Sunday League player tests high-tech AI shinpads used by Champions League star, the results are eye-opening
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“You’re charging your shinpads up? The world’s gone mad.” My younger brother, who once scored four goals wearing pieces of cardboard in his socks, wasn’t massively enthused with my latest foray into modern football technology.
There I was, genuinely finding the USB type C slots at the bottom of my ‘shinnies’ and switching the plug on at the wall before the lights began to flash so that they had the required battery life.
Most people at my level get their kit out and check to see if their boots still stink from the week before but this was a new step in my pre-game preparation but I took things up a notch for a Rose Bowl trophy tie against NFA FC at Crossley Playing Fields.
The shinpads, powered by AI, are called ‘XSeed Pro’ from Soccerment and were designed to bring a whole new level of performance analysis and tracking in football.
The product has been tested out by a slew of elite clubs like West Ham, Deportivo La Coruna, Frosinone and Sparta Prague, while Inter Milan and Italy left-back Federico Dimarco is also the brand’s “key player” and sees his stats monitored from the shinpads in Serie A and the Champions League.
However, it was now time for me to see what it was all about playing for the mighty Oldham Hulmeians of the Hyde and Oldham District Sunday League.
I’d worn something similar and gave away a penalty in another game at the backend of last year but that was a tag on the back of my boot and in Sunday League, we all know something like that instantly puts a target on your back.
Each pad goes in a special sleeve before placing it in your socks, while you also need a smartphone and the XSeed app with Bluetooth turned on so the data being tracked from the five advanced sensors can be recorded.
Just before it’s go-time you press to record before putting your phone to the side, and the session, whether it be a match or training, starts.
As shinpads they felt solid and safer than regular ones when it comes to protection.
But of course the whole point of them is that they give comprehensive metrics for physical and technical performance.
I was handed a rare start as a right wing-back against a side I managed to score against in a 14-1 rout last time out.
There was a delay for the 10:30 kick-off as the opposition, have turned up with about four players.
They finally got a starting XI - albeit with one of their players wearing trackie bottoms and another with an outrageous pink wrist and headband combination.
We went 1-0 up thanks to a superb left-footed finish from our striker Josh but churned in a performance totally indifferent from the 14-1 thrashing on their turf back in November and had to make do with a 6-5 win on penalties following a 1-1 draw.
The triumph came despite their first taker being a substitute when the full-time whistle was blown and yet still being allowed to take one.
In terms of my showing, I played the first half before being substituted and felt I put in a decent shift down the right, supplying a few tidy through balls in behind for teammates to run onto.
Yet the stats don’t quite tell the story sadly. Initially, XSeed's data claimed that I only touched the ball six times – 67% of which were short passes with my right foot.
I could have sworn that I was a bit more involved than suggested but XSeed's take on touches is the actual "technical event", meaning sum of passes, crosses and shots.
It may be true that in a Sunday League game, you don’t touch the ball anywhere near as much as you think you do even though you think you’ve done your job.
But given we’re outside on public playing fields with multiple games going on and you have to geolocate the pitch upon the end of the session, it’s understandable for a few bits of missing data to happen.
There is, however, a virtual pitch option which can help at least bring something out of a session.
XSeed users do have the ability to reach out to the customer service team if they feel they are missing data.
I did just that and was informed that initiating the session 15 to 20 minutes before the actual start of the match is advised so that the sensors, particularly the GPS, is activated and can calibrate properly.
Unfortunately I didn't do that and instead spent my time putting up the corner flags.
Therefore the GPS did not have a fully stable connection with the satellites - a common challenge for devices of this kind - and so certain technical events were not captured or displayed.
In the near future Soccerment will be implementing a new feature in the form of an LED indicator, which will notify users when the GPS is stabilised and ready to rock.
The right foot data seemed to be in order but my left foot, which is normally for standing on, didn't quite pull through as the GPS was delayed.
After recalculating my session, the experts at XSeed were able to collect some data without GPS, including some passes with my left foot and a cross with either foot
So in the end, I had 11 touches, nine passes - 78% of which were short - and two crosses.
It was fascinating to see my heat, pass and touch maps and I can only imagine how beneficial it would be for footballers who are a bit above being an average Joe like me.
There was no shot map and therefore no metrics like shot power and XG, which is perhaps the most divisive stat in the game and definitely not one welcomed by proper Sunday League oldies.
Despite a busy Saturday which included a run, badminton, impromptu five-a-side and a few Disaronno and Diet Cokes in the evening, I managed to cover a quietly impressive 5.20km and record a max speed of 23.5km/h from four sprints.
I was hopeful of getting back on for some more stat padding, but the call to come back never came and I had to make do with the six (alleged) touches.
What the stats don’t track, however, is how many times you’ve been snapped by a trackie-wearing left-back who simply could not resist the urge to dive in.
I’m not quite sure what I’d done to offend him but the lad slid in a good three times on me and after his final attempt to break my leg, he talked his way into a yellow card.
I had to tell him I had work on Monday and my foot is still recovering.
Upon completion of the session, you get a load of feedback from a virtual coach who said my contribution was “solid” and praised my “strong burst of speed” but stressed the need to “enhance” my crossing ability. All fair, constructive stuff.
Once you finish and upload the session, having typed in all details such as the score, time of kick-off and minutes played, you can access your very own ‘Player Card’ - which has all your stats and maps in one place and can be shared on socials. It’s basically the Match Attax card I’ve never had.
There are also rankings so you can compare scores with other players from around the world and use them to improve their own games.
Simply, the better your performances are stats wise, the better your XPR will be as a result. I’ve ticked one game off but the motivation is there to continue analysing my performances and see what kind of progress can be made as we enter the business end of the season.
I might even go full Kevin De Bruyne by using stats to show my importance to the team – though a few more touches might be useful going forward.