Technology and it’s relentless grip on the game

It’s Sunday – deadline day at American Scouser – and I’ve written twenty words as of now. If you know the team at A.S., they won’t stand for a 20-word column. They want reams of letters formed into words that somehow come around to a point and then entertain readers.

And by letters, they want electrons and not the true writer’s mark – a typewriter key slamming poetically into a piece of paper. That happens so infrequently these days that it’s even scarcer than handwritten notes. Also, my editor has refused repeatedly to let me type my columns and then fax them in. Clearly they’re drinking the tech Kool-aid at HQ, too.


….wherever you turn technology is taking over. The Vapor kit we buy is created with aerodynamic science and advanced wicking technology. The Irish breakfast you chow on was carefully selected via computerized inventory, so you get just enough white pudding, the perfect rasher, and enough beans to keep you squirming through the postgame.

In fact, technology is running roughshod over society and football is a primary target. The football you watch today is not real…it’s a technological mirage. First, let’s look at how much tech has seeped onto the pitch itself.

Technology is the Swiss Army Knife of sport these days.

I’ve seen fewer hunchbacks in outdated opera. As you peer around the field, you’ll see the majority of players with a hump protruding from between their shoulder blades. Oddly, this hump is seldom talked about in polite company. Almost like an ornate birthmark that you can’t tear your eyes away from, the humps are magnetic. Literally.

You see, much of the tech popping out the jersey is related to fitness and possibly strategy. Heart-rate monitors are pretty standard in most sports where endurance is a primary goal. I haven’t been able to confirm my suspicions, but I think there’s more to the humps than meets the eye.

Have you been to a restaurant lately? If not, remember back to pre-lockdown and how busy wait staff seemingly had ESP to know when to run to the kitchen to pick up a meal? Well, many restaurants with large service areas and short dining times assign vibrators to their staff. Well, vibrating beepers, really. And these beepers are worn at the belt, under the apron or in the small of the back.

Based on a series of vibrating signals, the server knows what meal is ready and when to go to the kitchen or other area of the restaurant. In a lot of cases it’s a simpler signal, buzz = come pick up your food. That technology is a game-winner in football….IF it’s being used how I think it is.

Picture an attack on our net. We gain possession and it’s passed back to our keeper. At that moment, someone on our staff hits the buzzer simultaneously on Mo Salah’s and also on Alisson’s ‘beepers’. The signal of one long buzz meaning ‘go for goal now’. And because only those two were alerted, the play goes off without a hitch with Alisson feeding Salah for a 100-meter assist and goal.

Did that happen last season? I know there was a play that evolved in a very similar way. Technology? You bet. Even if that play and score wasn’t the result of advanced technology, you’d be hard-pressed to even watch a match these days without a boatload of tech.

Fitness technology from the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas. Shown tech is a hiking device that recharges itself through walking motion when hooked to belt or backpack.

Beyond whatever information is gleaned from the hump, the staff and players likely work together to address any deviations in a player’s fitness, recovery and play. For someone who got an F+ in Trigonometry and willfully departed a collegiate finance track for a more creative journalism degree, I don’t fully understand statistics either.

That means whatever the coach is doing is based on numbers and measurements far beyond my ability or interest. I’m guessing that they have one of those giant computers run by punch-cards and evil geniuses, and they use it to make the team operate at peak efficiency.

In the same way, tech has made it…..easier??….to attend a match. During pandemic times, all bets are off. But prior and hopefully soon, the technology used to get you to your seat and then stuff your pie hole with vittles is at your fingertips. That’s right, smartphones will soon be your key to everything.

My smartphone turns on my electric car and can even park the vehicle. Your phone will be scanned at the gate, scanned at the concessions, tracked around the stadium (to make sure you aren’t hiding in the loo after the match is over so you can run onto the pitch), and even sent alerts if foul weather is coming toward Anfield.

Does that mean technology is a done deal and there’s no more analog anything? Truthfully, no. Technology can be harnessed and put to work for you.

Think of the physicians looking after Virgil. You think they just guessed at the best rehab route for our mystical defender? No way. They have been tracking each player’s strengths, weaknesses and tendencies down to each muscle group. If Robbo gets a calf cramp, the physio can likely tell you the last time Andy got a cramp and what steps were taken to relieve the issue.

Where the game used to be pure athleticism, the players today spend time focused on specific exercises while ignoring others. They’ve learned that fast-twitch is good for some positions, and endurance is best for all positions. The science and technology behind injury rehab has turned football into an advanced science lab.

Pretty soon Tottenham will be trying to clone Harry Kane. Whether it works or not doesn’t matter, it’s Tottenham. But we really are at a tipping point when it comes to physical prowess (aided by technology in one form or another).

The players and clubs playing today are the product of science. I’m not saying they’re artificial intelligence or androids or cyborgs. What I’m explaining is that without the advances of sports science and communications/imaging technology, our game would be ugly and unwatchable.

Players now know how to train. Coaches now understand player tendencies on both sides of the ball. And statistics don’t lie when it comes to delivering strategic data to each club. Do you think Jurgen Klopp could do his job as effectively if he had no access to how much energy each player had left in their respective tanks?

For those of you still reading, I thank you for not immediately assuming a technology and football rant would be all VAR. As with most fans, I harbor no ill will toward the technology. It’s like being angry at your microwave because it burned your popcorn. Nope, not gonna shout at VAR.

But I will shout until my neck veins protrude far enough to freak out my cats, if you try to tell me that the referees have any clue about how to implement and use this technology. What is so hard – THREE SEASONS LATER – about strolling to the sideline to look at a monitor instead of playing telephone over your headset with who-knows-how-many other befuddled refs?! That’s all I’ll say on that as I lean toward wrapping up this little technology filibuster.

Sometimes tech can be the most frustrating part of the equation when it comes to a game that’s decided by ridiculous skill and beauty. The plaintive cry to “let them play” will always be hurled at the refs, and as fans we deserve both blame and credit for the way technology has invaded the game. We want precise results; faster and faster gameplay; more talented athletes; and an experience that is better today than it was yesterday or any day prior.

Where do we go from here? What’s next? Probably more random sciency stuff I’ll hardly understand. They’ll put chips in the ball and in the boots. They’ll get rid of the external hump in favor of chipping the players. They’ll learn how to fuse bones together and heal muscles more quickly.

Ultimately, I think we’re at the very beginning of an exciting time in sport science. I wonder how the technology we implement today will affect the game we love years down the road.