Julien Demeaux arrived at Toulouse Football Club in 2020 in the suitcases of the new American shareholder, the investment fund RedBird Capital Partners. His function ? Football data manager, a key role for this man in the shadows in the strategy embodied by Damien Comolli, the president of the Toulouse Football Club, who will return to the elite of French football in a few weeks.
Since his arrival at the head of the club of the fourth largest city in France, this leader has imprinted on the club his vision of football, totally oriented towards data, like a company looking for the slightest possible improvement. He does not hide it: each sporting decision is the subject of a data analysis. The choice of the head coach, the style of play to be established by the team to regain the French Ligue 1 championship, and now to stay there, the choice of players to apply it…, everything, for RedBird Capital Partners, is a matter of data science. Even the choice two years ago to set his sights on “Téfécé” was decided after analyzing more than 70 football clubs…
In Europe, few clubs push the data approach so much to exploit its predictive side. Only Liverpool FC, with greater resources, applies this same strategy. ” The club duo Brentford FC (in England, editor’s note) and Football Club Midtjylland (in Denmark, editor’s note), which have the same owner, have also taken the same path with very good results at all levels. Nevertheless, today a milestone is being passed on the continent in the acceptance of what data can bring to sport with such an advanced approach. Like any change, the use of this predictive side of the data was initially resisted”analyzes Julien Demeaux.
And in this world of data, Julien Demeaux swims like a fish in water. Armed with his computer, this forties native of the region speaks to a database made up of… 40,000 players. ” RedBird’s data teams work with me to create the algorithms and provide me with the bulk data. My responsibility is to make this data-science work and interpret it to draw the lessons we expect from it, mainly the names of players to watch or even recruit. For the current off-season, for example, I analyzed 600 different profiles. From a specification drawn up by the president, I then provided a list by position and according to our needs to the club’s recruitment unit.says the one who began his professional career surrounded by planes.
Julien Demeaux perfected his skills in data analysis in the United States. (Credits: Rémi Benoit)
“The issues are the same”
And for good reason. Younger, Julien Demeaux first worked for four years on the final assembly lines of the European aircraft manufacturer Airbus, in Toulouse, on behalf of subcontractors in the integration of various equipment. He was subsequently recruited by another aircraft manufacturer, ATR, to put on the jersey of compliance manager within the training center of the one who has just garnered orders at the Farnborough air show (United Kingdom).
” ATR has a network of training centers and simulators. I had to ensure the consistency of the training organized with the expectations of customers and local authorities. There was a very important attention to detail, with the search for a very high competitiveness as in sport”he testifies.
According to Julien Demeaux, the technical processing of data and the search for detail in aeronautics and sport ” are similar, not to say identical”. ” In the end, the challenges are the same: recover the data, store it, create models to understand it and then transmit this data to the right person “Adds the TFC football data manager. With the notable difference that this new position allows him ” to be at the heart of the process”in contrast to his ten years of experience in the aeronautical industry.
For example, thanks to his work, the players of Toulouse Football Club managed to win by the smallest of margins (1-0) against Paris Football Club, during the 2020-2021 season. ” To prepare for the match, my analysis of the data upstream had made it possible to detect a weak point in the opposing goalkeeper. He was struggling to get to the ground quickly to his right. The game was close and towards the end one of our strikers on the strike remembered this information and shot the keeper’s right and scored. We won the match 1-0 and the players came to thank me in the locker room after the match. remembers Julien Demeaux.
He takes himself to the game of the football club of Seattle
For him, the junction between the two worlds, aeronautics and football, which seem opposed at first sight, took place during a stay in the United States. After resigning, Julien Demeaux follows his wife transferred to North America in the middle of the previous decade. There, he became both a baseball coach and a soccer coach.
” It was a great opportunity. I met and rubbed shoulders with performance managers, data managers and even people solely in charge of performance, totally focused on detail. There, they have a totally different approach to sport than we know in Europe. This allowed me to train in this technique of data processing and to perfect it in a short time »says the analyst.
Back in France in 2018, he was recruited by The Information Lab, a company specializing in data consulting, to develop the “sport” vertical, which was then insignificant or even non-existent. Contacts with football, basketball and rugby clubs, and even federations, are increasing. ” I really felt like I brought a different vision to our sports through my American background.”, he recalls. A feeling that will be confirmed thanks to a distance contest.
In full containment, the Seattle football club is organizing a challenge for data analysts in football. The mission of the participants? Prepare a pre-match report to prepare for a match against FC Barcelona. ” Beyond the style of play of the opposing team, I also analyzed the areas where Lionel Messi touches the most balls and those where he receives the most passes in particular.remembers Julien Demeaux who made this game to “ passing time ” and without any particular ambition. But he wins the competition and attracts the attention of RedBird Capital Partners who participates in a conference on the sidelines of the awards ceremony. A few days later, Julien Demeaux and Damien Comolli talk for the first time…
From now on, how far does this former aeronautical engineer see himself going? The analyst, originally from the former Midi-Pyrénées, is attached to the club and cannot imagine himself anywhere other than the TFC. ” Considering changes is a bit early. Everything is new for me and we have only reached the first step of the project, namely to go up in Ligue 1 “, is positioned the one who discovered the world of professional football for only 24 months. Julien Demeaux intends to help his club to settle permanently in the first division and more precisely in its Top 6, objective set by the American fund which unearthed this profile embodying football 4.0.