Between the Lines

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

Posts Tagged ‘Football’

Between the Lines Recommends

Posted by hakanrylander on November 20, 2009

Today I discovered A More Splendid Life which appears to be one of the most splendid footie blogs around. In this article Richard Whittall makes some very interesting points about the bleak future of football journalism and football bloggers.


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The Best Team Unlikely to Win the World Cup (and so is England)

Posted by hakanrylander on October 30, 2009

At the recent World Cup qualifier in Ukraine a poll among the English journalists present showed that one third believe that Brazil will eventually win the trophy, one third predict that England will lift the cup and one third think that someone else will. To most self-appointed analysts outside England (including this correspondent) this is a ridiculous exaggeration of England’s prospects. It now turns out that science has (kind of) proved that the sceptics are correct.

In a paper published in the October issue of Journal of Applied Statistics G. K. Skinner and G. H. Freeman conclude that the best team (which I would say is Spain, few would say it’s England) has a probability of only 28% of winning the cup, if it reaches the last 16. In reality the probability is lower since there is always a danger of being knocked out at the group stage. And the probability of England winning is again even lower, but the study doesn’t specify just how low.

The basis for their conclusions is the simple fact that the outcome of any football match is uncertain. The best team doesn’t always win. And in the knock-out stages you need to win four straight games to win the cup. In the latest World Cup only 5 games out of 64 had scores that indicated that you (or a gathering of statisticians) could be pretty certain (better than 90% confidence) that the best team won.

Are soccer matches badly designed experiments? by G. K. Skinner and G. H. Freeman (Journal of Applied Statistics).


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Review: Why England lose

Posted by hakanrylander on October 9, 2009

Why England loseThis book combines the skills of a top journalist with those of “Britain’s foremost sports economist” in a very successful way.  Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski give us the rare pleasure of an enjoyable read about academic subjects.

Among the topics they cover are “How to avoid silly mistakes in the transfer market”, “Why football clubs don’t make money”, “The country that loves football most” and, amazingly, “Are Manchester United really a problem?” (The answer is no.) Some of the questions they answer very convincingly, others less so, but most of the time you have fun reading their explanations. 

The best part is probably the chapter dealing with England’s lack of success. The authors start by listing eight phases to describe the traditional pattern of an England World Cup campaign. A pattern that looks very familiar to any football fan looking at England from the outside.

  1. Certainty that England will win the World Cup
  2. During the tournament England meet a former wartime enemy
  3. The English conclude that the game turned on one freakish piece of bad luck that could happen only to them
  4. Moreover, everyone else cheated
  5. England are knocked out without getting anywhere near lifting the cup
  6. The day after elimination, normal life resumes
  7. A scapegoat is found
  8. England enter the next World Cup thinking they will win it

Having beaten Croatia is of course more than enough to now place us firmly in phase eight.

Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski: Why England lose & other curious football phenomena explained (HarperCollins)

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A new way to beat the bookies?

Posted by hakanrylander on August 6, 2009

A study published in the new issue of Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports tries to find a statistical measurement to predict the winners of international football tournaments. Ferda Halicioglu at the Yeditepe University in Istanbul argues that there exists a positive relationship between the competitive balance in domestic football leagues and success in international football.  Competitive balance is measured as the seasonal coefficients of variation (CV) of the end of season points. The CV lies between 0 and 1, with 0 indicating a perfectly balanced competition. A high degree of competitive balance means that the league members have relatively equal playing strength.

Halicioglu then goes on to rank the finalists of the Euro2008 tournament according to the competitiveness of the domestic leagues in the mid-term, i.e. the last six years.  The country with the most competitive league was France followed by Spain, Germany and Sweden. Well, Spain won the trophy beating Germany in the final, but both France and Sweden were eliminated at the group stage. The evidence looks somewhat inconclusive so far.

 Unfortunately the report, at least the version that I’ve managed to get hold of, is very vague when it comes to pinpointing the statistical evidence. It doesn’t get much further than to conclude that the analysis “suggests that the CV ranking could be used as a supplementary variable” to predict the winners.  Not enough to beat the bookies I’m afraid.

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A mixed bag of summer shopping

Posted by hakanrylander on July 22, 2009

According to Sir Alex Ferguson there will be no more signings this summer, so it’s time to evaluate the four new arrivals. (Even though I wouldn’t trust Sir Alex on this issue, it might just be his way of telling Gremio that they will have to lower their asking price for Douglas Costa.) So anyway:

Antonio Valencia is a great signing. He was very impressive for Wigan last season and is just the kind of player we need. He’s got pace, skill and knows how to get past a full-back. Should provide an excellent supply of crosses for Rooney, Berbatov, Owen et al, something that was often lacking last season. I predict that he will force his way into the first eleven already in his first season.

The signing of Michael Owen is supposed to be a bit of a gamble. In fact it’s nothing of the kind. With no transfer fee and a low basic salary it seems a very shrewd piece of business by Ferguson. I admit that I thought he looked past it at Newcastle, but this season he will be in a team that creates lots of chances for him. And Owen is very good at converting goal-scoring opportunities. Judging from the game against Malysia the day before yesterday he also brings a lot of movement to the attack. My main concern is that he’s been injury prone in recent seasons.

The capture of Gabriel Obertan, on the other hand, sets off all kinds of alarm bells. I can’t recall ever hearing the selling club’s chairman (Triaud) and coach (Blanc) express such a combination of surprise and relief. On the record! They were simply amazed that they were able to sell him to Manchester United. Blanc even said that Obertan needed to “overcome mental challenges”, which seems to indicate problems with discipline and application. Looks great on youtube, though. And please remember that Cantona was considered impossible to handle before he arrived at Old Trafford.

Mame Biram Diouf is unknown to me but he’s top scorer in the Norwegian league. Let’s hope he’ll be as successful as our previous signing from Molde. Edit: Could any of our Norwegian readers provide some input?

Even though I have high hopes for the new signings it must be said that the arrivals of Valencia, Owen, Obertan and Diouf don’t fully compensate for the departures of Ronaldo and Tevez. We have a weaker squad this season.

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The unofficial transfer window shopping list

Posted by hakanrylander on June 22, 2009

 United are about to receive £80m for Ronaldo and are therefore linked with just about every top class player in Europe and their dogs. Some of the suggested signings are very tempting but totally unrealistic (e.g. Essien and Torres) while in other cases the fees quoted are very fanciful (Ribery).

The Between The Lines shopping list stays away from the most expensive options and contains just three names:

Micah Richards. Probably the most talented young defender/midfielder in England. Hasn’t played to his potential during the last two seasons but it would be very interesting to see him develop under Ferguson. Could play in central defence or at right-back, but I see him as a future holding midfielder, “the next Patrick Vieira”. Tops my shopping list if indeed City, as rumoured, are stupid enough to sell him.

Robin van Persie. Reports claim that he’s unhappy with the level of ambition at Arsenal. Very skilful and mobile and would work wonderfully with Rooney or Berbatov or both. A bit injury-prone but worth a gamble.

Antonio Valenicia. Impressed me a lot as man-of-the-match against United in January. A fast and direct winger/midfielder who eschewes fancy footwork but can make it look very easy to get past a full-back. Some think he’s overpriced at £18m. I don’t agree.

Posted in Transfer Gossip, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

The Tevez-Glazer Connection

Posted by hakanrylander on May 26, 2009

It seems likely that Carlos Tevez will leave United at the end of the season. I believe that this to a large extent is a sign that the Glazer family is tightening the purse strings.

There are a number of good reasons why Tevez should stay. He’s a class player who has greatly contributed to our success in his two seasons at United. He’s also worshipped by the fans for his attitude on the pitch. And the fee under consideration is believed to be “just” £22m.

But the combination of a huge and rising debt and a global recession probably makes it very tempting for the board to increase profits by limiting spending on transfers. This explains why David Gill is apparently haggling with Kia Joorabchian over the fee, even though it was agreed on in the deal made in 2007.

On the other hand one wonders whether any real negotiations are taking place. It doesn’t make much sense for Joorabchian to consider lowering the price to United if he believes he could sell Tevez for £22m or more to another club. Which he probably does and could. Indeed, if Real, Liverpool and City are lining up to sign Tevez it would be in Joorabchians interest NOT to close a deal with United. This is also exactly the reason why Joorabchian might want to spread rumours about lots of other clubs being interested, or encourage Tevez to tell the media that he’s “unhappy” at the way he’s treated. Sometimes it’s difficult to try to read between the lines.

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How to solve a debt crisis in four easy(?) steps

Posted by hakanrylander on May 20, 2009

As I’ve pointed out in a previous post, the huge and rising debt they took on to finance the takeover mean that the Glazers need United to continue to generate a strong cash flow, while the total value of the club must also increase significantly. To achieve this they’ve designed a strategy consisting of four “key elements”:

  1. Maintaining playing success
  2. Treating fans as customers
  3. Leveraging the global brand
  4. Developing club media rights

Let’s have a closer look at each of these four points, the chances of success and the risks involved.

1. United have now enjoyed more or less continous sporting success for the last 16 or so years. To simplify it, the basis of this success has been the leadership of Sir Alex Ferguson in combination with a willingness from the board to provide money to enable him to sign and retain the best players. On both these counts the coming few years involve big risks.

To replace Ferguson is the biggest decision facing the present board. The best they can hope for is that results don’t deteriorate under the new manager.  In reality it’s likely that the successor will not be able to match Freguson’s achievements (who could?) regardless of whether the board choose to play safe but short-term (Hiddink or Capello), go for a younger version of Fergie (Moyes) or, as I hope, pick the controversial but very humble Mourinho.

Until recently I’ve not been worried as to the board’s willingness to continue to finance big-money signings, such as Rooney, Ferdinand and Berbatov. It simply seemed good business sense for the Glazers to continue this policy. But then I read an article about their American football team the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where they have released a number of key players and been outbid for the signatures of several new ones. The Buccaneers now have more of the salary cap unspent than any other club in the league. A recipe for sporting success? The Tampa Bay fans are unimpressed. In 2007 there was a 145 000(!) waiting list for season tickets, now the list has disappeared and anyone who wants a season ticket can buy one.

2. Treating fans as customers is probably a euphemism for trying to squeeze as much money out of us as possible. This makes sense from a short-term business perspective.  Demand for tickets at Old Trafford is much higher than supply, meaning that ticket prices could be raised (as indeed they have been for next season) without attendances dropping. Longer-term I’m not so sure. You tend to get an awful lot more loyalty from “fans” than from “customers”.

3. The United brand is very strong globally, and much of the potential to make money from this is probably as yet untapped.  But four years after the takeover I don’t really see any signs that the club is progressing along this route any faster than under the previous owners. This could be just ignorance on my part. Maybe these activities are much more visible in China and elsewhere.

4. To increase revenue from media rights could happen in two ways. Either by an increase in total demand for English and/or European football, or by United taking a larger part of total revenues. After many years of strong growth in interest from television networks, I find it a bit hard to expect continued strong growth.

The Glazers are probably mainly looking to points 3 and 4 to generate significant increases in revenue. But they hadn’t reckoned with the present severe global recession that will, at the very least, slow down any progress. I believe that Malcolm Glazer and his sons are quite worried at the moment. It remains to be seen in what way this might affect the area of most importance to the “customers”; the playing success. A first indication might be found in United’s activity, or lack of, in the transfer market this summer.

Posted in Financial | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Beauty or the Beast?

Posted by hakanrylander on May 6, 2009

Tonight Chelsea and Barcelona battle for the honour of taking on United in the CL Final in Rome. I belive that United’s chances of winning the trophy will be better if Chelsea reach the final, but I still hope for a Barcelona win for two main reasons:

-United vs Barcelona could be a classic game involving two attacking sides that are widely acknowledged as the best teams in the world.

-If, Eric forbid, we should loose the final I would find it easier to stomach that Barcelona rather than Chelsea beat us, because of their entertaining football.

It’s a difficult game to call. Chelsea were accused of negative tactics in the first leg, but I can’t see how they could have chosen any other strategy at Nou Camp. I don’t think Hiddink will play it much differently tonight. He’ll probably be quite happy to contain Barcelona and hope that a single goal will be enough, and Drogba may well provide it against Barcelona’s makeshift central defence with both Marquez and Puyol sidelined.

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Oh my Darling, oh my Darling

Posted by hakanrylander on April 28, 2009

Now and again I come across a sentence that reminds me why I love newspapers. This is from an article by Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian last Thursday:

To see Alistair Darling deliver his budget was like watching a man pushed from a sky-skraper window, falling calmly, even gracefully, as he somehow managed to remove his jacket, raise it above his head and tie it into a makeshift parachute. You couldn’t help but admire his ingenuity and optimism – but you still felt sure it was bound to end in a sticky mess.

I don’t know whether Mr Darling’s budget, or even the British economy, will end in a sticky mess, but one detail in the budget is bound to create at least a little bit of a mess for Manchester United and other PL clubs.

The budget included the imposition of a 50% tax rate on high earners (raised from 40%). Since a high earner is defined as anyone earning more than £150,000 a year, every first-team player in the PL falls into this category. This means that footballers will pay at least 5-10% more tax in Britain than in Spain, Italy and Germany.  For a player interested in how much his pay-packet contains after tax, moving to, or indeed staying in, England therefore becomes a little less attractive.

The tax-hike comes on top of the fall of the pound that has already weakend the clout of English clubs in the transfer market, and is a more severe problem. Maybe the transfer window this summer will be a little less exciting than it used to be.

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