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Can key statistics help prove a player's value?

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Alistair Magowan - BBC Sport | 18:45 UK time, Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Baseball, statistics and Brad Pitt are the unusual ingredients of Hollywood's new release.
Moneyball tells the compelling true story of a coach who pioneered a radical use of data to turn around the fortunes of his side.

Based on the book by Michael Lewis, the film centres on three baseball players being plucked out of relative obscurity by Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane.

Using a complex statistics system, he drafted in a player with a strange pitching action, one who was seen as over the hill and another who was renowned for his off-field antics rather than his aptitude on the park.

They were seen as cast-offs by other teams but Beane, played by Brad Pitt, used the sabermetrics theories documented in a series of books by Bill James to capitalise on values other franchises ignored.

In doing so, he cast aside traditional scouting opinions, causing controversy. Nevertheless, his approach was a success, Beane's side closing the gap between his cash-strapped outfit and richer franchises.

Beane embarked on his radical approach in 2002. Since then the use of statistics has become commonplace across sport. However, that does not mean the Moneyball approach can be easily applied outside baseball.

In essence, Beane focused on on-base percentage - the number of times the player makes it to first base by whatever means - instead of more traditional or eye-catching batting statistics like home runs or batting average.

In football terms, it is like valuing shots on target or cross completion over headline statistics like goals scored and assists.

Yet there are several problems in trying to distil all football's permutations into one or two key statistics. The game's fluidity and the fact teams score their goals in different ways are just two stumbling blocks.

What works for Arsenal does not necessarily work for Stoke, but that does not stop all 20 Premier League clubs and 23 out of 24 Championship sides trying to gain an advantage by using data from performance analysts ProZone and Amisco.

While yet to crystallise a team's fortunes to the extent of the Oakland A's, it is clear that a reliance on physical and technical data now plays an integral part in many professional clubs, from signings right down to the youth teams.

And football has identified what it believes are some key indicators of successful performance:

- The number of touches
- Goals and, importantly, goal difference
- Shots and, importantly, shots on target
- Total passes and, importantly, forwards' passes percentage success
- High-intensity* distance covered without possession *(5.5 m/s)

Surprising insights from last season's data show Wigan's Hugo Rodallega hit the second most shots on target, while Leighton Baines was the Premier League's most successful crosser.

So what is the true value to football of statistics?

ProZone and Amisco arranged a viewing of Moneyball this week to highlight how similar principles worked in football.

Former England boss Steve McClaren was among the audience.

"For me it is the best coaching tool that I have in my bag," said McClaren, who was one of the first to use ProZone's services when he was a coach at Derby under manager Jim Smith and took it with him when he joined Manchester United in 1999.

"Performance analysis allows me to get as much information as I can on that player in that game or in training, and it helps me to coach and develop players. So from that perspective it has been very important.

"The only thing I would say is that there is so much information available now it's really deciphering what is relevant. The key thing for me is: what actually wins football matches?

"Give me the statistics that win football matches, whether that's shots on goal, outrunning opponents, especially in high-intensity sprints, or whether that's winning challenges."

Throughout Moneyball, Beane has little contact with his players and avoids watching games in person. But after a horrid start to the 2002 season, where the staff and players openly question his methods, the team's fortunes begin to improve once he starts speaking to his valued assets.

McClaren said: "What showed in the film was that he took all that information, he brought the players in on that information but at the end of the day he still had to coach.

"You see the turnaround, compared to when there was a resistance from the manager Art Howe which obviously transmitted to the players. That's why they didn't perform.

"Once Beane interacted with the players and started coaching, the relevancy of the statistics became apparent and then the team started to improve.

"You can get bogged down by the information and just having that information is not enough. You still have to coach and still have to have the conviction in your ability."

Liverpool are an interesting case in all of this, with the club's director of football Damien Comolli known to be an advocate of using statistics to back up his choices in the transfer market.

And owner John W Henry, who also owns the Boston Red Sox, was clearly a fan of Beane's methods as he offered him a record-breaking contract, which he turned down. James is a senior advisor at Fenway Park, too.

Of the many signings that Comolli oversaw in 2011, it is the contrasting fortunes of £22.8m Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez and £35m English forward Andy Carroll that have drawn most scrutiny.

It shows that, for all the statistics used to bring a successful team together, there are just as many social and psychological factors which play their part.

You can also discuss more tactical issues and follow me on Twitter


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  • Comment number 1.

    Teams already use Prozone and Opta, as you point out in this article. Statistics in football can be misleading. I remember reading an article somewhere else recently where Mark Gower of Swansea has apparently created more goal chances for team mates this season than Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have for their clubs.

    The misleading stats can manifest in this way: say you have an above-average player in a mediocre side. That team will rely on him for their creativity, when they are in possession of the ball they look to him all the time, he takes all their corners and free kicks, maybe even their penalties too. His stats look great. Moneyball says he's an underrated hidden diamond.

    Then he goes to a bigger team where suddenly he's just another player in a team of good players. He doesn't receive as many passes from team mates, he doesn't create as many goal chances, he doesn't get to hog dead balls. Suddenly he doesn't look as special.

    Moneyball principles work better in baseball because it's a team sport with individual plays. Individual statistics can be used and analysed more productively. Football is a continuous, flowing game where team shape and team dynamics are more important than individualism. You would be better off applying the Moneyball principles to cricket than football.

    In football, I don't think there are as many secrets. I think it is obvious who the best players are, or the most promising. Some people may resort to stats to 'de-mystify' the game, but the best way of figuring out who a good player is, is to simply watch a game of football properly. Zinedine Zidane was never a prolific goalscorer in his career and he may have had fewer direct assists than many wingers who have the responsibility play the final cross in, but you just had to watch him kill a ball and beat a player with skill to know how good he was. That might not have been reflected in any 'stats' assessment at the end of a game though.

    I think people are only fascinated by Moneyball because a) its American, and we seem obsessed by anything theoretical commercial/entertainment based from the Yanks in this country, we see it in business and marketing and b) it fits the obsessions of the 'net spend' brigade of fans.

  • Comment number 2.

    have always thought this concept was interesting and actually read that statistics was actually the real cause of Jaap Stams departure from Man Utd....not the auto biography:-

    "Manchester United’s manager Alex Ferguson suddenly sold his defender Jaap Stam to Lazio Roma. The move surprised everyone. Some thought Ferguson was punishing the Dutchman for a silly autobiography he had just published. In truth, although Ferguson didn’t say this publicly, the sale was prompted partly by match data. Studying the numbers, Ferguson had spotted that Stam was tackling less often than before. He presumed the defender, then 29, was declining. So he sold him.

    As Ferguson later admitted, this was a mistake. Like many football men in the early days of match data, the manager had studied the wrong numbers. Stam wasn’t in decline at all: he would go on to have several excellent years in Italy. Still, the sale was a milestone in football history: a transfer driven largely by stats."

  • Comment number 3.

    Here is the full article. I recommend reading it, it is pretty interesting:

  • Comment number 4.

    @ 2 & 3 I'm not convinced by that. It may be an excuse for what happened. Ferguson sold Stam when the season had already started, and I remember all the headlines that appeared in tabloids at that time- very embarassing and very damaging for Ferguson. He sold Stam and replaced him with a 35 year old Laurent Blanc so I just don't buy that he sold Stam because stats showed Stam in decline.

    Sorry. Ferguson sold Stam because the headlines about tapping up and telling players to dive embarassed him and he had just been knighted. The 'stats showed Stam was tackling less' excuse sounds like rubbish to me to say there was any kind of logic behind the blunder. Before you say that Ferguson could never be so petty or vindictive...check out his track record. This is Ferguson we are talking about.

  • Comment number 5.

    Now we know the reason McClaren failed so miserably as the England manager. There is that old saying 'lies, damned lies and statistics' used by many to bolster their case.

    I would agree stats are a tool that can be used but if you are unable to read them and then understand them, they are useless in football.

    If you can process what you actually see with the eye, then process the information, to make an informed judgement, then generally you do not need stats that can be totally misleading.

    I do believe if you can do that in one field, generally you can do it in almost every medium, in other words you either have the ability to process what you actually see or you don't.

  • Comment number 6.

    I like the method but only when used with others, managing is down to rapport with the players, it's what separates a Mourinho from a Benitez. If you rely just on stats you will fail, I mean any football fan could tell Liverpool they paid too much for Andy. He is still very immature, likes to party and isn't 100% focused on football, that is where the man-management side comes into it. Numbers on a piece of paper won't stop players from having a bad attitude, look at Carlos Tevez. Great player statistically but when it comes down to it, is he really worth the hassle?

  • Comment number 7.

    looking forward to see the film. I remember the introduction of the back up / non specifically relevant stats use (e.g. positional sprints, effective tackling etc) in rugby and thinking 'weird' so seeing how the first real pioneer was perceived will be interesting even if it is hollywoodized.

  • Comment number 8.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 9.

    The key thing about stats is finding the right ones to measure, which correlate best with the outcomes you want.

    The simpler the sport, the easier it is to find those key stats.

    Baseball is very simple indeed. You have a pitcher pitching and a batter hitting. You have four bases to get to and that's about it. So it'll be relatively simple to find the key statistics for baseball. Because the pitcher and the batter are so much more important than anything else (although of course other things matter too).

    In football, things are far more complex. Unless you are Diego Maradona in 1986, you don't usually have one person win a match on their own. So you need a more complex formula. Pass completion rates are pretty pointless if most of them are only 5 yards 40 yards from goal. You didn't take any risks, didn't do anything difficult, but you also didn't create any scoring chances. Everyone seems to focus on individual stats: those are the enabling factors, since you need players who are good enough individually to have a chance. But the really valuable stats will be team-based ones, because football is a team game and all aspects of it require co-ordination.

    I'm not going to say what I think key metrics would be.

    But I'll tell you this: the ones mentioned on the telly and in the papers are contributory ones rather than key ones.


  • Comment number 10.

    To be honest both stories are as believable as each other. It maybe could have been both. SAF didn't look to offload him, there was a 17mil (I think) offer from Lazio. Taking into account he was 29 at the time and this was 10 odd years ago. That is a hell of a lot of money and Ferguson does have a track record of selling his older players in order to make a bit of money. I think SAF may have looked at the stats, what was said, his age, the transfer fee and then made his decision. He has said it was his biggest regret in management.

  • Comment number 11.

    As the saying goes "There are lies, damn lies and statistics".

    The most important part of statistics is how you use them. You can't just use one statistic to make a judgement for example for Kevin Davies and Fernando Torres didn't exactly trouble the scoring charts last season but how many of the touches inside the oppositions penalty area resulted in goals? If it was about 50 then the player more than shows his worth if it is about 10 then you have to question what it wrong then you have to look at other statistics.

    The Jaap Stam situation is also a good example. If he was indeed sold because he was making less tackles and was thought of in decline. If Ferguson maybe looked at the number interceptions made by Stam it may have shown it may have increased meaning his positioning and reading of the game had improved so making tackles wasn't always necessary.

    The most interesting part of this article are the comments from Steve McClaren that the film shows that you still have to coach, statistics are just a tool to help you man-manage better.

  • Comment number 12.

    Those who don't think stats apply in football need to wake up, all the top managers like SAF and Wenger use them so they're clearly useful even for those who can observe everything up close "with the eye".

    The real question is whether these saber-metrics money ball tactics even work in baseball, Oakland Athletic have only managed to come as high as second in their league of 4 once in the last 5 years, hardly the most impressive record. Every sport now uses stats to make these decisions, and I don't think anyone was ever stupid enough to only think the obvious stand out stats like "goals scored" or "homeruns" were the only important ones, these guys seem to be getting a lot of credit for making a big deal of pointing out the obvious.

  • Comment number 13.

    @ 11

    It makes more sense to use the stats combined to get a better picture, for example taking the touches in opponents area and mix it with shots on target, or shots to goal ratio to see which strikers take their chances the most.
    Though there always seems to be some reliance on statistics in the modern game. Sure they give you insight, but that is only half the story. It doesn't measure player confidence, how theyperform with other teammates etc.

  • Comment number 14.

    Statistics in football are only really useful as a tool to support or cast doubt on a already formed opinion which has been independently obtained. You are doomed to failure if you look at statistics, and then assess a player's worth in a particular area, primarily on those same statistics.

    One of the main problems with statistics in football is just how many of them are dependent on the team's style of play, the team's overall quality and the quality of opposition.

    Didier Drogba had the most shots on targets last year, but, as a free-kick taker, how many of those were tame 30-yard shots which were no trouble for the keeper?

    A player like Berbatov is always going to have a lot of shots on target because he plays up-front for one of the best teams in the EPL.

    The number of crosses statistic is also very misleading, as, in many cases, that may merely serve as an indicator that the player plays for a team who like to play direct football utilising the wide players. I can't imagine that any Barcelona player has put in as many crosses in three seasons as Leighton Baines did last season!

  • Comment number 15.

    What is the opinion of a manager who never uses stats but relies on his scouts and his own eye when judging a player.

    The way McClaren talks, you can't manage or coach without stats. Maybe that is why he isn't a great coach because he has never been anything but average.

    Before stats, the great managers must have touched wood every day, had a four leaf clover, and every other bit of assistance because it's obvious to McClaren, it's his greatest tool in his bag.

  • Comment number 16.

    There's an interesting hawk eye style tracker that tracks players movement over the course of 90 mins. This gives an indication of top speeds, distance covered and what movement off the ball they do. Obviously defensively it is a powerful tool to understand better how the opposing team plays, what runs players like to make etc.
    And from a development style, it is clearer to see where certain players need greater tactical training.

  • Comment number 17.

    Making assessments without statistics is simple discrimination. Statistics tell the hard truth but of course you need to fully understand what the statistics mean as Vox Populi has highlighted. Crucially absolute numbers are often a poor measure of success because they don't give you much information about context. For instance, the absolute number of touches in the box tells you that someone received the ball a lot in the box but not what happened after that. A better way of measuring success would be to use conversion rates. For instance, proportion of times the ball was received in the box to assists or goals. These measures are especially good when both the frequency and success rates are included in statistical analyses. In this way it is perfectly possible to assess which player makes more of their opportunities, which I think is a clear indicator of success and ability.

  • Comment number 18.

    Stats are interesting, but in a team sport they are largely irrelevant. A player can shoot on target 100% of the time and not score, what is more important is having the anticipation and awareness to decide when to shoot and when to pass to an open teammate. There aren't statistics that can measure that.

  • Comment number 19.

    umpumelele @17
    For instance, the absolute number of touches in the box tells you that someone received the ball a lot in the box but not what happened after that. A better way of measuring success would be to use conversion rates. For instance, the absolute number of touches in the box tells you that someone received the ball a lot in the box but not what happened after that. A better way of measuring success would be to use conversion rates. For instance, proportion of times the ball was received in the box to assists or goals.

    Using that basis, transform it back to a day before stats could be broken down, eg goals to games ratio, which is a stat.

    The 66 world cup final, all strikers fit but one [aged 26] had a stat of 43 goals in 54 matches for England at the time. The other a player with limited experience and a couple of goals. Which one would McClaren pick? Not the one that was picked because according to McClaren the stats would be his most important tool.

    I think we all know what happened in that case. A manager judging by what they knew and what they had seen and not by a stat.

    I am not against stats but I have never seen a stat that gives a definitive picture in any walk of life, not just football.

    You see it on these pages all the time, stats reeled out to support a point of view because the poster who is writing can only see it one way.

  • Comment number 20.

    Re Stam, although Ferguson said it was a mistake in hindsight didn't Stam get a ban shortly after his move to Lazio? Not suggesting that he knew about it but it can't have been good publicity for Lazio.

    Re stats I think it's hard to use stats independently to actually watching a player live but they can definately help to tailor specific training. I believe the pro zone also allows managers to see where players have travelled hence would help a manager coach movement or where to play passes etc.

  • Comment number 21.

    Stats in Football are a different animal to stats in American Football or Baseball (as far as I can tell)... because football is a much more fluid game. Baseball and AF are more about the percentages, the number of catches, the number of throws, kicks, distance thrown etc.

    As patchuli said, a nominal "winger" for Barca won't put in many crosses, just like Xavi doesn't swing in many corners (from what i've seen) as it gives possession away, preferring to pass the ball short and work it around.

    That said, if you're in the market for a winger, seeing who is better at delivering a ball in is useful, as is seeing the shot percentage between different equivalent forwards is.

    They can be indicative, but only a fool would take them at face value.

  • Comment number 22.

    People should read that FT article that 'Dont call my name Dont call my name Chicharitoooo' linked to in post #3 before jumping to easy conclusions. it's an excellent article and highlights where statistics can be effective... even in football.

  • Comment number 23.

    Baseball is also a significantly different culture with huge squads and almost daily games.

    In football, which is already financially unsustainable, it would mean bigger squads which would allow manager's more freedom to pick certain types of player or work out, using Wayne Rooney as an example, which players are similar and can be switched in and out of a team to avoid significant tactical changes. Ie which players', in the world game, statistics closely match Rooney's and then Manchester United would buy them.

    On the flip side it might lead to lower wages for all as squad size would have to be huge but crowd attendance would be significantly affected. I believe that this would ruin the spirit of football and is inadvisable.

    I do have to echo umpumelele's comments that without statistics, choice is done on grounds of preferences influenced by individual discriminations.

  • Comment number 24.

    This is actually going a long way to explain why we have had a succession of England managers, who have been absolute garbage.

    It was always a stat which showed England were better with both Lampard and Gerrard in the same team. For the first 40 or so games they played together there was barely any space between them.

    Only a fool would say they were great for England in the same team. We possibly lost talent and a better national team, because of a stat.

  • Comment number 25.

    "choice is done on grounds of preferences influenced by individual discriminations"
    In the end, that's why managers are paid huge sums, on the basis of their ability to make those discriminations wisely.

    When it turns out that they're basing their decision on whether or not the player goes to see a faith healer, or what their star sign is, you should raise questions. A good manager knows what their players do, and uses them accordingly, presumably because they absorb the information in reality, without having to see them in tables.

  • Comment number 26.

    22.At 09:59 24th Nov 2011, justacoffeeshop wrote:
    People should read that FT article that 'Dont call my name Dont call my name Chicharitoooo' linked to in post #3 before jumping to easy conclusions. it's an excellent article and highlights where statistics can be effective... even in football.

    Definatly better than this one!

  • Comment number 27.

    Without stats I know Hart is the best keeper at the moment for England, Johnson at right back, I know is not international class when it comes to defending. I know Wilshire's potential and that he has an engine. RVP is a natural striker, Messi has great control and can dribble with the ball. Parker is currently the best in the prem by a mile in his position.

    No stat is going to alter that.

    I find it sad that a simple game [and football is simple] can have managers who rely as much as McClaren does on stats.

    I bet Forest wish they had employed a football manager instead of a statistician.

  • Comment number 28.

    I should add that some stats are useful, if only to beat players with.

    For example, if a player is lazy, and you as a manager tackle them on it... if you have the stats to back it up (e.g. you never even moved outside of the centre circle), then they can't argue it away.

  • Comment number 29.

    27: A little unfair I feel. McClaren is a really good manager but he always seems to take time to start getting consistent results. He's now become one of the managers where it's popular to put him down no matter what. You don't achieve what he has as a coach and manager without being good.

  • Comment number 30.


    I do have to echo umpumelele's comments that without statistics, choice is done on grounds of preferences influenced by individual discriminations.


    Good managers make choices that benefit the team, if a manager is any good discriminations do not come into it. A good manager sees outside the box, with invention and a willingness to adapt to any given situation. It is what seperates the wheat from the chaff, when it comes to management.

  • Comment number 31.

    "Without stats I know Hart is the best keeper at the moment for England"
    Thank god we don't rely on stats but opinion. Because you're wrong lol

  • Comment number 32.

    AVB is a keen user of statistics and it hasn't paid off for him at chelsea just yet! Another defeat last night. I think a couple more unfavourable results (whether lucky or not) and he could be updating his CV on totaljobs!

  • Comment number 33.

    stats are the fall back for the manager that doesn't know what he sees. Hence McClaren. He knows how to set up a team, but not how to judge a player. Or at least, he can't seperate players he get's on with their actual ability to deliver what he wants.

    Hence the problem with England. He was better in Holland because he didn't speak the language, and probably wasn't chummy with any of the players. So he could use his perspective correctly. He wants to get on with people, and the lack of a language barrier in England is his downfall.

    Says the amateur psychologist

  • Comment number 34.

    @ 31

    But in all honesty, hart is the best of an average bunch. There's a worrying lack of decent english GKs at the moment. Who else? robinson, foster, carson, ruddy, green?

  • Comment number 35.


    McClaren was an appalling national manager. At Middlesborough he had plenty of money, have a look at the majority of signings not a great record. Forest was the ultimate disaster.

    Judging him in Europe is unfair, one success one failure.

    I do not think he has been a bad coach just an appalling manager and by the way it is the manager who picks the team.

  • Comment number 36.

    34. At 10:24 24th Nov 2011, eduard_streltsov_ghost wrote:

    But in all honesty, hart is the best of an average bunch. There's a worrying lack of decent english GKs at the moment. Who else? robinson, foster, carson, ruddy, green?

    Is Hart that Manchester City goalkeeper who can't hold on to the ball or cover his near post? If so, then he shouldn't be England's first choice goalkeeper.

    Personally, I'd pick Scott Carson. He's bound to have expanded his skills by leaving the EPL and playing in a competitive foreign league.

  • Comment number 37.

    To be fair, McClaren does ask "show me the stat that wins football games".

    There's so much that might contribute to goals getting scored or conceded, but the stats don't tell you the connection between that player's tenth tackle and this winger's first successful cross and the goal that was scored a few seconds later.

    It's the coach that has to make that connection. That's where he earns his brass.

  • Comment number 38.

    Scott Carson is a good keeper, Robinson is perfectly capable past his blip in form, but Hart is more composed and is only young. Casillias made mistakes when he was younger, De Gea still does. You learn by making mistakes.

  • Comment number 39.

    I think Steve McClaren is unfairly vilified by the English fans, who generally don't form their opinions, but instead just parrot what they hear people telling them on Sky Sports and in the red-tops.

    I'm of the firm opinion that England's failure to qualify for Euro 2008 was out of Steve's hands, due to the absolutely rubbish players that he had to pick from.

    Also people must remember that the qualifying group that England were in contained Russia (subsequently Euro 2008 semi-finalists) and Croatia (subsequently 1 minute away from reaching Euro 2008 semi-finals), so it was a tougher group then England are normally handed.

  • Comment number 40.

    @ 36

    The same one patches, but I forever remember Carson in the Croatia game where he couldn't trap the ball following the back pass. To make it even more comical, Borat's face appeared on the advertisement boards behind him.

  • Comment number 41.

    Genesis red

    Hart is probably the safest bet at the moment for England, I do feel however he will improve considerably, considering his age. He has certainly looked safer than any of his immediate predecessors. Is he the best for City? I would say no because they could afford to buy the best.

    Strangely enough stats would show he is the best for England but then I would say how do we know if the other English keepers, have not been given a run in the team.

    At the moment I'd stick with Hart, of course it is opinion at the end of the day and I am glad that you did not use Johnson as the example.

  • Comment number 42.

    @ 39

    I think maclaren was unfairly villified, but at the same time he could, and probably should have done better with the team. I think he made mistakes with his man management and management style. But these look obvious in hindsight.
    I don't think he did a particularly bad job at boro, league cup wiiners, uefa finalists. And look what happened when he left. He did a great job at Twente, and again was unlucky with the circumstances at Wolfsburg and Forest. Wolfsburg now are still struggling to an extent. I wouldn't say he's a top manager, but he's not awful either.

  • Comment number 43.

    "the English fans, who generally don't form their opinions, but instead just parrot what they hear people telling them on Sky Sports and in the red-tops."


    (Shall we roll out Spanish stereotypes or can you just learn to stop cut and pasting this into everything you say?)

    Not as many English fans follow what Sky Sports says as you seem to think.

    Steve McClaren has failed more than he has succeeded. His buddy approach to managing in England has resulted in two sackings, so far. Abroad, it's one good one bad. Basically, whatever everyone else says, you say the opposite.

  • Comment number 44.

    Londoner, that majority of McClaren's at MiddlesBROUGH were good and helped the team a great deal. Was he really that bad as England manager? I seem to remember that Gary Neville had an open goal but blazed his shot over. If that had gone in then we would have qualified. I think McClaren also suffered at the time, as Capello has until recently, in having a good goalkeeper.

    I don't particularly like the man as Steve Gibson (chairman at Middlesbrough) said after he left; if steve told me that grass was green I'd have to go outside to check.

  • Comment number 45.

    The soul patch of David Villa
    @ 39

    Are they the same Russian and Croatian teams, with the same players who failed to qualify for the 2010 world cup a year after their Euro tournament.

    We ultimately failed at Wembley in the Euro qualifier, the home of England but amazingly stuffed the Croatians in the following years WC qualifiers.

    The performance at the 2008 Euros looked like a stat narrowly failed to make the semis, they were knocked out by Turkey. If you remember that tournament, three power houses were in the same group Italy, France and the Dutch.

    In all honesty nothing should be taken for granted in life but England should expect to qualify for every tournament, given the size, the player pool and the fact that everything is geared for seeded nations to qualify for every tournament.

  • Comment number 46.

    The crossing statistic in football's an interesting one. Given Tim Cahill's just about the best header of a ball in the English game I'd imagine Leighton Baines stats benefit from who he's crossing to...but you've still got to get it there.

    Now the stat to explain why most managers wait 'til 60 minutes to hook underperformers is the one I'd like to see.

  • Comment number 47.


    People always rate a managers quality by several things, what they win, how they play etc. The one thing thing people rarely talk about when judging a manager, is what state did he leave the team in after leaving his job.

    Mendietta made a telling statement on McClaren and his reign, he could not understand how the players could be drinking a couple of hours before a premiership match with McClaren present.

    He had a lot of money given to him by a great chairman who had the patience of a saint.

    McClaren could not manage ivy up a wall. Yes a decent coach but never a manager.

  • Comment number 48.

    45. At 10:56 24th Nov 2011, Londoner in exile returns wrote:

    Yes, they both failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup, but what's relevant is that at the time (2007-08) that was a very good Croatia side, as proved by the fact that they were a minute away from reaching the semi-finals the following summer (they scored in the 119th minute, only for Turkey to equalise in the 120th).

    Russia were also pretty good at the time, despite England beating them at Wembley.

    The fact of the matter is that England are usually top seeds in qualification and tend to be handed a relatively straightforward draw. As history would subsequently prove, the two teams who England finished behind in 2007 would do well the following summer.

    This time, for example, Switzerland were the only realistic obstacle, yet England were 1 goal away from being consigned to a play-off by Montenegro!

  • Comment number 49.

    "Liverpool are an interesting case in all of this, with the club's director of football Damien Comolli known to be an advocate of using statistics to back up his choices in the transfer market"

    Jesus, if ever there was a reason to NOT use statistics, here it is...

  • Comment number 50.

    Londener, we'll agree to disagree then! Class manager but not always the most genuine. It's interesting that you use a story about drinking before games when the story was drinking after games though. Just shows how much the media can twist and then through retellings the story gets away from people. Incidentally Mendieta made an apology to Middlesbrough and McClaren over that after being misquoted. He had been talking about stories before he got there; there being a drinking culture. This definately makes sense as under Bryan Robson it was practically encouraged whereas McClaren brought a strong sense of discipline and professionalism to the club.

  • Comment number 51.

    yes, so obviously people didn't understand.

  • Comment number 52.

    43. At 10:41 24th Nov 2011, GenesisRed wrote:

    Come off it!

    The build-up and post-match inquest into that Croatia game were more than disrespectful, by media and England fans alike.

    Hardly a minute was spent beforehand giving a very good Croatian side any respect. Hardly a minute was spent after the match congratulating or crediting the creative Croats on their wondrous Wembley win.

  • Comment number 53.

    Londoner, that majority of McClaren's at MiddlesBROUGH were good and helped the team a great deal. Was he really that bad as England manager? I seem to remember that Gary Neville had an open goal but blazed his shot over. If that had gone in then we would have qualified.

    if me aunt had b*lls she'd be me uncle'. Qualifying is about a series of matches not one shot that went over the bar.

    As I said for a team like England, qualification should be a shoe in because EUFA have made it almost impossible for seeded teams not to qualify, unless of course a team has a bad manager.

    It's easy to explain, you can have the same squad of players, they perform and do the job under one manager but are the total opposite under another manager. Right now at Chelsea the players have not suddenly become useless, what they have become is a struggling side and that is down to management.

  • Comment number 54.

    Thrashball @50

    Yep it's strange that Mendietta made that statement back home in Spain after he left.

  • Comment number 55.

    From the outset, I should state that I first read Moneyball about 5 or 6 years ago - indeed Michael Lewis is one of my favourite writers (Economics was my degree subject, so the combo of sport and finance is interesting to me)

    I am also a huge fan of American sports.

    But, I also am involved in a team sport at a reasonably high standard (semi pro) and so have some perspective on this.

    Clearly football, or most of our traditional team sports (other than cricket) are more fluid and different in nature to baseball, or to an extent NFL, so the stats that are compiled are going to be vastly different. As several people on here have pointed out, however, the key is to pinpoint what is important to you - and that too can differ from team to team, to reflect playing styles.

    So, in a rugby sense, you could look at the value of a player winning the floor and recycling the ball quickly to get the team on the front foot - but does this player achieve it himself (& why through strength, technique, footwork, running lines etc), or is his success rate higher if say a teammate has pushed through alongside him in support, drawing defenders away? If its the latter, the the value of the support player is suddenly increased. It has an impact. This then helps you identify players who work hard off the ball, are prepared to make those runs, or coach players to do this more effectively as well.

    Or you could analyse heart rates and recovery times, knowing that once it reaches a certain point a players effort must drop for a period to recover. If it is your player, it can assist with substitutions and training plans to improve their capacity, if it is an opponent, you can target them at certain times, and in recruitment, you can identify players who do not go into the "red" as quickly as others, and who recover quicker than others, so that your team can take advantage during these points in a match.

    But if you read the book, you will see that the use of this was never intended to be in isolation - it was a buying / selling tool - how could the A's accurately value a player, and get the most value from their salary cap - which included knowing when to release a player whose performance was now driving his salary demands up to a point where they exceeded his actual value on impacting results. The players would still need to be coached, understand their role, and buy in to an overall concept.

  • Comment number 56.

    When your manager doesn't react while the team crashes out, that is the focus, not congratulating the opposition.

    Croatia were good, with some very good players. But considering the calibre and CL experience of so many of the England players, we should have done better.

    Saying that it was ok because Russia and Croatia did well at the tournament doesn't change anything. England should have been there, because we do have the players... no matter what Sky Sports and the La Liga lovers brigade say.

    English teams, with many English internationals between them, were dominating the CL at the time. No matter which way you spin it, the manager was at fault.

    Top managers don't let the game just drift when they need to act. Stat lover McClaren was out of his depth. Sure, the players didn't deliver on the pitch, but top managers get more out of their players by discipline and organisation, not by being buddy with them (with possibly the exception of Mourinho).

    The same players that are now the bedrock of England's improved midfield were around. He just didn't pick them, or play them properly.

  • Comment number 57.

    Is it just me or is Soul Patched actually just Adrian Durham? If it's not him he's very similar, maybe if everyone ignored him he'd go away.

  • Comment number 58.

    Between McClaren and Sven, we wasted some of the best players of a generation in England.

    Some may decry them as not good enough, but Lampard, Gerrard, Beckham, Scholes, Rooney, Owen, Rio, Terry, both Coles... they were all top players in world football. Not all were world class, but on paper they were at a higher level than most of our opposition.

  • Comment number 59.

    54: Back home in Spain after he left. Brilliant.

    You misquoted a misquote to start with which is fair enough as no one has a perfect memory; but those quotes were wrong according to the man himself. Back home as you put it for Mendieta happens to be in Yarm in the North East of England where he has settled permanently. It's clear to see that you don't rate McClaren but lets use real things to batter the guy with rather than a journanlist trying to create a story.

    Re England if McClaren sends out his players against Macedonia and they have chances to win it that you would expect professional players to take and they don't it's the managers fault entirely? I would say not. McClaren has always been a defense minded manager but in cups I think he has proved his tactics are about right.

  • Comment number 60.

    58. At 11:31 24th Nov 2011, GenesisRed wrote:

    Some may decry them as not good enough, but Lampard, Gerrard, Beckham, Scholes, Rooney, Owen, Rio, Terry, both Coles... they were all top players in world football. Not all were world class, but on paper they were at a higher level than most of our opposition.

    How long is it going to take for the penny to drop for some people?

    Lampard, Gerrard, Scholes, Rooney, Joe Cole and Terry are/were never good at international level. You could have had Jose Mourinho as the manager, and he still wouldn't have been able to get much more out of these players, because they just aren't good enough on the world stage.

    The English over-hype these players because they see them perform well against pub teams in the EPL.

    Surely after seeing 10 years of someone like Frank Lampard being mediocre for England, even the most deluded English fan can't keep on blaming the managers? Surely?!

  • Comment number 61.

    60: Wind up I know but I think that stats could be brought back to this in that list of players. They are probably what most people would say were our best players at the time but I don't think that they created the best team with the best balance. Lampard, Gerrard, Cole, Scholes were all played the best for their clubs in a similar position. When they went to England they still played but were forced out wide or in a more defensive position ahead of some players probably not as good but better suited to that role. It was an obsession to try and get Scholes, Gerrard and Lampard into the same midfield where we probably should have had the guts to drop one or two and bring in an 'inferior' player.

  • Comment number 62.

    Not sure if it has been mentioned, as i havent had the chance to read every comment, but there is a brilliant book called - "Why England Lose and other curious phenomenon" - It is based around the same statistic's used famously in this film, and looks at many factors not normally associated with basic statistic in football - Great read for any statistic and numbers fans. - Great stocking filler! -

  • Comment number 63.


    Interesting points made there but surely the issue of a player heart rate, recovery time etc, these are physical attributes. Is it really a stat to state what a players optimum weight should be. For many years prior to stats being used that would have been used by the physical trainers and medical team working in unison. Every sport requires a different type of physical ability or even size. Do we really need a stat to tell us a player who is 5' 7" tall, will not make a centre half. There is a basic test which will tell you if you have explosive energy or stamina.

    The artical clearly paints the picture of stats in a game eg crossing, shots on target etc.

    I am certain in American sports such as stats work NFL, for a start the game only flows in one direction, it is basically about speed, physique is a must. The QB has to have an arm with accuracy and range, defence is definitive, in other words it is a sport that can rely on stats because it is fairly rigid in its format.

    Football is far more fluid, individual flair is not restricted, no stat on this earth could get Beckham to score from his own half, it was instinct, ability and he had the nerve to try it. How many times did he try to repeat it.

    I doubt very much that stats could make Messi a better player because their are no rules with him, in fact they would restrict him. I am certain hs manager just winds him up and lets him go, he's given freedom because his manager wants him to do the unexpected.

    As soon as all managers start to use stats as the prime factor for picking teams and playing styles, you will eventually end up with a game like American Football. Guess why American Sport such as baseball and American football is primarily an American sport and not truly global.

  • Comment number 64.

    you're such a WUM and ABE, Patchuli

    As i said, they were key members of teams that were dominant in the CL for years. The EPL isn't a benchmark I would use to compare with international football, but the CL is.

    To say that they weren't good enough is just nonsense. But then, this is from someone who thinks Scholes overrated, and that anyone (especially fellow professionals) who says otherwise are just joking or playing mind games. Pillock.

    By your rational, Xavi, Iniesta, Puyol and Pique weren't good enough, because Spain always underperformed compared to the quality of their players in CL teams. Yet now you can say otherwise, because they finally had a decent manager, who rolled back decades of underperformance at international level.

    England didn't get that decent manager in time. That is all that is different.

  • Comment number 65.

    86% of all comments here are from 17% of all commentators.

    Unfortunately, their "goals-to-shots" ratio is very poor indeed.

  • Comment number 66.

    Here's a stat that shows why managers are the most important part of a team.

    For the first part of Scholes career he had a 1 in 3 strike rate for England [remember those greats runs into the opponents area] good for a midfielder at international level.

    The second part of Scholes career he had a 1 in 26 strike rate for England [rarely setting foot near the opposition area].

    Now before you all say he was past it [his best years gone] , well that is rubbish, the first part of his career ended when Erickson took over as England manager and he had only just turned 26.

    From that time on the stats showed Lampard and Gerrard were the real deal. I think our eyes told us differently.

    One can only wonder what might have been with Scholes because it could not have been worse.

    The one thing it does show is that managers like everything in life can be good or bad and in the case of Englands last few managers they have been appalling.

  • Comment number 67.

    Another aspect to consider when analysing statistics is whether there was a 'steady state' when they were compiled. Clearly, there are separate 'phases' of a match, and what players do individually during those phases is likely to vary significantly. Therefore, taking overall or aggregate values during a period where the 'state' of the system has varied does not necessarily tell us a whole lot.
    5-nil up as opposed to 5-nil down will probably have a profound effect on the behaviours of the various players, and therefore the statistics collected. Likewise, in the transitions from 0-0 to 1-0 (or 0-1), and so on.
    But,overall, I agree that quantitative analysis must always be balanced with qualitative, and the latter is generally what us spectators are more interested in.

  • Comment number 68.

    @ Vox Populi
    I read your first comment and I thought it was better than the entire article! Couldn't agree more.
    Stats have their uses - and things like ProZone were used in Rugby before they were used in Football (Clive Woodward used it a lot) and they're good for measuring (in team sports) things like fitness and effort levels. It can show that Player A tends to tire around the 65 minute mark - so the coach can factor in bringing on Player B after 65 mins for fresh legs - and things like that.

    One other thing - were you refering to Charlie Adam?! ;-)

  • Comment number 69.

    64. At 12:16 24th Nov 2011, GenesisRed wrote:

    By your rational, Xavi, Iniesta, Puyol and Pique weren't good enough, because Spain always underperformed compared to the quality of their players in CL teams. Yet now you can say otherwise, because they finally had a decent manager, who rolled back decades of underperformance at international level.

    Not really. Luis Aragones didn't do any better at the 2006 World Cup than other previous Spanish managers in major competitions. He was even the manager who presided over Spain's embarrassing qualifying defeat to Northern Ireland a few months later. Yet is was he who was in charge when Spain won Euro 2008.

    Did he suddenly go from a ''poor'' manager of Spain to a ''brilliant'' manager of Spain within 2 years?

  • Comment number 70.

    @ Genesis Red

    I think it's a bit harsh blaming Eriksson for not achieving more. Eriksson had one of the best records ever for an english manager. He got England to semis and quarters. Who would have done a better job at that time?
    When maclaren went for the england job, who were the other two shortlisted? Curbishley and Allardyce? Were they the ones to bring the glory days back with the golden generation?

  • Comment number 71.

    Londoner in exile returns, would you say that Fabio Cannavaro wasn't a good centre back as he was only 5ft 9?

    You can look at all the stats in the world but football is much more of a team game than american sports like NFL and Baseball.

    Big sam and Mclaren are bug fans of prozone but Clough, Ferguson and Robson got on fine without it. It's another tool in the box but its not the be all and end all.

    Bale has some of the worst stats for assists in the prem last season but he would take 2 of the the other team out of the game marking him leaving more space for VDV some would say. Are you telling me that Bale wasn't a force on the left wing last year.


  • Comment number 72.

    *big not bug. doh!

  • Comment number 73.

    "Lies, damned lies, and statistics" - as with everything manipulation of facts can prove or disprove anything. Sports fans use so-called 'FACTS' everyday to back up their arguements as to who is the best player or who are the best teams but it is the 'VARIABLES' and 'UNCERTAINTIES' of the sport that make it so intriguing.

    In many American sports and games like Cricket the stop-start nature and individuality leaves less room for manipulation of figures but still leaves room for doubt.

    If say, Stuart Downing knocked in 5 crosses all met successfully by Suarez and another 5 missed completely by Carroll what do those stats say about Downing?

  • Comment number 74.

    1. You would be better off applying the Moneyball principles to cricket than football.

    Not really. As, unlike Baseball, different circumstances require completely different approaches. e.g. First morning, new ball, green pitch, hostile away crowd vs Day 5, after Tea, partisan Headingly crowd, chasing 50 to win with 7 wickets in hand on a featherbed.

    Also, Lara or Richards? Atherton or Pietersen? Depends on the circumstances, right?

  • Comment number 75.

    Coys @83

    Certainly, he was one of the great defenders in world football, not just in Italy. Watched him many times when I lived in S France [when I wasn't watching Monaco i'd take a drive to a game in Italy].

    You got to bear in mind the Italian game was not based on constant bombardment from crosses.

    Barezi wasn't tall either but what they lacked in height they more than made up for in skill, proper defenders.

    When I said 5' 7" I was speaking of the English game and I can't recall a central defender anywhere who was only that high at the top level.

    I remember Sir Alex stating 'if Gary Neville was a couple of inches taller he would have made a great central defender, yet he's got to be nearly 6 foot.

    I would not say it is impossible but I would have thought the player would have to be very special to be a central defender, if he was as short as I wrote.

  • Comment number 76.

    wizard of the keys

    Tell me it's true, Lara and Richards reincarnated as Englishmen and playing for England alonside KP and Athers. You left out Shane and Sobers but I think we could still get by.

  • Comment number 77.

    Having read 'Moneyball' and being a baseball fan myself, I'd agree that applying the principles to football would be tricky.

    As many people have said, baseball is very much an individual sport i.e batter v pitcher therefore the myriad of stats we get from each at bat are far easier to analyse.

    I did read that Billy Beane has a keen interest in football and was looking to apply moneyball principles (strictly finding undervalued players in the market) to an MLS team.

  • Comment number 78.

    I read the book - it was great. I won't watch the film.

  • Comment number 79.

    Hmmm it appears Schteve McLaren endorses the ProZone

    Im not sure id want him endorsing anything of mine unless i'd invented the P45

  • Comment number 80.

    Can't remember whether it was in Moneyball or not but some bod did an extensive study of fourth down stats in American football. Every fourth down opportunity within the 30 yard area from literally tens of thousands of games was studied.
    (for the uninitiated, at fourth down a team has the opportunity to kick for goal and get 3 points or go for another first down in order to get a touch down and 6/7 points).
    The results conclusively showed that, per play, punting generated approx 1.07 points whereas "going for it" generated something like 1.92 points per play.
    In statistical terms clearly a no brainer yet ten years after the results were published the punt ratio remains virtually unchanged.
    Read whatever conclusions you like into it but my take on it was that the perhaps coaches were more mindful of job security that actually winning games - and opted for the politically correct option more often than not.
    Conclusion, there is a place for stats even in such a fluid, dynamic game as football.

  • Comment number 81.

    Londoner in exile returns
    We can only dream, mate!

    Cricket has had stats for generations, courtesy of Wisdens, but we all intrinsically know class when we see it, right?

    More to the point, we all understand that the stats are not always the best indicator of who to put in a Test Match team, especially as you go from 'First Class' averages up to the World Test arena. Look at that young Aussie lad, Cummins. Only played 4 matches, so not exactly much to go on from his statistics, but was the class act at The Wanderers last week.

    Can you imagine Capello doing that with an 18 year-old with four EPL games under his belt?

    What say the people out there?

    Talented, fearless youth without ego or cynicism vs statistically optimised 'professionals'?

  • Comment number 82.

    Steve McClaren says "Give me the statistics that win football matches, whether that's shots on goal, outrunning opponents, especially in high-intensity sprints, or whether that's winning challenges." Perhaps someone ought to tell him it's the number of goals scored.

  • Comment number 83.


    Reminds me of the 'long ball' debate that was raging back in Vinnie's days at Wimbledon, and is probably still at the heart of the current debates around our domestic and international style versus, say, the Brazilians open, attacking culture and the Spanish 'tiki-taki' high-speed, one-touch passing game.

    Wonder how the stats would have compared between that 'punching-above-its-weight' Wimbledon side and, say, the current Arsenal squad.

  • Comment number 84.

    Further, one obvious area for stat usage is with dead ball situations, particularly penalties. If a coach could increase penalty conversions from say 65% to 90% then
    you know which team my money would be on in a penalty shoot out. How many big prizes have gone to teams who win penalty shoot outs?

  • Comment number 85.

    Afternoon all, some very interesting points on here. The role of performance analysis is a huge one. Prozone tell me they have 216 clients in 29 countries so it is common place. But as many have pointed out teams use it for their own needs. For example, I'm told that the likes of Arsene Wenger, Pep Guardiola and Tony Mowbray are very interested in passing tempo. Passes per minute as a guide to their success. Tony Pulis may not care so much for that kind of information.

    15. Londoner and others. Some of you are being harsh on McClaren, he merely said using performance analysis was a tool in his bag and underlined how important coaching was alongside that. He is not alone in using Prozone data after all, but he was one of the first and it was popularised after he went to Man Utd and many other teams followed suit after that. Maybe he was too inexperienced for England but he is an innovator.

    12. Gunnerslover. Some good points and my colleague Matt Slater will be blogging on the real value of moneyball in the coming days I believe (he does the big idea stuff very well).

    9. rjaggar come on then spill the beans! What are the key indicators?

    2. Whether it is true or not, had I known that before the Q&A I would have asked McClaren about why Stam left. I'm sure it wasnt just down to his tackling though!

  • Comment number 86.

    For me the question is how many chances are converted by the striker?I don't mind how many chances he misses as long as he gets one goal for every five chances he misses.I expect a good striker to put himself in position to get goals as well as getting them.A strike rate of 20% is only good or bad depending on the number of goals versus chances to score.A really good striker will have many more chances in a game than a poor striker.At least 3 to 1.The number of chances is what counts.

  • Comment number 87.

    #39... "I'm of the firm opinion that England's failure to qualify for Euro 2008 was out of Steve's hands, due to the absolutely rubbish players that he had to pick from."

    Not entirely true, that. Are you aware that in the 2008 Champions League final, 9 of the 22 players who started were eligible for England - Brown, Ferdinand, Hargreaves, Carrick, Scholes, Rooney, Terry, A.Cole, Lampard and J.Cole? Scholes also started but was internationally retired. Hardly a poor pool of players.

    No, the truth is, McClaren's failure was largely down to his own tactics and team selections. Who could forget the 3-5-2 disaster in Croatia when he thought it would be a good idea to play Gary Neville as a wing-back? Or how about in the return game at Wembley when he gave Scott Carson his competitive debut in a must win qualifier? These were dreadful decisions, absolutely no denying that.

    Having said that, McClaren should not be vilified on the basis that... people make mistakes. He is a top coach, whether he is a top manager, though, is up for debate. He is certainly worthy of a Premier League club after having won the title in Holland, but since the nation's media are unforgiving, it seems he will have to head abroad again.

  • Comment number 88.

    #87 - I mean to omit Scholes from that list. Sorry.

  • Comment number 89.

    Tucsonishot (#80)

    I think you may have got some of the stats wrong/confused.
    Inside 30yards they won't punt (kick back to the opposition but trying to force them as far back as they can - like in rugby) they will take a field-goal attempt.
    If the stats are for within 30yards then to average 1 point from these plays means they only convert 33% of field goal attempts (you get 3 points for a successful field goal). That is way too low current lowest successrate for individual player is 66%.

    I assume the stats are more likely to be for outside the field-goal range (or total) where they did punt and also they are probably not per play but per possession. ie the points gained from a punt would possibly come from a fumble by the receiving team which leads to a another set of possession and a touch-down or field goal.

    The other thing to consider is how many points on average they conceed after punting/not punting - ie if they choose to go for it to gain the 1st down but don't make it they would be leaving the opponents far closer to their own goal with a corrspondingly higher to chance to score.

    I did a quick search and you are correct that there appears to be a link that in some situations it is better to go for 1st rather than punt/kick but it kind of proves another thing about stats as well.
    One blanket stat isn't always enough - you need qualifying/limiting factors on when you can apply the stat

  • Comment number 90.

    Just read the article suggest by post 3.

    With hindsight, he unearthed some excellent players for Spurs: Luka Modric, Dimitar Berbatov, Heurelho Gomes and the 17-year-old Gareth Bale. Yet eventually Comolli was forced out.

    It fails to mention the 30 other players that he brought to the club! Gomes hasnt turned out to well and many teams were after bale as he was putting in great performaces.

    Was he responable for Mido, Alan Hutton, David Bentley, Pavlyuchenko. Danny Murphy, Rasiak, Zokora, Malbranque, Chimbonda, Ricardo Rocha, Chris Gunter, Gilberto

    So with hingsight he also found some very poor players as well. Comoli makes me laugh as soon as he went and players were brough that the manager wanted we started to get somewhere.

    His current crop at Liverpool dont seem to me too hot, but let time be the judge on that, but IMO Comoli is good a buying people but his succes rate is low and the only way can keep himself in a job is buying more players. Thus the reason Spurs ended up with 20 central midfielders and the same seems to be happening at Liverpool.

  • Comment number 91.

    Alistair I try not to be harsh on McClaren but it cannot be argued when you hear the drivel that Lampard and Gerrard by stats were better for England. It was obvious to the eye that they were not suitable in the same team.

    Scholes as I pointed out earlier had a blinding career for England prior to Erickson and then he was relegated, even shoved out to the dreaded left side.

    Maybe we should be aiming our anger at how a team like England is never competetive at tournaments, to those that actual hire the England manager. They seem to be constantly making the same mistakes.

    I am not like most fans, for me it is not all about winning, I just want to see England play well with some tactical ability. I am not asking for much.

  • Comment number 92.

    Comment 1 (Vox Pop) says it all... nice one. Leave the Stats to Motty and the like, they really have no part to play in Football.... yes Football... not, repeat NOT Soccer. As for all things American, the sickening adoption of such terms as "ball game," "an assist," "shoot-out" and the dreaded "Team So-and-So" gets me so riled.

  • Comment number 93.

    #1 Vox Populi; it is relatively simple to adjust performance for the team which a player represents by using a general linearised model (of the type common in insurance stats) with one (or more) of the data items reflecting the status of the team (such as league position). No idea whether this approach sits behind the models used in the US as I have not looked at them.
    Of course, some of the approaches in the article are used informally by many clubs. My own team (West Brom) are notorious for looking for hidden gems based on some sort of factor distorting their value, as we cannot afford to pay big money. Good examples were Tamas (reputation as a playboy which has never emerged in England) and Odemwingie (loss of form due to victimisation by nazi thugs who supported his Russian team). Of course, it does not always work and the beauty of the stats approach is not that it represents a step change in how (some) clubs scout, rather that it will reduce the risk of failure with such an approach .

  • Comment number 94.

    Quite a few fans enjoy sports statistics an integral part of their sport, so I can't really fault McClaren for at least attempting such an analytical approach to football. But sometimes, as in life, you find the answer is eluding you because you are asking the wrong question.

    Be that as it may, if you are playing beautiful football then you might get a stay of execution for playing losing football

  • Comment number 95.

    The Southampton manager, Nigel Adkins, is a big fan of statistics, monitoring and everything sports-science. He's also a big believer in psychology. His analytical approach certainly delivers results on the pitch.

    No-one gets by purely on statistics and analysis though. Man-management and coaching are just as important to get the message across to the players.

    Statistics can offer ideas, but ultimately judging players is about football instinct watching them play.

  • Comment number 96.

    You say Billy Beane 'pioneered' the use of statistics in order to gauge players' true value, but guess whom Beane identifies as his idol?

    Arsene Wenger.

  • Comment number 97.

    It is obvious to any afficionado of football what makes a good player. You don't need stats to see that Ronaldo is a better player than Charlie Adam for example. The other HUGE difference is that football is a team game and baseball isn't - at least when you are batting. Ability to work with, motivate and inspire those around you are key and they cannot be captured by stats either.

  • Comment number 98.

    Moneyball is not universally admired in baseball, mainly because ultimate success has never been achieved - if ultimate success is measured by World Series victories. The Oakland Athletics last won the World Series in 1989, when their slugging was led by admitted steroid abuser Jose Canseco and steroid non-denier (if there is such a word) Mark McGwire - the "bash brothers". After they both moved on, as did manager Tony La Russa, and under a new management structure, Oakland went for a different type of player, one strong on baseball fundamentals, rather than gaudy statistics. This was where Beane’s Moneyball came in.

    It worked to a point because, between 1998 and 2006, Oakland won more games than they lost every season and also finished first or second in their division. Amazingly, their payroll was never in the top half of Major League Baseball and, indeed, it was in the bottom third for eight of those nine seasons. I say worked to a point, because the As didn't actually make it to the World Series, let alone win it.

    Baseball, probably more than any sport on the planet - just try carrying the monster Baseball Encyclopedia if you don't believe me - is driven by statistics. Football and cricket historians are looked on with slight distrust - the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) has its annual meeting and the presentations thereat covered as a serious sports news story.

    In baseball, the media has access to thousands of statistics covering almost every eventuality in every game - from batters' season-long averages to the number of times a particular player has hit a home run with two men out and the bases loaded in the seventh inning or later with the scores tied, or whether he hits the ball better in daylight or under floodlights. With all this data at their fingertips, almost every radio or television commentator regularly imparts this information when it becomes relevant. For some, this is priceless information, for others almost meaningless drivel.

    However, if you are a manager and you know that player C is more likely to succeed against opponent G than player A or player B, you will use him in that situation. American football is similarly driven by statistics, especially in defensive situations when a player with a particular talent to break up a pass play or intercept the ball is more likely to be used when a passing play is the obvious one - such as third down and six yards or more.

    Going back to baseball, one of the most famous home runs in baseball history was when Bobby Thomson (a Scotsman) hit a home run off Ralph Branca to win the 1951 National League title for the New York Giants against the Brooklyn Dodgers. Sabremetrics had not been invented then, but Bill James retrospectively discovered that the Dodgers should not and almost certainly would not have used Branca to pitch against Thomson in that situation. The Sabremetrics of that situation significantly favoured the hitter, whereas the odds favoured other Dodgers pitchers against Thomson.

    Don't knock the statistics, knock the people who don't know how to use them. The book was based on solid facts and I am intrigued to see how Hollywood has interpreted them - to say nothing of how the baseball players and management are portrayed.

  • Comment number 99.

    Statistics are only semi useful. For instance Leighton Baines put in 100 crosses, so what? How many of them ended up in the back of the net?

    Also, a very poor side could show improvement by the use of stats but also because they have the most room for improvement. If you bring 3 players in to say Wigan they have more chance of improving than the same 3 players going to Man City

  • Comment number 100.

    90. At 15:46 24th Nov 2011, Coys83 wrote:

    With hindsight, he unearthed some excellent players for Spurs: Luka Modric, Dimitar Berbatov, Heurelho Gomes and the 17-year-old Gareth Bale.

    I don't think you can really claim that Comolli ''unearthed'' Berbatov, considering that he had already scored over 60 goals in the Bundesliga and appeared in a Champions League final, prior to Spurs signing him.


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