Ignacio Palacios-Huerta is not exactly a name commonly associated with world football. A graduate of the University of Chicago, he went on to become a recognized economist and distinguished professor at the University of the Basque Country in Spain and the London School of Economics. If you were to ask the most devoted and outspoken of Chelsea or Manchester United fans about Ignacio, chances are you would be greeted with blank stares. And yet, in the never-to-be-forgotten clash between these two English giants in the Champions League Final of 2008, the professor played a role so profound that he deserves to be etched into the lore surrounding that game forever. And, in some ways, he will be.
It was 1995 when Ignacio began pouring over hours of penalty kicks from decades of footage, as research for a paper he was writing called "Professionals Play Minimax," in which he applied the mathematical concept of game theory to football. That paper was published in 2003, after Ignacio had spent the better part of a decade looking at thousands of penalties by thousands of players. By sheer chance, it turned out that Ignacio shared a mutual friend with Avram Grant. In 2008, when Grant was managing a Chelsea squad that earned a place in the Champions League Final against Manchester United, this mutual friend acted as a contact between him and Ignacio. All that Grant asked from Ignacio was that he do what he was good at: analyze United's penalty performances, and provide Chelsea with the tips that might put Chelsea on top if the unlikely scenario of a penalty shootout might occur.
Ignacio, as it turned out, was happy to oblige.