Gary Neville the telepathic footballer, and the drive towards evidence based analysis

Mr Neville continues, “My idea was that by the time you went to bed the night before that game you had played The game and imagined it in your head. You had played every pass and made every movement.”  (An interesting capitalisation in “played The game” – not sure what it means unless The game is now a deity.  Maybe.)

“Over these past three or four years I don’t believe Arsenal have prepared mentally for the biggest games.”

Again, a spot of honesty with “I don’t believe”.  But in the end it is a piece of pure and total supposition.  He’s not at the training camp, he doesn’t seem to have talked to any Arsenal players, he certainly never played for Arsenal.   It’s pure supposition and attempted telepathy.  Honest supposition but nothing more.

How different the world would be if we had a newspaper that engaged in evidence based football reporting.   Not wild supposition, not mind reading, not interviews with players and managers  who can’t be guaranteed to tell you the truth, but actual analysis of what happened.

Of course I know that people don’t like it, because the sort of things it comes up with is that Coquelin is one of the top defensive midfielders in Europe, that last season Ospina was one of the top goalkeepers (no one denies he has slipped a bit this season, but I can’t find a goalkeeper who never slipped – hell I can remember Pat Jennings being highly criticised by Arsenal fans after a poor match with multiple references to his Tiny Tott past.)   Oh yes and that Ozil puts through more passes leading to goal scoring opportunities than any other player in the Premier League.

So by and large evidence is out, because it is awkward.

But Untold has, in a series of articles, tried to overcome this, and we summarised them in the Fear and Loathing in the Media article which aimed to work towards analysing some of the issues in articles such as

In that series of articles I tried out the idea of analysing the league table by combining the table itself with the amount spent.  In the table below I have gone further (and by the way if this table does read neatly on your computer press control and the minus sign (Ctrl -) and this part of the page will get smaller).

So here is the league table as per normal with three extra columns.

  • Spend is the net amount (spend minus income from sales)
  • After 5 is where the clubs were after five games were played – although a few had only played four games so it is approximate) and the number of points the team was away from the top after 5 games.
  • From top reflects how far from the top club each team was in the last league table we analysed after 4/5 games.
Team Pl W D L F A GD Pts Spend After 5 From top
1 Manchester United 7 5 1 1 12 5 7 16  £33m 2 5
2 Manchester City 7 5 0 2 13 6 7 15  £124m 1 0
3 State Aid United 7 4 1 2 15 9 6 13  £27m 10 9
4 Arsenal 7 4 1 2 10 7 3 13  £8m 3 5
5 Everton 7 3 3 1 11 7 4 12  £13m 5 7
6 Tottenham Hotspur 7 3 3 1 9 5 4 12  £5m 17 10
7 Crystal Palace 7 4 0 3 9 7 2 12  £21m 4 6
8 Leicester City 7 3 3 1 15 14 1 12  £20m 6 7
9 Liverpool 7 3 2 2 7 9 -2 11  £10m 9 8
10 Southampton 7 2 3 2 10 9 1 9  -£1m 11 9
11 Swansea City 7 2 3 2 8 8 0 9  £9m 7 7
12 Norwich City 7 2 3 2 11 12 -1 9  £10m 8 8
13 Watford 7 2 3 2 5 6 -1 9  £23m 12 9
14 PGMO 7 2 2 3 11 14 -3 8  £32m 16 11
15 West Bromwich Albion 7 2 2 3 6 9 -3 8 £21m 13 10
16 Bournemouth 7 2 1 4 9 11 -2 7  £21m 15 11
17 Stoke City 7 1 3 3 7 10 -3 6  £3m 20 13
18 Aston Villa 7 1 1 5 8 12 -4 4 £9m 14 11
19 Newcastle United 7 0 3 4 5 11 -6 3 £46m 18 13
20 Sunderland 7 0 2 5 6 16 -10 2  £22m 19 13

So what might we conclude from that?

That although spending can help, it is by no means an obvious route even to getting in the top four.  That is what all the earlier analyses confirmed – that things like managerial skill and incoming youth players help, and the fact that because a player played well at one club, that doesn’t mean he will play well at the next.

And that the position in the league after five games is only an approximate guide to where one might be in the league after seven games, and that rapid rises up the league are possible.

Now normally when I present ideas like this, those who don’t like anything that tries to take the analysis forwards come up with individual objections.  This figure is not right so all your analysis is rubbish.  You haven’t analysed everything… etc etc.

And of course there are objections to any analysis, but the point is that these approaches, even when approximate, start to tell us that the simplistic approaches which base future success on spend, and that suggest we can really base what is happening on just one result, or even five results, is meaningless.

But it gets worse than this.

There was a piece in the Telegraph by Charlie Eccleshare recently in which he reflected on Arsenal’s spending in  the summer transfer window in which he said that each summer, “The weeks go by and it soon becomes all too apparent that the money will not be spent, or if it is, there will still be gaping holes in the squad that have not been addressed.”

Such a childish analysis is actually not even worth an analysis.   In the past three seasons Arsenal have twice been the centre of the big transfer news – Alexis and Ozil.  Does he really expect Arsenal to be the key movers in the transfer window every summer?

And of course such “analysis” (I use the word lightly) ignores the arrival of Ospina, (one of the top keepers in the world last season), Coquelin (one of the top defensive midfielders in the world this season) and Bellerin, whose performances must surely be taking him up the rankings very rapidly.

The increasingly bizarre article goes on that “Another key part of Arsenal’s pre-season is a youngster looking the part in the Emirates Cup and being seen as the solution to Arsenal’s problems. For a brief moment his spontaneous brilliance even makes Arsenal fans think maybe Wenger’s right in not signing anyone: think Emmanuel Frimpong, Carlos Vela, Fran Merida and Joel Campbell…”

Now I normally go to the Emirates Cup, and I tend to stay in touch with what other Arsenal fans think (what with running a blog that gets a million page views a month in the transfer window), and I don’t ever recall anyone thinking any of those players were the ready-made business.   I thought three of those four were quite good, and hoped they might come good, but never did I invest in them the same thoughts that I reserved for Francis Coquelin, from the moment I first saw him play in Austria – and which are retained on this site (along of course with all my more nonsensical forecasts).

But maybe the journalist was talking to someone else.  He continues…

“This summer we had Alex Iwobi and Jeff Reine-Adeleide lighting up the Emirates Cup, and all of a sudden things were going to be alright after all,”  and by this time I was losing the will to live.   The Emirates Cup is a celebration of possibilities, that is what it is there for.  I don’t know anyone who thought either of those players was ready for the Premier League from the off.

But, those of us with a bit of a memory, recognise that Bellerin and Coquelin appeared in the team when needed and did well.   Is there mention in the article of either player?  No of course not, it is a sneering, sarcastic, dismissive, non-evidential piece of scribble.

I’m going to stop in a second, but let me give you one more – and remember this article appeared just two days ago.

Debate over whether Theo Walcott is a striker

“If you look at my statements I always said that one day he would play through the middle and it grew in his brain,” Wenger said of Walcott.

“On the wing you need a shorter technique against the line, once you play in the middle you can go on both sides. Theo has learned a lot. Now we will sometimes play him on the flanks sometimes through the middle. I like what I have seen through the middle.”

“The above are quotes from Wenger on the forward in December 2012. Three years on it’s fair to say not a great deal has changed.”

So here we have a player who has scored 12 goals in 13 starts, including one that was not only in the FA Cup Final, but utterly transformed the Cup Final, from a game in which we wondered if we were going to have all the possession but they would get a breakaway goal, to a game in which we demolished the opposition.

And this journalist says “Three years on it’s fair to say not a great deal has changed.”  What planet is he on?

Of course Untold can’t do this kind of proper analysis on its own – hell, there are three of us on regular duty and our team of half a dozen contributors.  I don’t even have time this morning to go back and find the league table after five games at the point in which every team had played five games (as I said, some had played four).   So our work is far from perfect.

But I would say one thing.  At least we are trying.


From the anniversary files

3 October 1989: Arsenal beat Plymouth 6-1 away in the League Cup in front of 17,360.  Thomas (3), Smith, Groves and OG.   Having beaten Plymouth 2-0 at Highbury Arsenal went on to beat Liverpool before losing to Oldham.  

3 October 1999: The run of three victories through September is disrupted by an away defeat to WHU.  Vieira confronted Ruddock and was subsequently charged, banned for six matches and fined a record £45,000 by the FA.  He apologises in a very personal commentary about his family and his brother.



33 Replies to “Gary Neville the telepathic footballer, and the drive towards evidence based analysis”

  1. of course I agree with you Tony but the reality is that our newspapers have been grounded in speculation (on most things) for at least 150 years. From the 1870s (and possibly earlier) to read a newspaper is to peer into the imagination of editors and journalists. In the eighteenth century and early 1800s newspapers carried ‘news’ (and a lot of adverts) sometimes with commentary. And they were 4 page publications.
    Then came steam printing, rotary printers, railways and a mass readership. Competition required a larger newshole and more speculation filled the gap.

    As I have said (ad nauseum) as we walk up and down the Holloway Road – they are not worth the chip paper and I have almost completely been disregarding them for years now. It feels better 🙂

  2. Gary Neville wants to manage the England team very badly , and one day he will !

  3. Brickfields, your statement is (perhaps deliberately) ambiguous: do you mean GN has a desperate desire to manage England or that he wishes to carry out his managerial duties incompetently. Or both!

  4. So is Neville saying that if our preparation had been better/different Ospina wouldn’t have dropped the ball over the line and their first goal wouldn’t have come from a wicked deflection?

  5. Tony
    You may not like what Neville has to say but unfortunately there seem to be a lot of substance to his analysis.
    Arsenal preparation level needs to be questioned at times for sure.
    Tactical preparation we never know about for sure ,because as you say, none of us are present during training or strategy sessions.

    There are certain things we can see for ourselves however, and those things seem to collaborate what Neville and many others have been saying for a while( myself included)

    The mental preparation for big games.
    Here’s one example from the Chelsea game at the Bridge.

    It was a big game for both clubs obviously and going against Mourinho at the Bridge is probably not the most exciting prospect for Mr Wenger, considering his record.

    Handing the captain’s arm band to Santi Cazorla for that particular game was overlooked by everyone, by I thought it was a big mistake.
    Do you really want the nicest player in the PL to captain the team going into , what a Tony Adams or Martin Keown type of player might have said about as ” going into a war” , type of a game?

    The simple fact that Cazorla was hugging Mourinho after Arsenal win over Chelsea in the Comunity Shield, excludes him from the captain’s role against a Mourinho lead Chelsea ever again in my book.

    Was it any surprise then to see Cazorla exchanging pleasantries and smiles all around in the tunnel? Not really. What a different picture was Fabregas’ face telling. A maximum concentration and commitment.

    Now , of course you might say that in the end it wouldn’t have mattered because the referee made sure we were doomed from the off, but I have been to enough Arsenal games with a front row seating , to see first hand that Arsenal players do exhibit the traits Neville is talking about.

  6. Think Neville-Neville’s article could have been shorter and earned him even more brownie points with Greg Dyke if he’d simply shortened it to say:

    The Arsenal are a bunch of Southern softies who,don’t like it up ’em what with their strange continental football style* that my mate Mike dislikes.

    * A stylethat in 2015 is very very close to what you see at both Manchester clubs but, hey, bye the bye why let old narratives whither and die when you can troll the gullible so easily? But this highlights the incredulous nature of the media attack on AFC and all the AAA petty bandwagonistas, desperate for a column in an oligarchs rags I suppose we all have dreams but I digress, their narrative about AFCs football can be seen to very, very, very strange when you look at the way both Manchester clubs now play. Pellegrini and Wenger have even been trading players…and the other stuff that these 24/7 football hacks never talk about: tactics, techniques, players,..the Football!

    Let’s not forget what Benitez , only one of the biggest managers in the game, what he said about them: “they don’t ask me about the Football.”

    Indeed. They are peddling a different “product”.

  7. Mick @ 11.08

    I think Neville-Neville is saying that he has a memory blank where Welbeck scored the winner at OT last season! 🙂

    Then there was the trip to City…

    I think the word to describe it all is: “gibberish”.

  8. vilipend (vill’-uh-pend) v.t. –
    1: to hold or treat as of little worth or account; contemn. {contemn (con-tem’) v.t. to treat with contempt}.
    2: to express a low opinion of; disparage.

  9. pleonasm (plee’-oh-naz-um) n.
    1: redundance of words in speaking or writing; the use of more words than necessary in expressing ideas.
    2: an instance of this.
    3: the redundant word or expression

  10. petitio principii (peh-tish’-ee-oh prin-sip’-ee-eye) n. a logical fallacy in which a premise is assumed to be true without warrant, or in which what is to be proved is implicitly taken for granted.

  11. How anyone connected to football can read, listen or provide any form of publicity to a thug like Neville is beyond me. He, his brother and their fellow thugs of Manchester United were responsible for the night of infamy, when the heart of Arsenal was torn out, with the help of a corrupt referee.
    If only it was possible to prosecute the most blatant GBH on football pitches, in a court of law, animals like Neville would serve a prison sentence and then be banned for life from anything to do with the sport.

  12. How can we define Gibberish?
    There are many possible interpretations. Here’s one from the DIY dictionary that I’ve been working on:

    To conflate a national identity or culture with a style of football. In a country or island where football has been so popular for so long that you have not only different styles, but different codes: Rugby, Gaelic, pgMOB Rules, Association, think you’ll even be able to see American Football at the new Tottenham stadium etc.

  13. flagitious (flah-jish’-us) adj. shamefully wicked; villainous; atrocious; scandalous; heinous; iniquitous; execrable

  14. I’m going to go out on a limb here to suggest that the pervasive mood of gloom and doom is just a bit excessive. Yes, I know full-well what’s going on. No, I haven’t taken leave of my senses. In recent weeks, we’ve suffered injustice at Stamford Bridge but bounced Tottenham from the League Cup and trounced Leicester—but this is all bookended and overshadowed by back-to-back losses in the Champions League group-stage. Add in a clash against Manchester United, refereed by Anthony Taylor, and the only ingredient from a disastrous recipe is Old Trafford.

    However, we’ll be at home, and we will have something to prove. Last I checked, our last two trips to Old Trafford didn’t turn out all that badly. We did well enough in fact to end a seven-match losing streak to our old rivals, ousting them from the FA Cup, and they needed Chris Smalling to clear the ball off the line to salvage a draw in the second-to-last matchday of the Prem season (a result that essentially slammed shut the door on Man U’s hopes of finishing above us). In other words, while we can’t quite say we now have Man U’s number, our lads have to feel confident despite the setback earlier this week.

    One take-away from the Olympiacos debacle, though, is the growing partnership between Alexis and Theo. They not only erupted against Leicester, they very nearly rescued us on Tuesday all on their own. They’ve tallied six goals and two assists in those two matches (each assisting the other against Olympiacos), but their interplay cannot be overlooked. Theo is still learning the nuances of playing through the middle, and the rest of the side is adjusting to having him there instead of Giroud, but Alexis and Theo are starting to feed off of each other. It’s hardly Bergkamp and Henry or Brady and Stapleton, but the duo could become every bit as dynamic and devastating in due-time.

    For as much as we may fret about missing out on Scheiderlin, Depay, and Martial, or facing the threat that the latter two pose going forward, Man U will have to find a way to cope with two of the quickest, most-incisive attackers we’ve had at Arsenal in quite a while. The idea that they’re only starting to scratch the surface of their partnership has got to have Van Gaal up into the wee hours trying to figure how to slow them down long. Something tells me that right-back Matteo Darmian, with three yellow cards to his name already, is in for a long, difficult Sunday…

    Man U 1-1 Arsenal (17.05.2015)
    Man U 1-2 Arsenal (09.03.2015)
    Arsenal 1-2 Man U (22.11.2014)

    Arsenal won the first match between the two clubs, 3-2 over then-Newton Heath on 1 August 1894.
    Arsenal have not beaten Man U in a Prem match since 2011.
    Man U have conceded four goals in their last two Prem outings.

    Welbeck, Wilshere, Rosický, and Arteta have all been ruled out; Čech, Koscielny, and Flamini face late fitness tests.

    Čech; Monreal, Gabriel, Mertesacker, Bellerín; Cazorla, Coquelin; Alexis, Özil, Ramsey; Walcott.

    Despite sitting second on the table, Arsenal have a lot to prove and a dramatic fixture in which to do so.

    PREDICTION Arsenal 2-1 Man U

  15. @ finsbury – October 3, 2015 at 12:04 pm – Since you are still at ‘G’ , here’s a few more entries !
    – gork (gork) n. vegetable, in the sense of a person who is severely mentally or physically impaired. [perhaps from back-formation from the slang term gorked “anesthetized”.]

    -gormless (gorm’less) adj. lacking intelligence: stupid.

  16. Excellent thinking Tony!!

    I believe that the boss pretty much sumed up what we too here on UA!

    The media/pundits are lazy , their analysis on anything to do with our club,manager, and of course the players – are way off reality but very close to science fiction!!

    They are BORING to use AW’s words 🙂

  17. finsbury and Brickfields

    You guys know that if Neville was to be reading (he probably is) your comments, he would/will be totally confused!

    But since he has no murcey – go ahead mix his pee brain to hell.

  18. On Theo, Theo is a brilliant finisher. And for a wide player, he has an amazing scoring rate. If Theo succeeds as central striker, he’ll be Mr Wengers greatest converts ever. At this rate, whoz to doubt Theo will not outscore Henry…..I wouldnt

  19. @ Apo Armani – October 3, 2015 at 12:31 pm – For him being confused would mean that he is able to understand something . I think you give him too much , muay ,credit.
    I await the day when the ‘ Great Nevilles ‘ become international managers in their own right ( you may pause here to laugh out loud or roll on the floor!) and the world would watch in …….( fill in an appropriate word here .), when England take on Spain !
    That ought to put the fright of God , and nightmares for the supporters of those two countries .
    Why , probably the rest of that famed Team of 92’ , would all be football famous managers too. After all they seem to know quite a lot !

  20. Stuart Pearce’s highlight as England U21 manager was playing Gazprom Mule M.Mancienne in a final no less opposite a midifield that i think (could be wrong) included Mata and Martinez.

    *wipes a tear*

    Many talented U21s weren’t even in the squad. Many good midfielders in the squad were ignored for Mancienne. I suppose they did well to make the final.

    Pearce for the u21s. For years?
    The Neville-Neville’s for the seniors?
    Our sweet sweet FA certainly appear to have some kind of a vision.

  21. Personally I thought it was interesting read. Our record against Chelsea and united is shocking to say the least. We are a little better against city. As to those mentioning Neville Neville (as some poor attempt at humour I guess)who died recently, well we can let Tony pass comment on that.

  22. Can I pass comment on licence payers fees being used to pay the failed coach the Lesser Neville whilst the Greater Neville (both cowards and cheats who always duck the 50th game and the House of Riley in their plunditry) holds court with his jesters onNewscorp?

    I can? Why. Thank you. Much obliged.

  23. Fortunately the broadcasters wizened up (lots of complaints) and they replaced their wall to wall Neville-Neville coverage with a 24/7 Savage screed.

    Lucky us ( it’s Spanish or Dutch plunditry for me!)

  24. Looks like the self declared expert in finance physiotherapy PR an football has been logging on from it’s phone, desktop, car, fridge etc. What a life!

    However what’s this? 49 dislikes for a comment on an arsenal blog in praise of that cheat well I never haha!

    Man city behind at Newcastle.

  25. Hat-truck for Aguero!

    Damn. Was once my fantasy signing. On the days when the AAAA kept on lying to everyone about the club’s finances. Fortunately once AFC had some cash they managed to purchase the player who became my fantasy signing after Aguero:

    Alexis Sanchez.

    Who according to the AAA only signed because AFC are in London -nothing to do with the manager going out to brazil to sign the player whilst playing volleyball on the beach (which of course caused a meltdown amongst the poor AAA).

  26. Tony
    As I read Neville’s tripe I thought: can’t wait to see what Tony Attwood has to say about this! You didn’t disappoint. It boggles the mind. Apparently newspapers don’t employ editors anymore because, as we see everyday, you can write anything you want, without verification, and it will be printed. It’s the same across all platforms. Are we really better served than when there were 2 television channels? blacksheep63 @9:50 AM is exactly on point. The newspapers and tv channels just NEED TO FILL SPACE. That’s all they’re doing. Oh, and selling adverts. (Not a criticism of advertising Tony I was in the same business). I just feel sometimes we all pay too much attention to the nonsense. And I know the opinions of the sheep (not if they’re black, lol) can easily be herded by repetition. As @finsbury @11:47AM points out, the Manchester clubs are increasing playing more ‘Euro’ football but it’s not acknowledged nor do they get any stick for it. That doesn’t fit the predetermined narrative re AFC. I believe they’re conceded the second fewest goals the last two seasons but you’re led to believe they don’t defend. What? believe me, tony, I only read it for the comedy.

  27. Neville…..the cliche machine. Yes, the defending against Olym can be analysed and criticised. And parallels can be drawn against other recent ECL games at home. But assumptions the lack of tactics , and ability to defend does not stack up over the majority of league performances in the last year. the team have fairly recently made adjustments in the way they play, on the whole, but not without exception , we have become more defensively solid . I think there are some players still a bit stuck in the old ways of attack, attack , attack as a default , especially when things go wrong, and I am convinced that’s what went wrong. As Tom has mentioned, perhaps the excellent Cazorla Is not always the best to rein such things in, that is maybe where we miss Arteta or sometimes Pers calm leadership.
    Regarding preparation , yes, ex players have suggested that Wenger likes players who can work things out for themselves, but that is not the same as suggesting, as Nev does they are given no prep at all. If Neville were correct in all his assumptions, we would be relegation candidates, rather than the reality, a top side, only consistently bettered in this league….tho not it seems in Europe by those with unlimited budgets. And yes, for all the talent, we do have a self destruct button, losing that will be part of the development of this squad.

  28. I’ve said it before: If you are not mental prepared you will lose. No hand shake, smiling before game in tunnel. You cannot do battle in that mode, it is clear. I suggest many a game is won in the tunnel.

    I agree with GN on the preparation part of Arsenal, it does sometimes seem too easy going and this reflects on the pitch. Toughen the mind and the body will follow.

    After the match is plenty time for smiles and handshakes, or not 🙂 as the case may be.

  29. @Para,
    Agree with you entirely. This silly pre-match handshaking is quite meaningless and certainly not a reflection of the battle to come.
    Let both teams run out on to the field separately after the warm-up, like the old days, in order to relieve the tension among the fans.
    Any handshakes restricted to the end of the game and even then by choice.

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