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October 2016
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It’s time to stop venerating the notion that everyone has an opinion

By Tony Attwood

Listen to a football phone in, or a debate among football “experts” (I use the word lightly) on radio or TV and you will get a variety of opinions.  Indeed you may well then hear the moderator of the discussion say, “That’s what we love about football – everyone’s got an opinion.”

I can see the attraction of that notion, since it makes for radio programmes virtually without cost, but ultimately it wears a bit thin.  If everyone has an opinion and no one changes their opinion, then, what’s the point of debate?

I’m reminded of that ludicrous piece of nonsense from the Daily Mail that we highlighted the other day which proclaimed that at last Mr Wenger was now taking the Daily Mail’s advice.  Worse, there is a fair chance that Adrian Durham, the writer of the piece (who gave no serious evidence, contemporary or historic, to back up his scribbling), actually believes what he wrote, and believes that there is no need to give real evidence when pontificating in this way.

Indeed it is interesting that on its Arsenal page the Mail has a link to a few Arsenal blogs – of which the first is Le G…..  whose motto is “where you can have an opinion not get one”.

In fact I think we have reached the stage where all we have in football is opinion, even from media outlets which have the finance to do something better.  What we really need is far better analysis.  (This is the reason why I was so pleased when I read a while back that Arsenal had set up its own analysis company StatDNA.)

And this I suppose is the indictment of both newspapers and radio and TV stations: their eternal dumbing down of their own football “analysis” (I use the word very loosely) and absolute failure to give us real insight.  The fact that they can’t even tell us now that Arsenal had 60% of possession without giving us a graphic in case we don’t understand what 60% means, says a lot.

Let me try and give some examples of what I would love to read….

1: A transfer analysis

Imagine an report in which a club’s transfer policy is analysed according to its success and failure of its transfers.

Well, you might say, we get that each season by seeing who has won the league, and that’s true, but I would like this to go further by considering a deeper analysis that works like this:

We should be able to say, Arsenal, or any other club, spent £x on transfers in, of players who became part of the “25” and gained £y on sales and reduced salary expenditure of such players as left the club. Their salary bill went up or down by £z.   x – y + z and this is their Transfer Related Expenditure.

Given the data and someone with the time to do all the sums we’d have a comparative analysis of the expenditure of each club.  Then at the end of the year we could do the simple analysis which showed…

  • Amount expended on transfers and salaries of new players against the rise or fall in the number of points gained in the league.

Now what happens when this sort of analysis is proposed is that someone says, “that wouldn’t work because you’d also have to take into account injuries and how long a new player was out for,” and yes, that is true – up to a point.

Indeed there are numerous such issues that could be taken into account and each would make the analysis more sophisticaated.  But because it can always be pointed out that the research needs something else to be complete, that does not mean the whole notion of such research is to be ditched.

This is a great shame for what really ought to happen is that the research is done (and if a reader pops up and says, “oh you mean like this research” to prove the research I am seeking has already been done, I shall be delighted), so at least it gives us a clue as to what is going on, and encourages the next person to do the research a bit better.

The point of this is to enhance our understanding of the effectiveness of a strategy, rather than just having a vague impression.  It would inform all the frantic debate about “buy this player”, “we need a new defensive midfielder in case of Coquelin’s injury” and so forth.

2: The injury analysis

Having done such an analysis one could go further by building in an analysis of how much the injuries each season cost each team.  It is all very well saying that Arsenal lost 100 player days through injury in a season, or whatever it was, but not all players are equal.  Gnabry being out for last season was a tragedy for the young man, but not a disaster for the club.  If Alexis had been out for a long spell that would have been more of a disaster for the club.

Of course it is up to the club to have cover, and we expect them to do this, but cover isn’t my concern with this analysis – I would like to know just how much each club loses on injury taking into account the importance to the team of each player.

We know from history that in certain seasons, such as 1970/1 – the first Double season – Arsenal used a very, very small squad, and from this can say that sometimes being lucky with injuries helps.  But it would be good to go further.

3: Players coming through the youth system 

The next analysis would be one of how many players come through the ranks to become first team players among the top clubs.  Of course I have a clear idea of the answer to that for Arsenal, but I’d love to have a clear comparison over the past ten years with Chelsea, Man C, Man U, Liverpool, Tottenham and Southampton.

Now to do this some agreed parameters would be necessary.  What does “coming through the ranks” mean?  One might say, spending two years at the club without playing for the first team, before the age of 18, for example – or perhaps some variant on this.

Until one had the figures across various clubs one can’t say what the exact basis would be, but it must be possible to find a meaningful base level from which enough young players enter the analysis, and their progress could be compared.

4:  Fouls and injuries

I would really love to know how many times individual players are fouled, and how many days the players lose from playing as a result of these fouls.

We do have injury stats, but they are simplistic – just related to days lost.  It would be great if a mathematical modeller could relate that to the importance of the player in the team, perhaps by taking the number of days the player played out of the number of games he could have played, when fit.

So I don’t want to know that we have five players out, but rather that out Injured Player Ratio (which takes into account the liklihood of the player playing if he were fit) is x, as comapred to Chelsea whose Ratio based of the same analysis is y.

There are many other analyses that would be good to see, and which the media could give us, if it stopped treating football supporters like little children who need to be patted on the head and told “there there it will all be all right”.

But sadly the dumbing down of the football debate continues remourcelessly, day after day.  Where will it end?  Presumably with wall to wall opinion and a total lack of any meaningful factual insights.

Although actually I think that is what we already have.


26 comments to It’s time to stop venerating the notion that everyone has an opinion

  • Clockendrider

    The problem is that people are being pandered to with the statement that everyone has an opinion. It is yet another banal, trite, meaningless catch all phrase. Anyone can have an opinion. Unfortunately not all opinions are equal. This unfortunate truth is never pointed out in the media’s ever faster race to the bottom to get clicks.
    Regarding analysis, I’d live to see better analysis. However there is already some very good analysis done here and elsewhere. The Untold referee reviews are frankly the best and regularly give the lie to the old standards of lack of refereeing bias and it all evening out. The fouls analysis would be great but would have to follow the Untold approach of Walter to be meaningful. This in turn would disturb the cosy relationship between referees, media and the PL. Given that turkeys don’t vote for Christmas I fear it will remain down to bastions of integrity such as this site to keep on keeping on.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    And there’s plenty more of that from where it came –

  • Mike T

    This article, in my opinion is strange and every one of the suggestions would need to factor in opinions as to what should be factored in or ignored the relevance of one incident in terms of its impact on the future.
    Everyone has an opinion , everyone is entitled to spout that opinion the only suggestion I can suggest is that if you don’t what they say or what they write well just ignore them.

  • Matt

    Well as they say opinions are like arseholes…everyone has one not everyone wants to hear about them!

  • john

    The media maintain their pretence of claiming that every person has an opinion as part of their insidious practice of disguising their own manipulation of people.

    Hence, statements such as “all Arsenal fans think / know / believe etc.”, which are simply crude attempts to legitimise the media’s own narrative. It’s not confined to football, of course. Thus, “Ed Miliband is unelectable” – just as every Labour leader since Gaitskell has been, according to media portrayal, and just as the next leader will be (unless, God forbid, it turns out to be Kendall).

    The BBC is no better than the tabloids, just a little more subtle.

  • Jayramfootball

    Very dangerous opinion you have here Tony.
    Perhaps the next step after taking away people’s rights to an opinion could be to take away people’s rights to think or speak at all?
    Maybe you could send out a few pages of stats every Monday morning and advise us all what our opinions should be.

    What is really needed in my view are MORE opinions. There are too many people who get spoon fed with what to think and say by our media or by bosses or by peers etc, or indeed by web forums.

  • Pete

    I read this article as advocating more sophisticated analysis, to which I wholeheartedly concur.

    The problem is that some opinions are more informed than others. Worse, some “opinions” are deliberately mendacious. It is hard, in the first instance, to ascertain the qualities of opinions proffered so that time is therefore wasted.

    I still recall an extremely insightful interview last summer with Ian Ayre, ex-MD of Liverpool, on the machinations of the transfer market. This was well worth listening to.

    I have also seen professional writers – of books and in newspapers – come up with utter bilge.

    I always favour hard facts and statistical analysis over opinions. Just look up Philip Tetlock’s work on judgement and Nate Silver’s on forecasting and it becomes clear that the opinions of apparently “expert” pundits are virtually worthless. So what value to place on the opinions of amateurs…? Not a lot I would suggest.

    I enjoy reading articles (and comments!) on subjects of interest to me in the hope that (i) I may learn something new and/or (ii) I will be entertained. Unfortuntely, much of what is written falls into neither category.

  • Menace

    One aspect of injury rarely mentioned is financial cost. In most cases injury & subsequent wage loss is covered by insurance. So clubs cover themselves by sufficient insurance for the short term injuries. How the long term injury is covered is unknown to me. The premiums must be relative to the market & must account for a large part of expenditure.

    Football opinion is part of the package that has been created by the love for the game. Some of it is bollocks & some of it the dogs bollocks. UA just happen to have a woof about them.

    As for the Transfer Window!! It has just opened and all the inmates have absconded to a North Western port. Personally I prefer window shopping in Amsterdam to this sham ‘period’ of football transfers.

  • KJ

    Some people are missing the point, which is that opinions are best if informed and backed by data – not just the spouting of prejudice and bile (as with Durham & Co)

  • @ Jayram

    When some opinions keep kissing the canvass each they punch should we still be drooling and pining for such opinions?

    It is a free world alright but if these self a opinionated but non -objective backs keep crowing these monotonous ryhmes we should wait @ arsenal lap it up and wag out tails ?

    In a world where opinions are digested without perusal, anarchy will soon become a norm

  • esxste

    I’ve always been frustrated by the way people confuse the notion that they have the right to an opinion, with the imagined right to never have their opinion questioned.

    I think it mostly comes from the way religions teach their followers (and their followers children) never to question that which they take on faith.

    The other part of it is ego. Too many people take criticism of their opinion as a criticism of themselves.

    When talk shows, newspapers, websites and the like, start spouting opinion with fact; they bypass all those defences.

    They propose questions, then give answers, so people don’t need to actually question themselves. Because the exchange of opinion is one way; people don’t have to think about their own thoughts on the matter.

    One analysis I would love to see, and may investigate myself if I have time; is how many injuries caused by tackles there are in the EPL compared to other leagues.

  • Kenneth Widmerpool

    I miss Dial Sq.Daves opinion, I wonder what hes up to?

  • para

    Jayramfootball 🙂

    What we forget when we “dis” an opinion is that all opinions are imbued with the experiences of the one having that opinion. I mean they will have their own perception in relationship to their own experiences. Always.

    If everything was already broken down and analysed, say we had done it. There was nothing left to analyse. We have achieved life’s purpose. Done.

    So, what are we going to do now? We would stagnate i think, so we decide to break it all up again.

    Now we can all start to have opinions again.

    We have movement again. 🙂

  • insideright

    After dealing with journalists quite a lot in my career I’ve found that very few of them are numerate enough to get past the first couple of lines of any analysis and they will go straight to the ‘conclusions’ section which is, relatively speaking, opinion based.
    Those that can actually add up and take away don’t believe that their readers can (and much of the time they are right) and so basically do the same. If they have time and inclination (rare) they may revisit the data later and form a different view. But to publish it would show that they had the wool pulled over their eyes in the first place so they keep quiet.
    At least these days we can criticise them directly via comments sections but I’m pretty sure that more comments only strengthen their hand – even if they are all negative. Clicks count far more than accuracy or fairness.

  • Gary

    Opinion breeds ignorance. (Hipocratis).

  • Goonermikey

    @ Jayram

    “Very dangerous opinion you have here Tony.
    Perhaps the next step after taking away people’s rights to an opinion could be to take away people’s rights to think or speak at all?”

    The concept isn’t really dangerous if you take it the way I’m sure it’s intended.

    I get horrendously pissed off with opinions like “Wenger is shit FACT” or “Arsenal don’t know what they’re doing FACT”.

    The point, of course is not that people should be denied an opinion but that if the opinion is actually going to contribute to the debate, it needs to have some substance. (And contrary to some people’s thinking, putting the word “FACT” in upper case at the end of a sentence doesn’t actually make it a fact!!) (Similarly, running a blog or writing in a newspaper, doesn’t mean your unsubstantiated opinion is a fact.)

    My opinion, as some of you may know, is that AW is in fact very, very good based on the evidence of how many points he secured per million pounds of net transfer spend when compared with others. Of course, as Tony says that is not the be all and end all of whether AW is a good manager and many other factors could be brought into play which strengthen or weaken my current standpoint.

    What I will not do (which is what I feel Tony is saying) is make some bland statement i.e. “we need a top class striker and Wenger should go if we don’t get one”. In itself, it simply has no worth.

    If all you’ve got (I don’t mean you Jayram) is a fixed opinion I don’t want to hear it. If you’ve got an opinion you wish to support with some sort of evidence and debate intelligently then I’m all for it.

  • Micheal Ram

    I think it’s not about people with opinions, it’s about disrespectful, ungenerous competitive people who want to win everything with their opinion without taking any accountabilities of what it might cause. Fame, power and greed are the cause of this. Something instead of engaging debate or argument with such brainless cavemen, I would rather spend my time with a Lego set. I can actually learn more and at least be happy

  • Gord

    Sorry, not an opinion.

    Argentina beat Paraguay 6-1, to book their place against Chile in the Copa America 2015 Final. Messi played the entire game, and didn’t score. He did get two assists. With that 6-1 score line (difference of 5, total of 7), Argentina tied Chile in one statistic (at least) and passed Chile in another (at least).

    In any event, Alexis has maximised how much of Copa America he would play, as he has one more game on Saturday, July 4.

    If Alexis gets 6 weeks off, that would put him August 15 or so returning to Arsenal. Which has him missing the Barclay’s, Let’s Let Shawcross Kick Everyone event, the Emirates Cup, the Community Shield, and possibly the first EPL game versus West Ham (which may be postponed depending on WHam’s Europa LEague scheduling). Would he play on the first day back? That would be at Crystal Palace (EPL).

    On the topic of opinions, nobody seems to be offering opinions as to where the 5 released Arsenal players will play.

    The BBC is reporting that Southampton have terminated the long term contract of record-signing Osvaldo. I suppose that means in half an hour or so, we will start to see him listed as a target of Arsenal. Gets in a fight with his own team mates, and can’t score (very often). Looks like about 1 goal every 3 games or so.

  • GoingGoingGooner

    Living in Canada, I hear a great deal about the National Hockey League. That league has had a salary cap for the last decade and salaries are made public. As a result, journalists can do a great deal of financial reporting and in much greater depth than football journalists can. Of course there is still speculation but to nowhere near the degree of football.

  • finsbury

    I enjoyed the opinion of the AAA in the summer of 2013 when they went around trying to convince the sane that Levy’s ‘investment’ *coughs* in Soldado, Paulinho, Lamela, Holtby etc. was one of those “statement of intent” thingymajobbies, even though in the Brazil that very same summer one Oxlade-chamberlain showed that alongside the other afc kiddies he was simply a bettr footballer (on every level). And the AAA also groaned about AOC when signed. He’s only probably England’s brightest talent…

    Conclusion/observation, not an opnion: The AAA were so focused upon their navels that they had clearly taken their eyes off the football. And the pitch. The players, anything else that matters…

  • Notoverthehill

    The Tomkins Times, has devised the Transfer Price Index, for the EPL since it’s inception.

    The basis for the (facts), is the Transfermarkt, and not the actual expenditure extracted from the various clubs annual financial reports.

    As Tony will know, the Debtors and Creditors will include Value Added Tax. The bulk of the debtors and creditors, will be in the Current, 30 Day or 60 day columns.

    It is fact that on the promotion of an academy player from Hale End to London Colney, a fee is transferred from London Colney to Hale End Academy.

  • Mandy Dodd

    Everyone has the right to an opinion, except perhaps those who believe their “race” is superior to others,, or those who believe some guy in the sky wants his followers to go around cutting people’s heads off. But the problem is when people with influence for whatever reason start dressing opinions up as facts. But equally , sites such as untold have an equal right to shoot these facts/opinions down in flames as is regularly done

  • Vintage Gooner

    I am intrigued by some of the discussion on opinions that this article has produce.

    Some time ago in the dark days before back to back FA Cup wins, when Arsene was under huge pressure from a significant number of true Arsenal fans I considered closely why I felt so disgruntled although I never tipped into the AMG camp.

    I must at this point say that I first remember supporting Arsenal in the 1949/50 season so I have endured far longer periods of silver drought and the teams even in our difficult 9 fallow years were infinitely better than most Arsenal teams I have steadfastly followed in my 65 years support as is evidenced by never less than 4th place in the league.

    Eventually it dawned on me that I had been hugely spoiled by Arsene’s first 9 years of incredible and indeed unequaled success. This together with the good football we were playing meant that I was frustrated and this coupled with other adverse opinions led me into negative feelings that really were not fully justified.

    This ramble is well off Tony’s point that opinions need facts to elevate them from prejudices but is not irrelevant in other aspects.

  • Mandy Dodd

    Well said Vintage

  • Gord

    I have an opinion.

    But first, venerating is not in my vocabulary.

    > to feel or show deep respect for (someone or something that is considered great, holy, etc.)

    I can see a reply as being: I agree that not everyone has an opinion, but I have an opinion.

    WWC 2015 England versus Japan in Edmonton

    I’ve complained elsewhere on the TV muppets on TSN. Hopefully your country has more intelligent muppets, but I really doubt it.

    The Japanese player mis-played the ball. The English player is not allowed to go through the Japanese player to clear the ball in the penalty box. I think it is entirely possible that this play results in nothing, if the English player does not foul the Japanese player. A direct foul in the box, it is a penalty.

    Referee feels the foul was soft, tries to even things up. Referee was wrong to do this, and should be sanctioned. You would think Ashley Young was playing for England Ladies, the call for the penalty to allow England to equalize was dive all the way. Maybe ManU should sign her?

    Okay, soft-hearted ref gives equal penalties, allows the game to go on. The winning goal was from open play. Many goals from open play come from a mistake. This goal comes from a mistake.

    England and Japan were equally matched, a mistake decided the game. England and Canada were equally matched, a mistake decided the game.

    It would be nice to NOT see a zillion articles slagging the English player for the own goal, but I think come morning that is all I am going to find.

    I’m hoping Japan beat the USA in the final.

    Oh, the other final, I am still hoping for Chile over Argentina. Alexis Sanchez has been on the wrong end of chance for too long; he has a banner day and shows why he is a world class player. I’ll guess a hat trick for Alexis on Saturday. And maybe that guy who can’t figure out how to drive a Ferrari gets one or two as well.