Between the Lines

"Of all unimportant subjects, football is the most important" – Pope John Paul II

Scientists worried by Vidic’s post-scoring behaviour

Posted by hakanrylander on December 7, 2008

Yesterday’s game against Sunderland became a lot more thrilling than necessary, and accordingly the joy and celebration was all the more ecstatic after Nemanja Vidic’s extra-time winner. But maybe we should have been worried rather than overjoyed as Vidic saluted the crowd and then ran to embrace assistant manager Mike Phelan (who only moments earlier had ordered Vidic to move upfield). Scientific research seem to indicate that this kind of celebration could signal hard times ahead for Manchester United.

Gary Bornstein and Chanan Goldschmidt at the Department of Psychology at The Hebrew University, Jerusalem have studied the correlation between post-scoring behaviour and team success in football. The hypothesis is that strong team cohesion leads to success. They constructed a model to measure team cohesion by the way players behave after scoring. In this model it’s a sign of weak team cohesion if the player turns his attention to the crowd and runs towards the crowd and/or the coach (a la Vidic). If team cohesion is strong the player is expected to focus mainly on his team-mates.

They then went on to study 125 videotaped goals scored in the Israeli premier league and categorize them according to the nature of the celebration. The next step was to compare this with the final standings in the league table at the end of the season. Their conclusion was that post-scoring behaviour was indeed a fairly good predictor of team success. To put it bluntly; teams that celebrated in the style of Vidic finished at the bottom of the league. Further details of the study (and others) can be found in “Myths and Facts About Football”.

Luckily, the study cannot be seen as the final word on this issue. One obvious objection is the difficulty involved in measuring team cohesion in this way, involving e.g the weighting that should be given to different aspects of the celebration such as focus of attention, direction of running, number of team-mates touched etc. Furthermore, there is a question mark as to the direction of causality. The scientists themselves admit that it’s quite possible that players become more team-oriented as the team becomes more successful rather than the other way around.

With these reservations in mind I feel that both my own and Vidic’s celebrations of his goal were fully justified.

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