The Times' Sport section excerpted a second time from our forthcoming book The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know About Football Is Wrong. Click here to read the excerpt. Enjoy!
The Times excerpted from our forthcoming book The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know About Football Is Wrong. Click here to read the excerpt. Enjoy!
It's almost that time of year again. Clubs at the wrong end of the table are starting to fret; supporters are getting anxious and take to Twitter. Managers' palms - well, of those managers who haven't been sacked - are sweating a little more ... The specter of the drop starts to loom, as the freshness of the early season is but a distant memory, long ago having given way to the reality of not having accumulated enough points.
Whether football likes it or not, analytics has been creeping into every aspect of a club's football operations – from scouting to medical to match day analysis. And yet, it is fair to say that analytic approaches have not been greeted with open arms. Aside from scouts who have greeted the analytics movement with a fair amount of cold-shouldered trepidation, some of the greatest resistance to analytics has come from members of the coaching profession.
I recently spent a couple of interesting days at the Sports Analytics Innovation Summit in London. Held at the beautiful Oval cricket ground, I learned quite a bit, and enjoyed presentations by people like Manchester City's Simon Wilson, Chelsea's Ben Smith, and Manchester United's Tony Strudwick. The one talk that still sticks in my mind, but perhaps for all the wrong reasons, was by Bill Gerrard, a professor at the University of Leeds.
There was a moment during the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference a few weeks ago when I leaned over to my partner David Sally and asked: "So what exactly is analytics, then?" I was confused, as perhaps a number of attendees were. One of the participants on one of the American sports panels implied – and I'm paraphrasing – that pretty much anything is analytics; he seemed to be saying that, if you're a reasonable person who considers different opinions and evidence to make decisions, you're using "analytics.
A couple of weeks ago, I was a panelist at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston. Described by the high priest of sports journalism Bill Simmons as "Dorkapalooza", the conference has the feel of a revival meeting that conveniently offers a job placement service and an introductory stats lecture to boot.
Some things, like a good wine, get better with age. Footballers do, too, but unfortunately only up to a point. Even in the era of Giggs, Scholes, and Friedel, no matter where athletes do their work, they will eventually see a decline in performance.
Every time an Andy Carroll or Alan Shearer get sold, Liverpool (over-)pay for British-born players, or Arsene Wenger (and lately, Alan Pardew) go shopping for undervalued talent in France, the idea of an English (or sometimes, British) premium is bandied about.
But is it really true that you have to pay a premium for English players?
If you wanted to buy yourself a Premier League footballer, how much would you have to shell out? As we get closer to the January transfer window, we thought it would be interesting to take a fresh look at how much players go for these days.
To find out, we collected data from the respected Transfermarkt website on all players currently on Premier League squads and performed a variety of calculations on their transfer values (complete data were available for a total of 502 players; we collected these data in October).
The ball is round, Sepp Herberger, the legendary coach of the 1954 World Cup winning West German side used to say. Moving the leather around the pitch is what football is all about. While that's always been true, how teams have gone about maneuvering the ball into their opponent's net and away from their own has changed considerably since Herberger's days, however.
Does the Premier League make British men fat, or does male obesity help grow Premier League revenues? The data suggest it could go either way. Statistics from the NHS Information Centre's "Health Survey For England" and Deloitte's reports on clubs' financial statistics show that more revenue for the league goes hand in hand with a greater proportion of males who are obese.
On October 31, 2002, Madagascan side AS Adema cruised to an easy win against archrivals SOE (Olympique) Antananarivo. When all was said and done at the Stade Olympique I'Emyrne that day, Adema had won 149-0. No, that's not a typo. Adema managed one goal every 36 seconds of the match, except they also had close to zero percent possession of the ball.
Over the years, there has been plenty of debate over whether hosting international tournaments is good for a country's economy or whether, as economists Georgios Kaventsos and Stefan Szymanski have argued*, they make people happy. But what would you say if I told you that football tournaments are bad for education?
With Spain's (and Barcelona's) successes in recent years, possession is one of those concepts that
people have been spending a lot of time talking about - though what exactly possession is or how it
should be measured is less clear. In the post below, Andrew Brocker takes a look at two dimensions
of possession-based analyses: the amount of possession and pass accuracy.