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Premier League club Manchester City hire astrophysicists

One of the many things for which I owe Jorge Valdano a debit of gratitude is introducing me some years back to the book Dynamics of the Unthinkable, by the Argentinian journalist Dante Panzeri. It was re-released not long ago. It’s a treatise on football way back when - the present day when it was published - that celebrates the role intuition has to play in the game. He wrote it during the years when Argentina (but not him) envied Europe’s organised methods and sought to copy them by importing coaches from the continent. The country's footballers followed the opposite path, from Argentina to Europe, their supreme talents seeing them shine over here. While the likes of Alfredo di Stéfano and Omar Sívori came to our shores, our coaches took their tactics across the pond.

For Panzeri, football was all about improvisation; today's game wouldn't be to his taste

Panzeri’s book is an ode to the value of improvisation in football. That’s what he - like Valdano, like me and like so many others - loved about the beautiful game. But the world has gone in another direction. For a while now, football has been all about systems; it's dominated by coaches who insist their players operate as cogs in a machine and stick to the script. In youth set-ups, youngsters are taught to play the game in a mechanical style. The old-school coach who embraces instinct and is a man-manager first and foremost has gradually been replaced by studious types who welcome the influence of sports science with increasing fervour and interest. Today’s game would not be to Panzeri’s liking.

Scientific approach sees Manchester City put together a team of astrophyisicsts

We’ve progressed from video analysis to 3D optical tracking, the complexity and sophistication of the process increasing with each passing day. Liverpool won their sixth European title with a chess champion and an astrophysicist among their analysts. Now, City Football Group - which comprises six clubs, most notably Manchester City - has hired Laurie Shaw, a prominent figure in the world of astrophysics, to head up a team of rocket scientists. Modern wizards of the algorithm who, for example, can identify the precise position where it’s most dangerous to allow Erling Braut Haaland to pick up the ball. There’s no room for Panzeri’s view of the game these days; football has taken a different path. We’ll just have to wait and see where it leads us.