​The Master: Carli Wensveen

Without mathematicians like Carli Wensveen, AFC Ajax would not succeed. Nor would any other football club that could benefit from her ‘ball action data’ analysis.

  • Research: ‘Classification of playing styles in football: The use of ball action data’
  • Final mark: 8

She wasn’t really interested in football, but did like sport. “I play tennis,” enthused mathematician Carli Wensveen (23). “But I do know about the offside rule.” So it’s not strange that she graduated last month from the EEMCS degree programme with a method that analyses playing styles in football – not once her thesis supervisor drew her attention to a project from a software company that partly focussed on statistics and football.

“For coaches, it is handy to be able to recognise a team’s playing style on the basis of objective data. They can analyse the opponent’s game, or document their own team’s style and adjust it as necessary,” added Wensveen. But assuming that most teams follow one of four common styles, can’t a trained coach spot it without help? Apparently not, Wensveen discovered, because there are always variables. “For example, Ajax plays like the Dutch School: focus on possession of the ball but not offensive.” Of course, this does not mean that another style element never inserts itself once in a while. Her algorithms cover the variables, she assigns them a priority and incorporates them in the determination of the playing style.

The average football club would not be amazed by that, but Wensveen’s method does much more. “It focuses on the general playing style without assigning it to one of the most common styles. It looks at all the details.” She did not encounter anything like that in her literature review. The ultimate objective is that her method will be included in a general software package for analysing football data.

Welcome to the world of big money! But science attracts this mathematician more: starting next year, she will be working as a data scientist for a data-analysis company in the healthcare sector. Now she’s a qualified engineer, there won’t be time to sit idly watching sports programmes on TV. “I don’t watch football more often than I used to, but in a different way: I try to recognise the playing style in every game.” That’s a sport by itself; pity that it doesn’t make you fit. (JB)

Redacteur Redactie

Heb je een vraag of opmerking over dit artikel?


Comments are closed.