. While he was at Watford he clearly couldn't play football that good. He's really good in the air and he's willing to put his body on the line. Dawson is good but he could become the first Premier League player to score own goals in 3 consecutive matches.

Q: Do you think Matip has a future at Liverpool?

A: He's a really good player and Liverpool's attacking metrics are better when he plays, but his big issue is that he gets injured so much. Over the last years he's had more muscle injuries than any other players at the club. It's a shame because he's really a good player but he's not been able to stay fit. Liverpool this season have been able to discover some young cbs that they can trust. If Liverpool has learned anything this season is that they need cover for center-halfs. Matip is only 29 so it's not like the best is past him and I think he's quite the reliable defender. They should've learned their lesson of letting Lovren go this summer and then suffering unexpected injuries. I think they should keep Matip on board until they sign someone else to maybe replace him.

Q: Haaland's transfer

A: Matt: I don't think Haaland is going to go anywhere this summer. I still think Man City will sign him, I think they'll try to sign him this summer but I don't see him leaving this summer. Duncan: He's got a clause and I think there are enough teams desperate to get him so I think he'll leave this summer. I think City will go for Haaland first choice and then Kane as backup. I think if you offered Kane a Premier League title or the chance to be the top goalscorer of the Premier League I think he'll take the latter, it's well within his grasp. I think he's the domino that when if he leaves in summer it'll trigger a lot of transfers

Q: Who do you think will replace Mbappe

A: I don't really know who could replace Mbappe. Aguero maybe? He is the free radical this summer, he could join Inter Milano, he could join Atletico, he could join PSG. I think this is going to be the most interesting summer in a long time for transfers. There are many teams looking for forward options with many different budgets. There are players like Kane who are class but you can't get them every summer like you can now.

Q: Who is a realistic target for Spurs as a replacement for Kane?
A: I don't think Mourinho will be there next season so expect a new manager. I don't know really. There are talents in the French and German leagues that they could attract. Lyon and Lille have a few talents. A very Spurs signing would be Ings. I'm still not sure on Kane, it depends on if Mourinho is still there. If Mourinho will be there I feel he'll look to move. Calvert Lewin would be a really good signing for Spurs, he's very similar to Kane. The only problem is Everton are the same size with the same frustrations as Spurs so I can't see Everton wanting to sell Calvert-Lewin to Spurs.

Q: How will the Qatar World Cup differ from the 2018 World Cup?

A: AI. In our company we invest a lot of money in the AI. I think that'll be the difference from the last World Cup. The sports data is looking into off the ball data. In regards of broadcast, I think broadcasters have learned a lot in the last year. I see BT have started using tactical cameras

  
Ryan O'Hanlon

Vector interviews veteran journalist Ryan O'Hanlon!

Ryan is a writer and editor. He publishes a twice-a-week newsletter, No Grass In The Clouds and hosts a soccer podcast, Infinite Football.

Most recently, he worked as a senior editor at The Ringer, where he also co-hosted a soccer podcast called “Ringer FC”. Previously, he was an editor at Grantland, Pacific Standard, and Outside. He has written for The New York Times Magazine, New York, Slate, the Guardian, The Atlantic, and various other publications. Before becoming a professional non-athlete, he played four years of collegiate soccer at Holy Cross. His dog is my personal ombudsman.

Q: Introduction

A: Rian, author of newsletter No Grass In The Clouds wrote for other newspapers as well. Recruited by coach, late goal against Boston, played college football many people are soccer fans without playing, sportsfan in the us below 25 have a favourite soccer teams Almost impossible to watch anything outside the premier league, if they were on they were on this channel fox soccer, champions league had a handful of games on espn. now at least in the us there's at least a pl game everyday, espn has rights for other leagues, la liga is a bit of a pain in the ass to find but so many people are soccer fans who didn't play soccer, while my generation were so many people who were soccer fans. Now it's become a thing where in my experience every sports fan under the age of 25 has a favourite european soccer team.

Q: How serious are you on twitter about US vs UK?

A: I probably don't do a great job of making it clear when I'm serious and when I'm not serious. I think it's obvious to me and people who know me, but as more people follow me they don't really know what to expect. I'm confident Phil Foden would start for the USA U23 team. We're talking about soccer being a more acceptable sport to support in the US but I guess from an american perspective I get a bunch of tweets saying numbers don't belong in the game, it's called football not soccer so I'm in this kind of weird in between space where some people are still "who cares about soccer" and there's a subset of certain europeans who don't want an american to write about soccer so sometimes I'll try to poke at both of those sides. The english national team coverage has a history of building their players up but tearing everyone down for not meeting their expectations. It reminds me of the way that fans are towards their college football teams where fans are some sort of intense and tribal in a way.

Q: As a Dortmund fan, who do you think has a higher ceiling out of Haaland or Mbappe?

A: Mbappe. I think Mbappe is basically as good of a goalscorer as Haaland is and he has all creative abilities. Haaland makes a bit more assists than people realise but Mbappe has a bit more nuanced aspect to the game that Haaland doesn't have. We're talking about probably the two highest ceilings among all players.

Q: Reyna or Havertz

A: Havertz, despite him kinda having a rough season as Chelsea because of the performances he had for Leverkusen. His performances in the bundesliga were as good as any midfielder in whatever position, he was almost as good as every other player in the Bundesliga at his age. We have already seen what the ceiling theoretically could be from what we've seen in the Bundesliga I think it's a combo of things, Leverkusen had a system where they were built around Kai Havertz and that's not the case at Chelsea. There's like 5 or 10 players in the world whom a team like Chelsea should build around. I think the change of scenery, the way the game is being played is different, players are very tired that's not just a narrative, he also had COVID, that could also be a factor and I think Lampard just hasn't done a very good job with him. I liked him when he was a sort of false 9 at Leverkusen and he can also drop off and play in space and play other guys into the box. I don't think he is a traditional midfielder. I think he is a combo of reasons but the way he is being used is probably the number 1 reason.

Q: Hakimi or Kulusevski

Q: Definitely Hakimi in my opinion. As a fullback/wingback he is putting performances that are as good as the 90th percentile attacker in the world. For me hakimi is the best fullback on the planet. Kulusevski is also a great player but I don't think he has a ceiling anywhere near that.

Q: What is your opinion on football statistics and analytics?

A: I love football-reference, I think it's the site I'm on more than any website on the internet and I also love Jack Grealish, I think he's easily been the best player in the PL this season. Every time they add a new stat Grealish is leading the PL by a significant margin. To the larger point, there's a ton of stats out there now but there's also a lot of stats with no context and knowing that someone completes 7 dribbles a game or 80% passes is kind of trivia more than useful info until you contextualise with other stuff. I think we all overestimate how much we actually understand soccer, it's a weird complicated game with so few scoring opportunities that just looking at the shots happening doesn't give you the whole story so I think data is great to help you understand what is happening on the field and for me as a writer, sorting through logs of data helps me come with story ideas. If I see X player is high in that category maybe I write a piece on why that is.

Q: Is Arteta gone or does he need to stay?

A: I don't have any insight into the club decision making processes, I don't have any reports on that. I think you have to look at this: how good are the players Arsenal has and what would the average Arsenal produce with these players? I don't think there's any way to look at Arteta at Arsenal and say the players are doing better than another manager would do. Some of the players are aging and the squad has been built so terribly. I personally don't see, at least if they hired any manager like Lucien Favre, if the team was doing ok in the past we'll say we'll stick with him through this patch because he's done good in the past but you don't have this with Arteta. As one of the richest teams in the world, but a team who can't attract the players they want to attract Arsenal could get an edge by paying a lot of money for a manager and Arteta is just an average manager that you can find anywhere. In my opinion Arsenal could find a better manager who could push performances forward. If you look at xG they have been average in the league, the 9th-10th best team in the Premier League. I'm not saying they should fire him but I haven't seen much that makes me think he'll make Arsenal better.

Q: Can Wayne Rooney save Derby?

A: Fivethirtyeight has some kind of model where they judge a team based on the teams they score, the xG and this thing called the non-shot xG. This non-shot xG thing is like, if you win a tackle in the opposing area and it leads to a goal in let's say 10% of time, it's another way of judging the "soundness" of a team. Fivethirtyeight has Derby County at 1 in 4 chance for relegation, this seems like a tough situation for a guy who's never managed before to walk into. I think it's tough to say with Rooney, like Arteta, you don't know what his skills are as a manager or what he's going to try to do. My prediction will be that Derby survives because their odds are in their favour but I don't think that's because Wayne Rooney is the manager.

Q: Who inspired you?

A: Steven Gerrard. I grew with Liverpool. There wasn't that much soccer on, or at least I didn't understand how to find it on TV when I was like 13 or whatever but I could watch the World Cup and play FIFA but FIFA 2003 had like 16 teams, including Liverpool. They had this guy el hadji diouf and he was good for Senegal in the world cup too and I was like, I like Liverpool because I like this guy, then soccer becomes more common on TV, I start watching Liverpool and I watch the 2005 Champions League final and he basically one ups himself in the FA Cup final in 2006. So watching el hadji diouf was my gateway and watching Gerrard was like, how can you not like this guy but it turns out that everyone hates El Hadji Diouf and he and Gerrard had huge problems. Watching the game, Steven Gerrard was my favourite team and that's not even close

Q: THE SLIP

A: The thing that sucked about that was, obviously having it happen to Gerrard was terrible and it happened against Mourinho but a handful of weeks before Liverpool beat Man City and in soccer you don't really get championship games, you just don't know when the championship's gonna be decided, technically no match is worth more except if you're playing against the team you're fighting against directly. Liverpool - Man City was basically the championship game back then, but then the slip happened. Like this season Liverpool won after Man City lost at Chelsea, at least coming from the American perspective this is a weird feeling, your team doesn't win when they win like with the Champions League, you win a game you win the CL. For an American fan you expect this kind of euphoric moment, and Liverpool got it that year but then this happened.

Q: Who do you think will win UCL and UEL?

A: I think this is the most open UCL we've had, last year looked like this too but then Bayern won basically every game and they felt like clearly the best team in Europe. The year before after City lost it felt like Liverpool or Barcelona would win then Liverpool has slain that dragon, then the year before it felt like Real Madrid, Juve, City. I can't believe I'm gonna say it but I think Manchester City is the most likely team to win the Champions League. They're playing this kind of much more steady, conservative style and I think this suits them in Europe. They have 70% possession in the opponent's half. I think this year they've been fantastic ever since their early season hiccups and I think the way they play is also suited for the Champions League so I think they're favourites, but it wouldn't shock me if even Dortmund or Chelsea would win the CL. Maybe Spurs, they just seem like they can lose against any team. They've done good against big teams, but they don't dominate games like you'd expect a big team to do so I think they're more right to upsets than another team of their reputation. Man U is probably the best team in the Europa League but that's not fun. Let's go with Napoli. I think they have a high gear that most teams in Europe don't have, they can just blow teams off the field. Last time I checked they were leading all teams in Europe for shots per game. Lately we've seen italian teams struggle in Europe. You could say that Ibra is better than Ronaldo right now. I don't think it's worth getting into that discussion but it feels like he's better than Ronaldo and it's crazy to think Zlatan is still at that level considering how old he is and I think they could win Europa League too, definitely.

Q: Serie A race

A:I would say if there's a team that solidifies their way to the top I think it'll be Inter, but they're such a volatile team that's just hard to picture Inter solidifying anything. I think looking at betting markets is a good way to get a close sense of what most likely happens, it's like a good way to learn of the general expectations. The market I'm looking at right now, Inter are projected at 80 points, Milan at 79 points, around 6 teams 6 points away from eachother so I think it is as up in the air as a title race can be. We haven't really seen a title race in any of the big leagues in a long time that involves more than two teams, let alone 6.

Q: Why do you think some teams are struggling in the big leagues?

A: The easiest explanation is this is a really weird season. Everyone feels worse because of the current world situation and I think moreso than anyone professional athletes, especially with the way soccer is being played now, is so mentally and physically demanding that it's hard to perform at the level they've been performing at and just everyone in the world to a certain degree feels worse, but you'd think this affects everyone so maybe this isn't the actual answer. The easiest answer is the bigger teams played more games last season, they had a shorter off-season and they're playing more games than the smaller teams now so they have a more condensed season. Their players are also theoretically better so they're being called to their national teams so it's just a buildup of fatigue. You don't really know how any of these people are affected by COVID so it makes it really hard to talk about it. There's no official metric on COVID affecting players so in terms of analysing games it's just tough. I think it's something we're completely underestimating and something we're never going to really understand what effect it has.

Q: Getting into journalism

A: I think there's no "one answer", it's hard to become a professional writer or journalism, I'm sorry to be that blunt. I've heard that over the past 15-20 years the journalism industry has lost more jobs than the coal industry which is baffling, but it just puts it into perspective. One day you can be on Twitter, you can put your stuff there easier than ever before, but there's fewer ways to do it in a way that you can support yourself. I'll just explain what my career path was. In the college I was working for this website and I was making not enough money at all to live in any place so I lived at my parents, then I quit that job, moved to Brooklyn, got a job at this respected magazine, I worked there, moved to New Mexico, worked there, did some soccer stuff on the side and it was easier for me to do this on the side because I was this writer working for a somewhat respectable magazine, then I get a job at this new magazine, keep doing soccer stuff on the side, write something for a site that was part of the ESPN then they hired me because they liked me but I still did some soccer writing, then it ended. At the World Cup we ramped up the soccer coverage, did a podcast, writing multiple times a week, then I eventually left my job and decided to start a newsletter and I didn't realise back then, but there were a lot of people reading my stuff and a lot more people subscribed than I thought and it became a viable path for me to make money out of this soccer thing. I had established myself enough that I was able to write for ESPN, fivethirtyeight so I pivoted into this soccer stuff after being an editor for magazines for like 10 years. This is something that I don't recommend, there aren't many magazines left anymore and it's a really specific part. I just like to tell that story because it's better than any advice I could give. I managed to work for a big publication and the people who liked my writing moved to my newsletter which is easier than just starting from scratch. If you do good work and you keep doing it people might start to notice you. You might want to make a career in writing, even if it's not soccer, but you must really really like writing because it's a very unstable industry and doesn't pay as well as it used to. There might be other easier ways of getting into soccer Writing about soccer sounds good in theory but you can start it then think "oh it sucks." I just pretty much make sure that it comes out twice a week every week and I try to make sure I don't miss every week and I think me being able to write this consistently made a difference

Q: Messi or Ronaldo?

A: Messi. It's not even close in my opinion. You could argue that Ronaldo is as good or slightly a better goalscorer, but Messi is also the best finisher, the best dribbler, the best creative player, the best facilitater(??). Messi is the LeBron of soccer, he can be the best in every aspect of the game. While Ronaldo is a great goalscorer, maybe the best ever, Messi scores about as many goals as Ronaldo and does every aspect of attacking soccer better than every other player in the world.

Q: Messi leaving or retiring at barca

A: I always kind of think that the guy not leaving is the more likely outcome because it's more complicated to leave a team than it's to stay and sign a new contract. It seems the more likely outcome is that he leaves. I hate to read in the mental outcome of anything that happens in the team, I frankly don't know Messi, there's not much insight into him as a person. Him getting a red card for the first time, not signing a new contract, I think all signs are there that he's going to leave. City or PSG are the two most likely. My secret is I want to see Messi and Ronaldo play together anywhere. They aren't as good as they used to be so it would be fun to see Messi and Ronaldo to take on the next big youngsters together.

Q: Messi in the MLS?

A: It seems like he's going to go to the MLS at some point, he recently said he wants to go to America without even being prompted to. I think he is going to end up in the MLS at this point but not this year.


Opta Joe

We speak with Matt Furniss who, at the time of recording, was the mastermind behind the OptaJoe twitter phenomenon.

Opta collects, analyses and distributes football data to provide high-quality content on some of the biggest football events in the world. OptaJoe began Tweeting some of the insights gleaned from our stats back in 2009 and has since grown a worldwide following of almost 1.2 million people.

In 2019, Opta merged with STATS to become part of Stats Perform, combining technologies from both companies to expand the range of data available to clients across the world.

Q: How exactly does stat tracking work? Is it an AI detecting when possession changes? Or does a guy sit there and hit the space bar whenever a ball goes to the other team? If it is the former, how accurate is this AI?
A: The way we collect data for football is manual collection by humans. Usually we have 1 person 1 team collecting the team events. Such as H as action, P for pass, etc. The guys take 7-8 months of training, to train up to a level where they can do competitions of a level like league two analyst, to be a premier league analyst you need like 5-6 years of experience. Analyst themselves analyze the same team so they already recognize the players and positions to make it easier. You also get to know traits of players. I'm not an analyst myself, so I don't collect data. I do editorial job here, it's a very difficult job that I don't think I could do myself.

Q: How hard is it to keep updated with all the stats?

A: We have our database that we can work around that extracts data for us. We also work with lots of Excel sheets. My work is specially is to tell stories with data, and make the data more interesting rather than dry. Platform is full of opinion especially during live games. There are quite a lot of competitors doing the same thing now. We also work with CV companies in UK and Europe, and we provide insights live, post and pre match, as well as providing data to commentators. It is important to see the narrative behind all this.

Q: How does the Brand work?

A: It's kind of a mix of backgrounds, I wouldn't say it's the easiest field to get into, for the moment it's still a small part of journalism I did a degree at a university of sports media, I fell into the job as a part time editor back then opta was a small thing really, we had a roster of about people, 13 years ago, now we're looking at about 5000 as a company. There are plenty of ways to get into the company, opta are a brand in the before media. To get into the industry it's not that important to do something like sports science. we have plenty of people who have history degrees, geography degrees, people who didn't go to industry. You can get a lot if you have a lot of knowledge about football. get your name out there, blogging, podcasting, get your name out there. we have good analytics in the community who started blogging and now work for clubs, Toronto FC, Athletic Club. If you get your name out there and it gets noticed that's where you start. You gotta have passion for it. If you don't really know what you're talking about you're easily found out.

Q: Who is a flop and how did they became flop?

A: It depends on positions. A striker needs scoring goals. Anyone is underperforming to the expectations are considered flops. But strikers can do something else too, f.e Emile Heskey didn't score much goals but he did something other on the pitch. Sometimes players, for example Paul Pogba justify their prices by bringing off-the-pitch income too. I personally think Pogba is very interesting player. He was phenomenal for Juve and France in 2016 too.

Q: Who is your favorite player?

A: Jack Grealish. The thing that stands out with Grealish is that he looks like he's having fun, he has this kind of playground enthusiasm, he tries new things on the pitch, very hard to track and mark, very good turn of pace, constantly fouled, last season he has been fouled the most out of all Premier League players and he has this attitude that he doesn't care about what other people think.

Q: Who do you consider to be an underrated player?

A: I think many people would consider Wijnaldum as a really underrated player, he never underperforms and doesn't have many bad aspects about his play but he's not really been put in that bracket of Liverpool players that are adored by the fans like Henderson, Salah.

Q: What do you think about Fernandes?

A: Before Fernandes came in Manchester United were desperate for a player to link the midfield and the attack. He's the perfect player to know when to just stand still and let everyone else around him busy. He'll stand still and delay that pass or that run because he'll think about the next move and in United with Rashford or Martial who are very fast that could be a good thing. Amazing scanning ability, to know where his teammates will be, it's a very hard skill to have. Even with the penalties he still has the most goals and assists.

Q: What do your officies and work environment look like? Can you show us some pictures?

A: The issue at the moment is that we don't have an office at the moment. We had an office in London but because of COVID we're moving offices. I'll get someone else to post pictures in football chat. I've been working from home for almost a year. But we do have offices in pretty much every country in Europe, and also New Zealand, India, etc. But main offices are in London and Chicago. Chicago is the first and London is secondary office. OptaJack is the US Soccer account.

Q: How does one truly end up being in business and buying their own platform? Where should someone go for data collection to write their own blogs, etc.

A: It's difficult to get hold of our data. Sometimes we go at hacking events where we give away a season's worth of PL data, for example. There are websites like whoscored who use our data where you could grab data from. Wyscout gives a huge data for a smaller fee. FBREF has a detailed analytics database as well, then there are Soccerway, Transfermarkt, etc.

Q: What is the best way to compare players from the past to players now using sole statistics?

A: We have PL and UCL data and we go back only until 2003 with top level football. But we have gone back and analysed every World Cup game since 1966, so we can compare Maradona and Messi using these. But it's not worth mentioning stats like "this player dribbled more than that player". The stats change through the time too - 1966 World Cup Final was 77 shots in the game - a shot every 62 seconds! You don't see that kind of game today.