In November last year, entrepreneur Valery Bollier stood up in front of an audience at a conference and told them that Riyad Mahrez, the almost unheard of Leicester city midfielder, would have a huge valuation by the end of the season. With no background in football and a self-professed tennis fan, Bollier’s claim was a bold one to say the least. He even went as far as to say that, at the time, Mahrez was the best midfielder in Europe, not just in England, predicting that the talented Algerian would be snapped up by a bigger club come the end of the season.
At the time, Leicester City were top of the Premier League table. Mahrez had led the charge, too, picking up seven goals and creating 29 chances, six of which were converted into assists. The world was very much aware of Mahrez’s talent by this point, but the prediction is none-the-less impressive. All involved in sports journalism, and the sporting community more widely, predicted a Leicester drop-off. Very few saw their impressive early season form as sustainable, and Mahrez’s match-winning influence was just a part of a Leicester machine performing far above expectations.
As the Foxes lifted the Premier League trophy the following May, though, Mahrez had been crowned PFA player of the season and Bollier’s prediction had all but come true. The midfielder is yet to be snapped up by a ‘bigger’ (more financially powerful) club, but once the transfer window opens in July all bets are off. A player that was bought for a paltry £375,000 in 2014 would sell for a fee in the region of £35 million - more than the entire Leicester starting XI was bought for - according to the Daily Mail. Oulala also claim they predicted the trajectory of Kevin de Bruyne who, after an impressive season with Wolfsburg having been spurned by Chelsea, returned to the Premier League in a sensational £55 million deal.
Oulala uses a sophisticated mathematical matrix to determine player points, with 70 different metrics per player - dependent on their position - ‘resulting in a total of 275 ways to gain or lose points,’ Bollier wrote in the Huffington Post. Where conventional fantasy football companies will use only the most basic metrics - goals scored, yellow cards received, games played etc. - Oulala hopes to create a game experience more true to the sport, where players can analyze their team’s performance in real-time using their multitude of metrics, and allowing them to make changes accordingly. The game offers both free and paid leagues, and cash prizes are given out to the best managers.
According to Bollier, ‘making [the game] as close to football reality as possible’ is the goal. Oulala’s data is sourced directly from Opta Sports, and their player valuation will only complexify along with Opta’s capabilities. In his conference speech, he bemoans his company’s current inability to measure player contribution off the ball - runs that don’t receive passes are often as important as ones that do - and declares this level of data collection as the future. If football is an art rather than a science, it is one that can increasingly be quantified and analyzed scientifically. There is something of an annual tradition of fans obsessing over fantasy football for two weeks before losing interest, Oulala hopes to both capitalize on and extend that enthusiasm.