Esteban Granero has often been able to see things differently to other players on the pitch.
Praised for his vision and spatial awareness in midfield, the former Real Madrid star is deploying all the skills he learnt as a footballer to run Olocip, an artificial intelligence company he founded five years ago.
While Olocip normally provides predictive analysis in sport, it has recently been proving key to Spain’s attempts to minimize the impact of the coronavirus.
If Granero’s analytical mind has made him a joy to watch throughout his career as a metronomic midfielder, it’s something the Spaniard believes has helped his unlikely transition from player to AI entrepreneur.
“The key point is anticipation,” he says. “This is something that happens on the pitch for a midfielder, to try to anticipate what’s happening in the next play is so important.
“They’re the best at anticipating, they rule the game and artificial intelligence as we know it is about anticipation, trying to make predictions in order to see the future in a very realistic way before it happens, so you can make decisions in a scenario with less uncertainty.
“So anticipation is key for decision-making in clubs in the industry, but also in health problems like this pandemic — and, of course, inside the pitch when you are a football player.”
The 32-year-old, who currently plays for third division side Marbella, has dedicated almost every second of his free time over the last five years to developing his company.
Granero founded Olocip while playing for Real Sociedad to fill what he saw as a void of predictive data analysis in football; data that helps clubs, for example, to more accurately assess how a new signing will perform in the future.
However, since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the company has shifted all of its resources from focusing on football to helping fight the rapidly spreading outbreak.
So highly regarded is the work that Olocip does — thanks largely to the work of Concha Bielza and Pedro Larranaga, who Granero describes as “two of the best artificial intelligence scientists in Europe” — that the Spanish government, as well as local government in each of Spain’s autonomous regions, have come to them for guidance.
Dr. Antonio Salmeron, a fellow data scientist and the Head of Mathematics at the University of Almeria, says Olocip’s models are valuable as they are not only built using data, but also incorporate knowledge from human experts.
“Remarkably, Olocip emphasizes prescriptive models, that is, they are not only capable of detecting potential problems, but also give indications for their treatment,” he told CNN. “Which is especially interesting in aspects of sports medicine.