Between the Lines

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

Level-headed Analysis of the Week

Posted by hakanrylander on November 24, 2010

Former West Ham assistant manager Zeljko Petrovic has quickly moved to shed some light on why he parted company with the club yesterday. In the Sun this morning he is quoted saying:

“The Premier League is a crap league, it is nothing. In truth the level is shocking. Every team has just three good players. If you take those players out of the teams then there are only players left who would not be playing in the bottom team in Holland.”
Interesting analysis coming from the bottom team in the PL. Sort of makes you wonder why West Ham didn’t bring in a number of average players from the Dutch League. Should have been enough to lift them to mid-table security, at the very least.

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Who Deserve the Title? A Semiparametric Answer

Posted by hakanrylander on November 14, 2010

In the Belgian premier league in 2008/2009 Sporting Anderlecht and Standard Liege completed the season with the same number of points. Although Anderlecht had the superior goal difference, a play-off match was organized to decide the championship and Standard Liege won it. But did they really deserve the title?

Gery Geenens at the University of Melbourne, Australia has taken a closer look at this crucial question and tried to investigate which team was really the best through statistical modeling,  using a semiparametric (don’t ask!) model. Among other things he points out that the semiparametric nature of the model grants it a great flexibility and allows the identification of previously ignored patterns. Maybe it’s now time to put this flexibility to good use and apply similar methods to ascertain whether United deserve to be in the top three of the PL at this moment.

Leaving aside the finer points of statistic modeling, it looked pretty obvious for about 80 minutes against Villa yesterday that we don’t deserve to be even in the top half of the table. Looking at the team-sheets you expected Villa to struggle in central midfield, but it turned out quite the opposite. For much of the second half Villa played us off the park. But judging from the last 15 minutes, we deserve to be champions. Why didn’t we see any of that drive, energy and penetration during the first 75 minutes?

So where does this leave us from a semiparametric point of view? Any readers with special insight into statistic modeling are most welcome to contribute!

Note to Fergie: Put Marc Albrighton on your shopping list.

I’ve only been able to find an abstract of Dr Geenens’ report, and I’m therefore  unable to reveal who actually deserved the Belgian title in 2008/2009.

Posted in Academic, Manchester United, Match Reports | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The five reasons why Rooney wants to leave

Posted by hakanrylander on October 21, 2010

Money. When a professional footballer wants to change clubs he normally claims that this is to “fulfil a dream”, “take the next step”, “get a new challenge” etc. In reality, money is always part of the motivation. More often than not it’s the main reason why a player wants a move. I don’t think Rooney is any different in this respect. As he’s one of the best players in the world, it’s not difficult to imagine that he gets frustrated when across town Yaya Touré earns twice as much.

Form. In the previous paragraph I refered to Rooney as one of the best players in the world. But in fact he hasn’t played anywhere near that level for the last six months, neither for United nor England. On form he deserves to be on the bench as both Berbatov and Hernandez have looked better players recently. As what was supposedly a temporary glitch has turned into the longest slump of his career, many of us have become increasingly worried. None more so than Rooney himself. Since the World Cup it’s likely that he’s given some serious thought to which way his professional career is heading. One conclusion might have been that a change of clubs could help him find his feet again.

The Glazers. The owners of the top clubs in Europe tend to put an awful lot of money into the club, or at least not take anything out. The Glazers on the other hand take countless millions out of the club. This has now made it obvious that United find it very hard to compete for the best players. It’s no wonder that Rooney does not believe that United is a club in ascendency. Does anyone?

His private life. Very difficult to know how important this aspect is. It has probably helped destabilize Rooney, but I still think it’s only a minor factor behind his transfer request.

Paul Stretford. Rooney’s agent orchestrated a very similar move in 2004. Read this highly interesting article by David Conn. I think Stretford is at it again.

Posted in Manchester United, Player Analysis, Transfer Gossip | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

England try to help Morrison back on track

Posted by hakanrylander on October 7, 2010

In the Daily Telegraph Henry Winter again praises the talent of United youngster Ravel Morrison, but he also adds further proof that the lad has off-field problems that appear to hinder his very promising career. In an interview with England Under-19 coach Noel Blake Winter writes:

The FA also focuses on ensuring the teenagers in its temporary care develop as rounded individuals as well as footballers.

“That’s absolutely massive,’’ said Blake. “What we do off the field is as important as on. So when we play for our country we’ve got to be good tourists and portray good manners.’’

One of the best teenagers is Ravel Morrison, a midfielder at Manchester United who has off-field issues.

“We are trying to work very closely with the club,’’ said Blake. “He’s a very talented boy but he has to help himself as well.’’

The exact nature of the off-field issues is unclear, but let’s hope that the joint efforts of Blake and Ferguson can get Morrison back on track. The early signs this season are positive as Morrison has played regularly for the Reserves and Under-18s. Last week he scored a good goal for the U18s against Blackburn.

Posted in Manchester United, Player Analysis | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

Posted by hakanrylander on September 23, 2010

It’s tempting to try to read between the lines of Sir Alex Ferguson’s absence from last night’s Carling Cup game against Scunthorpe. On surface it’s unremarkable that Ferguson chose to travel to Valencia to watch our next CL opponents, and leave Mike Phelan in charge for the Scunthorpe game. But this is in fact unprecedented as it was the first match during nearly 24 years as United manager that he has missed for other than family reasons.

The logical conclusion is that this was not simply a trip to scout our next opponents. At the top of Ferguson’s plans for next summer must be to find a successor to Edwin van der Sar. As Valencia were playing Atletico Madrid it’s most likely that Sir Alex saw the opportunity to take a closer look at David De Gea, and that the young Spanisk keeper now probably heads Ferguson’s shopping list. De Gea would be an excellent signing, but I find it unlikely that he will leave Spain, even though the fact that he plays for Atletico might make a move to local rivals Real Madrid unlikely.

Posted in Manchester United, Player Analysis, Transfer Gossip | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Smalling will have big impact

Posted by hakanrylander on September 23, 2010

This was a very enjoyable Carling Cup night. One reason was the fact that City, Chelsea and Liverpool were all knocked out! But more importantly, this was probably a breakthrough night for another up-and-coming United star. I am of course refering to Chris Smalling.

It gives me great pleasure to watch a centre-half who is comfortable on the ball, able to hit long accurate passes and score goals. The pass to Gibson that led to the first goal would have made Paul Scholes proud, and Smalling scored the second with the ease of a goal-poacher rather than a defender. This game will have further strengthened his confidence. I’m looking forward to his first PL start. It won’t be long.

Posted in Manchester United, Match Reports, Player Analysis | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

The End of the Berbatov Debate

Posted by hakanrylander on September 20, 2010

Welcome back, Premier League football. This was electrifying! The second half in particular had everything you could ask for in a football game; individual brilliance, good team effort, a lead wasted by poor defending and a Goal of the Season contender as well as a winner by MotM Dimitar Berbatov.

This will surely be the end of the debate that has been ongoing between United fans for the last couple of seasons. Is Dimitar Berbatov a genius or an expensive flop? No one who was present at Old Trafford yesterday can have lingering doubts. Berbatov is the closest we’ve come to another Cantona. I think Manutd24 summed it up perfectly in the headline “I am not a man. I am Berbatov.”

Finally, a reminder.

Premier League Top Scorers:

  • Dimitar Berbatov 6
  • Florent Malouda 6
  • Didier Drogba 5
  • Andy Carroll 4
  • Salomon Kalou 4
  • Theo Walcott 4
  • Darren Bent 3
  • Johan Elmander 3
  • Craig Gardner 3
  • Carlos Tevez 3

Posted in Manchester United, Match Reports, Player Analysis | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

Another Glazer ship about to sink?

Posted by hakanrylander on June 9, 2010

The leading business site Forbes reports that the value of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is falling, and that the owners (the Glazers) “need to repair their ship before it sinks”. Fans are angry at the lack of money being spent on players and the season ticket waiting list has “essentially evaporated”. This comes just days after Andersred’s brilliant analysis of the severe problems in the family’s real estate business First Allied Corporation, where half the shopping centres risk going bust.

The big question is how these problems will affect the Glazers’ ownership of United. It might make them even more determined (or desperate) to hang on to United and the cash flow the club generates, but then again it might make them more open to offers that would see them leave United with a huge profit. Let’s hope for the latter.

Posted in Financial, Manchester United | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Unofficial Summer Shopping List

Posted by hakanrylander on May 19, 2010

You don’t need to be an expert in neither football nor finance to read between the lines this morning. In “unrelated”(!?) developments the Glazers face an interest rate hike on the already costly PIK-loans, while Sir Alex claims that he’s happy with the balance of the squad and that there may be only one signing this summer. The rate hike increases the pressure on the Glazers to take even more money out of United to pay off the loans. This in turn means that the transfer budget for this summer will be even tighter than most of us anticipated. I expected Ferguson to make two important signings, but my summer shopping list has now been revised to include just one name.

Goalkeeper. There’s no question that we soon need a long-term replacement for Edwin van der Sar, but this won’t happen this summer and I think we’re allright for next season with VDS, Kuszczak and Amos. My only concern is that my prefered choice to replace VDS, Manuel Neuer, will move to Bayern Munich if we don’t snap him up this summer.

Defence. No desperate need for new signings even if I would love a world-class right-back (Lahm, Maicon) and some doubts remain about the fitness of Ferdinand and Vidic’s (wife’s) attitude to life in Manchester.

Midfield. Scholes and Giggs surely enter their last season and there are plenty of questionmarks over Hargreaves, Anderson and Carrick. This means that if money was available we should go for Jack Rodwell. I believe he will be a key player for England in the next decade. A perfect long-term signing, but if the owners only allow one new player it will have to be someone who will offer more immediate support for Rooney.

Attack. Ideally, the player we look for should be able to play alongside Rooney, just behind him as well as wide. And also be able to play up front when Rooney is missing. He also needs to be both goalscorer and playmaker, and be good enough to really make a difference, in short world-class. This, of course, limits the choice somewhat and takes us into a price-bracket where the Glazers might not be at all comfortable. I believe that the player who best fits this description, and might be available, is Sergio Aguero of Atletico Madrid. You have an opportunity to scout him in the Spanish Cup Final tonight.

Posted in Financial, Manchester United, Transfer Gossip | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Negotiations have started

Posted by hakanrylander on May 7, 2010

Yesterday all three of my favourite newspapers (Guardian, Telegraph and The Times) were contacted by “a source close to the Glazers” and told that the family have rejected numerous offers for the club. One of those offers amounted to £1.5 billion from a Middle Eastern bidder. The source also insisted that the family is not interested in selling “at any price”.

This is of course rubbish. In the world of business all assets are for sale at a price. The only exceptions are cases where there is a strong emotional bond between owners and asset. I don’t believe for a minute that such a bond exists between the Glazers and Manchester United. If anything, the coordinated leak proves that the Glazers are indeed prepared to sell and have started public negotiations by indicating that they will want a lot more that £1.5 billion.

The rejection of a seemingly generous offer of £1.5 billion has been interpreted as stubborness. I think it’s got more to do with business logic. The family seem convinced, rightly in my view, that the club’s income could soar in the next decade by developments such as individual TV-deals for the big clubs, a European Super League, new broadband-based ways of selling the “product” etc.

My estimate (well, “guess” is probably a more appropriate word tbh) is that it will take a bid in excess of £2 billion to convince the Glazers to sell. I don’t think the Red Knights are prepared to pay that much. But someone in the Middle East or China might be. I look upon today’s stories in the Guardian, the Telegraph and The Times as the Glazers’ opening gambit to those potential buyers.

Posted in Financial, Manchester United | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »