Rob Minto

Sport, data, ideas

Category: football (page 2 of 3)

When it comes to FA Cup upsets, size is subjective

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Bradford: biggest shock EVER?

What’s the biggest FA Cup shock defeat ever? For Robbie Fowler, it’s the Chelsea 4-2 loss to Bradford from yesterday (Jan 24). And in terms of drama, it’s clearly a great story. After all, Chelsea were 2-0 up and at home.

But for league placings, it’s not even close. With Chelsea top of the premiership, and Bradford 7th in League 1 (the third tier, despite its name), there are 39 teams between them.

Compare that to the 84 teams between Blackburn and Oxford in 1964, which according to Steve Porter, author of The Giant Killers website is the greatest FA Cup upset ever. Blackburn were 2nd at the time in the top division; Oxford were 18th in league 4.

Porter, who writes under the name Captain Beecher, ranks the upsets in terms of league placings, combined with a player quality metric using internationals and previous cup winners. Porter doesn’t spell out his methodology, but it’s clearly better than just using collective memory and non-scientific lists published in newspapers.

Porter sums up the problem perfectly:

On BBC’s Match of the Day programme, when asking the public if Bradford’s victory over Chelsea was the greatest cupset ever, they showed twelve of what they considered the greatest giant killings of all time. Every game had one thing in common. The BBC TV cameras were there. Not one game which was not covered by the BBC was considered. And so shapes our opinion. If you’re told something was a huge giant killing enough times {7th placed top flight Wimbledon beating Champions, Liverpool 1-0 in 1988. Surprise? yes but giant killing? Really? 7th vs 1st in the Premier League?} You start to accept that it’s true. ITV are a little more impartial, perhaps because they don’t have as much cup footage to be able to make lists exclusively thiers. The problem when compiling such lists is that every time a particular tie is overlooked, it’s chances of being placed in the next TV countdown, or magazine article diminishes.

And where does Porter’s system put Chelsea-Bradford? It’s 15th on his all-time list. Not bad, but it is interesting that it is lower down than non-league Luton’s 1-0 victory over the Premiership’s Norwich only 2 seasons ago, which is in 7th place. That didn’t even make the BBC’s list in the studio analysis. Memories are short, eh?

Being subjective, turning round a 2-goal deficit to 4-2 at Stamford Bridge is an extraordinary result. But perhaps the BBC could, with all its resources, dig up a few proper stats like Porter’s.

See also:
Interactive football league tables

Gary Neville and the lost art of statistics

What is Gary Neville talking about? He seems to think that defending is a lost art, one that is “never coming back”. End of an era stuff.

To be fair, his column on how defensive training in football is dying is very interesting and is full of insights. However the way he uses statistics to back up his argument is very wide of the mark.

Here’s the key paragraph in full:

If you look at the Premier League goalscoring chart, it bursts into the thousands from 2010 on. There were 942 goals in 2009 and 1052 last season. That’s a huge shift. Once you have a five-year trend of more goals being conceded and more scored it starts to look irreversible. It points to a permanent change in the sport.

Sadly, the Telegraph don’t provide the aforementioned chart. If they did, you would see this *:

To say that it “bursts into the thousands” is very misleading. The 1,000-goals-per-season mark (or 380 game equivalent) has been reached several times in the Premiership before, in 2008, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2000, 1998 and 1993. ** Neville has extrapolated a whole argument from a one season shift from 2009 to 2010.

Back in Neville’s heyday, the 1999-2000 season, there were 1,060 goals scored. And in his first season as a professional, 1992, which coincidentally was the first Premiership season, there were 1,222 goals, which equates to 1,005 goals in a 20-team league.

Never mind getting his own era wrong, Neville looks back further:

perhaps the very bold formations and big scorelines of the 1940s and 50s are what we are heading back to. Maybe attacking football was in hibernation during the 70s, 80s and 90s, when organisation and structure prevailed. Maybe now we are seeing football as it was intended.

So let’s look at the goals per game for the English top flight from 1940 to now ***.

It’s clear from the chart that we have a long way to go before we are at the 3.5-plus goals per game average of the 1950s. It’s just wrong to suggest that is where “we are heading back to” from the data available. Since 1970, there is a very clear goals-per-game level of 2.5 to 2.8. Perhaps we will get up to 3 goals per game – that would be significant. But we are not there yet.

Also, the chart bears no relation to Neville’s assertion that the 1970s, 80s and 90s were a period of attacking hibernation. If so, we are still in hibernation compared to the 1950s.

What we can say with confidence is that the goals-per-season is trending up, slightly. The change from 2009 to 2010 was quite big. But that’s about it.

But why let the real statistics get in the way of a good story? Defending is clearly in the eye of the beholder. Gary Neville was a fine proponent of the art, but his use of numbers is flaky at best.

Statistical notes:

* I have included the goals per game or 380 game equivalent for the current season.

** There were 1,195 goals in 1994 and 1995. The Premiership was initially a 22-team league, changed to 20 teams in 1994-95.

*** Data is from Worldfootball.net

Three managers lose the plot

It must be tough being a Premier League manager. The media are always on you. The fans are after you. Constant spotlight. Huge salary.

Still, there’s no excuse for completely losing the plot. And, in very different ways, that’s what Arsene Wenger, Harry Redknapp and Manuel Pellegrini have just done. Continue reading

Van Gaal’s first five games: where’s the significance?

There’s a lovely moment in the film Moneyball, when Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt) and his new nerdy assistant are in a meeting with the owner of the Oakland As. Data-cruncher Peter Brand (played by Jonah Hill) tries to point out that the run of poor results isn’t a “big enough sample to be significant” but is quietly shut down by Beane, as he doesn’t want stats talk in front of the owner.

But they were right. The question though, is always a good one. In fact, it’s the key one. Just as important as what data we are using is whether or not the sample is big enough.

In football, the key sample size is usually 38 – that’s a season of 20 teams playing home and away. It’s enough to determine the winner of the Premier League. What isn’t enough is five games.

Take a look at this graphic from the BBC. Ignore the fact that it’s in a column written by the normally insightful Robbie Savage – I’m sure he didn’t approve the graphic, let alone create it. He knows his stuff. His insight into the defence and selection policy of Van Gaal reads well. And Savage likes his stats, but he’s no statistician. This graphic, and the argument that after five games, Van Gaal has a poorer record than Moyes is pretty shabby.

Clearly, the chart suggests that Louis van Gaal is an inferior manager to the dumped David Moyes. Look at all the money! Where are the results? Oh, where to begin?

Firstly, league position after five games is totally meaningless. Teams fly up and down the table with a few results at this stage of the season.

Next, money spent – how is that relevant? Man U have sold players too, but that hasn’t been put into this figure. Same goes for signings. In fact, you could argue that the higher signings should take longer to bed in.

But most importantly, five games is NOT A SIGNIFICANT SAMPLE. There happens to be a run of five games under Moyes where ManU got fewer points than this, at a very similar stage of the season. If you picked premiership games 2 to 6 under Moyes, you get this run of results:

game 2 Drew (Chelsea) 0-0
game 3 Lost (Liverpool) 0-1
game 4 Won (C Palace) 2-0
game 5 Lost (Man City) 1-4
game 6 Lost (WBA) 1-2

That’s a run of five games with just four points! It just happens to be games 2-6 not 1-5.

In fact, there were two other five-game runs of two losses, two draws and a win – ie 5 points – under Moyes during last season.

What happens for the next 20 to 30 games will tell us about van Gaal’s signings and tactics. Five games tells you nothing about Man U, and everything about the journalism.

Who made a worse deal: AB InBev, or Chelsea?

Buying an asset back at a higher price always looks like bad business, whether it’s a company – or a football player.

So which organisation has made a worse deal this week? Giant brewer AB InBev, who bought South Korea’s Oriental Brewery back for $5.8bn? Or Chelsea, who bought Benfica midfielder Nemanja Matic for £21m?

In absolute terms, it’s AB InBev, no question. The company sold OB for $1.8bn in 2009 – so an extra $4bn was needed to get it back.

For Chelsea, Matic was valued at around £5m in a deal in 2011 – so an extra £16m, which is pocket change in this market.

However, in relative terms, Chelsea have lost out more. Matic’s value went up by over 4x in just three years – ie 1.4 times per year, whereas OB’s value roughly tripled in 5 years, going up 0.64 times per year.

Yet in essence, it’s a false question – both the business and the player are different from when they were sold. Another way of looking at it is: what would you need to spend in this market to get something of similar value? When in the summer transfer market Manchester United spent £27m of a rather out-of-sorts Fellaini from Everton, and Arsenal spent £42.5m on Ozil, this doesn’t look like overpaying.

As Andy Brassell said on the BBC: “We should not be too hard on Chelsea for letting him go in the first place, though. His improvement in the last 18 months has been breathtaking.”

Luis Suarez and the moral hazard of transfer fees

Mind the teeth

 

Statement from Liverpool Football Club:

We deeply regret the behaviour of Luis Suarez during the club’s recent match with Chelsea, and announce that the club has terminated its contract with Mr Suarez with immediate effect.

Dream on.

This is what Liverpool actually said, from Liverpool FC managing director Ian Ayre (with my emphasis):

I think the most important thing is that we acted swiftly yesterday. Luis issued his apology and then we spoke with him last night and then again this morning. We’ve taken action to fine Luis for his actions. Brendan has spoken to him and I’ve spoken to him, and Brendan will be working with him further on his discipline. You can see when you speak to him how sorry he is about it and he’s certainly shown quite a lot of contrition to us – and as part of that, he’s also asked we donate the fine to the Hillsborough Family Support Group. I think he felt like he let a lot of people down yesterday. We’ll work with Luis – Brendan particularly – on this side of his character in his game. Hopefully that puts the matter to rest from our point of view and we’ll wait and see if there’s any further action from the football authorities.

If, like me, you are wondering what a footballer has to do to get fired from their job, then read on. UPDATE: Suarez was banned for 10 games. Liverpool said they were “disappointed”. 

Footballers don’t really get fired, whether it’s for biting another player, racially abusing another player, or beating people up. In any other profession you would probably lose your job, especially if this wasn’t the first time. (Note: Suarez has biten another player before, but for a different club. The racist abuse was at Liverpool).

Why?

It’s all to do with how clubs view players. They aren’t employees, they are assets. The reason why they are assets is that they can be sold on to other clubs.

Some quick sums. Suarez is paid around £6.25m per annum. He is on a 5 1/2 year contract. Excluding bonuses that will make his total pay just over £34m

That sounds like a lot. And it is. But Suarez was bought from Ajax in the Netherlands in January 2011 for £22.8m, and given his performances for Liverpool, his value will be a lot higher. Of course, towards the end of his Liverpool contract it will decrease given he will have fewer good years in him. He could even leave as a free agent in 2016. But if they sell him in the next 2 years, a transfer fee well upwards of £35m is not unlikely – more than his total salary over his contract.

In other words, Liverpool would effectively have to writedown an asset of approx £40m in value over a pitch incident. Never mind that in any other walk of life he would face criminal proceedings. This isn’t about discipline. It’s about business.

There is also the question of his value as a player in scoring goals. Liverpool aren’t going to fire 10 per cent of their starting outfield lineup, and one of the best players in the league with 30 goals so far this season.

Of course, if that asset starts to affect shirt sales or gate reciepts, you can bet that the equation changes. But that is not going to happen, or at least it will not be noticeable (which in this case is the same thing).

Which brings us to the moral hazard. Suarez knows that, whatever stupid thing he does, in all likelihood, he will simply get fined, his manager will shout at him, other players and opposition club fans may give him a hard time. But that’s it. So what? Where are the true consequences of his actions?

Losing his job? That might make him – and other players – think twice.

But until football scraps the transfer system and treats players as employees, we have a case of pure moral hazard, where a club will not sacrifice an asset and players can get away with criminal behaviour. It’s not a very nice sport, is it?

This is what racism looks like

So ban it.

The FA Terry verdict – “Mr” to you

The FA’s disciplinary proceedings against John Terry is worth a read in full. There are wonderful passages of prose such as this:

Mr. Ferdinand started to move up the pitch in the direction of the half-way line and shouted out at Mr Terry, “how can you call me a cunt, you shagged your team mate’s missus, you’re the cunt.” Mr. Ferdinand also made a slow fist pump gesture with his right hand, suggesting sex (a reference accompanying what he said).

Ah, the slow fist pump gesture. Textbook.

And this:

On his evidence, Mr. Ferdinand offered to shake hands with Ashley Cole, but the latter refused, saying “nah, you can‟t talk to JT like that.” Mr. Ferdinand said “what do you mean, if he‟s willing to give it out, he has got to take it.”

Quite. I’m with Ferdinand on that one.

Anyway. It’s an excuse to put the full 63 page report through a word cloud, via Wordle. Here it is:

John Terry vs Chris Huhne, Fred Goodwin vs Johann Hari: why it pays to wait

I can’t help thinking about four recent falls from grace. In essence, two are about awards, the other two about pre-emptive punishment. In all cases, we could benefit from being less hasty. I’ll explain why.

Let’s start with pre-emptive punishment. John Terry was stripped of the England captaincy while pending an investigation over racist abuse. Chris Huhne quit the cabinet following charges over his wife taking speeding points for him.

In these cases, the alleged crimes are totally different, but the principle is the same. Should someone step down from high office (the cabinet, the captain of English football) before their case is heard? And in both instances, the MP and player can remain just that. Why not go further – if they are not acceptable to lead the team, should they even be in it? If Huhne is not fit for cabinet, should he represent his constituents in Parliament?

Yet it was over the Terry case, the more morally worrisome and noxious case, and over an individual with prior bad behaviour (violence, infidelity), that Fabio Capello, England manager resigned. Capello said it was unfair to pre-judge the case. And surely, he has a point? If Terry is innocent, will the FA give him back the captaincy? About as likely as Capello managing England again.

Terry may be an odious person, certainly. But this is all the more reason to not give him the captaincy in the first place.

Which brings me neatly to getting things right in the first place.

Fred Goodwin was stripped of his knighthood. Johann Hari was forced to give back his Orwell prize for journalism.

In both cases, it seems the witch-hunt was hugely enjoyable for the press and public alike. Goodwin is an unrepentant, apparently unpleasant banker. Hari is a delusional journalist, protected by the Independent who should have sacked him when his dishonesty came to light.

In both cases, their prizes inflated their egos and should not have been given. Neither man can be blamed for accepting. If you are a multi-millionaire banker dealmaker, or a fêted journalist, darling of the left, a gong is exactly what you think you should be getting.

And yes, in both cases, a few checks would have made all the difference. Did Hari’s article stand up to scrutiny? It fell over pretty fast, as soon as a light was shone on his sources. Why give knighthoods to sitting CEOs? Why not wait and see if their deals work out, or if they bring a bank (and the country) to its knees?

In all four cases, it pays to wait, check and not jump in. Should Huhne still be a minister? If Terry was a good choice for captain before (he wasn’t), he still would be now. Hari should not have been awarded the Orwell prize; Goodwin should never have got close to a knighthood in the first place.

A banker, a footballer, a politician, a journalist. Very different crimes or charges. These men are problematic, certainly, but our eagerness to award or judge makes the problem far worse.

In the red, twice over

The Premiership football bubble has yet to completely pop, despite Portsmouth going into administration. But the situation at Liverpool, and the (financial) results of Manchester United make alarming reading.

For the best summary of ManU, David Bond crunches the numbers (dare I say he’s perhaps a better financial journalist than sports writer?).

And the peerless David Conn’s reporting on Liverpool was the best around.

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