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- Why don’t clubs look at evidence or act rationally as they seek to improve?
By Tony Attwood
It is not just Untold that has an idea on how to make a football club rise up the league, journalists and broadcasters give their views all the time, pointing out what clubs need to do to put things right.
The difference between us however is that Untold does some basic research in terms of what makes one club succeed and another not while media commentators tend just to offer opinions.
Now the reason for that is clear – if multiple people have opinions, then they can keep the discussion going, and that is cheap broadcasting and journalism. Just get in a few people for an interview and it’s done.
So although the central story of football remains which teams are doing badly or well the story is produced without backup evidence. “Experts” are simply people who argue with each other over personal opinions.
Indeed it is a bit like economics, where everyone has an opinion and no one is proven right, but by and large, everyone is proven wrong.
Now of course I have never run a football club, so on that basis I am at the level of every other argumentative person. But for around 20 years I did run a small plc, and that takes a bit of doing, especially if it is one that aims to make a profit every year.
And being chair of a plc taught me a lot about how some people can read statistics, and some just have an opinion. You can tell them apart easily: the opinion people talk louder. So here we go with why some clubs can’t get it right…
1: Football is about power at every level.
Clubs are dictatorships in which people generally don’t listen. Except my impression of Arsenal is that it is one of the few clubs where the managerial team use statistics and the board support them. That doesn’t mean the club always gets things right at every level, and indeed those who know me will know that I have been having a nine-month argument with the club (now thankfully resolved) in which those at the club has found it hard to listen. But I do think most of the time there are more sensible listeners at Arsenal than in many clubs.
2: Players are paid a huge amount of money but are not necessarily bright or co-operative.
Players are influenced by many things ranging from their family to other players, from their agents to the manager, from the media to the response of fans in the ground.
Most leave school at 16 and while there were not particularly bright or attentive at school, but have had a youth in which they were stand-out star players. The attitude of “you can’t tell me what to do” can become part of such players’ personalities and it needs a very clever group of senior staff to handle people like this. Some have it (Arteta I think is a prime example, and so is Guardiola, others (think Allerdyce for example) know about football and have ideas but simply don’t know how to work with people who might not want to listen.
3: Some information about performance is not widely mentioned.
The fact is there is a huge amount in the media telling clubs and managers what to do to improve a situation, but a lot of key information is not considered. We’ve often dwelt on this, looking at figures that show referee bias on fouling and yellow cards for example.
The Leicester story, is a prime example, and the fact that none of the media picked up on it is a clear indicator of how selective the media is.
Just consider: 2019/20 Leicester City received one yellow card for every 18 tackles. Arsenal received one card for every seven tackles. A difference of 257% that could not possibly be explained by the brilliance or stupidity of defenders.
In 2022/23 Leicester were on one card for every 12 tackles – the referees had at last caught up with them (just possibly because of a whole series of articles we published on the subject). Arsenal by then were on one card for every 11 tackles.
Now there has been some attempt to explain those changes by the nature of the players in the team, and of course there will be something in that. But that can’t explain such dramatic changes. The raw figures are here if you want to explore them.
Bring in a managerial team who understands this sort of thing and can deal with it, and the club makes progress. Just rely on the tricks you have been getting away with for a few years, and relegation beckons. Think Arteta for the first group, Allardyce for the second.
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