Is football fixed? Part II: why we need to have change

As the Guardian pointed out, when Southampton were beaten 6-1 by Manchester City, the expected goals result suggested a 2-2 draw.  And we say, ah well, stuff happens.   Or we might do an analysis of the Leicester results on the expected goals basis running up to the dismissal of Claude Puel as boss, which show that Leicester were not doing too much wrong, but just had a terrible run of luck.  That might be right, but how do we know?

And it is worth knowing, because it turns out that Expected Goals – now a much loved form of analysis  – seems to suggest that luck can be involved to such a degree that it can result in a manager losing his job. So if Expected Goals puts one sixth of events on a pitch down to “luck” why then do some supporters immediately think that anyone who suggests there is an alternative explanation that may (not “is” but “may) be going on, as a loony?

In short, why limit the explanation to a) expected goals – that is to say skill and ability based on historic analysis, and b) chance?   Why not add in c) corruption and d) incompetence.   There is in fact absolutely no evidence that helps us distinguish between chance, corruption and incompetence, for the simple reason that the media refuses to engage in this debate.   Even though the referees’ association PGMO is run in such a way that it does little to minimise the chance of corruption, and a lot to enable it to flourish.

Why not introduce one or two changes to the way in which football is run in the Premier League which could ensure that when something odd happens, it truly is just because of chance, or indeed is perhaps because of a psychological implosion by the players in one team who can’t take the strain, but not because of match fixing?

This really is the key point of the argument.  Unusual and unexpected results do occur in football.  Expected goals has been put forward as a way of saying, “actually some of these results are not that unexpected after all”,  and that is fair enough.  But even then, there are still results which are outside of expectation.  This does not mean that these unexpected and inexplicable results all arise because of nefarious activity, but rather tend to suggest that there might be something odd going on.

An intelligent answer would be to say, “OK we don’t really know what is going on, so can we take any obvious precautions that are not going to damage the game in any way, and which are not prohibitively expensive?”

The last point – the cost – pretty much falls at the first hurdle because as we know the PL is the richest league in the world.  As for damaging the game – let’s consider the approach Untold writers have put forward time and time again: an increase in the number of referees so that no club gets the same referee more than twice, requiring referees to answer questions on the media after a game, and a removal of restrictions on radio and TV concerning what can and can’t be said about referees.  No damage to the game that I can see.

Those three changes could be introduced very easily – and the fact that there is no real reason not to do so explains why those who seek to denigrate the arguments put here, are reduced to their “tin hat” approach when trying to knock Untold.  They actually have no case.

To see why all this is so important, we can approach the issue from another point of view: Italy.  The big match fixing scandal in Italy used a sophisticated system which we have dubbed Type III match fixing.  It worked like this:

Juventus (to take one example of a club found guilty) would know that their prime rivals were the likes of Inter, Lazio, Roma and Milan and so would say to certain referees, “if you are refereeing a match involving Inter, Lazio, Roma or Milan and there is a situation in which you can nudge a potential victory for one of those clubs into a draw, or a draw into a defeat, we’d be very grateful.”   Thus they did not ask for their own games to be manipulated but for those of other top clubs to be nudged, and thus reduce the points totals of these rivals.  It makes the corruption very hard to spot.

To help this happen the club needs a limited number of top referees who always get the matches involving the big clubs – a pre-requisite that exists in the Premier League.   They also need TV and radio stations to moderate their questioning of referee decision making – again as happens with Premier League matches (just compare Alan Green’s commentaries now with the way he commentated ten years ago!).

So that is what we have now in the Premier League.  It is a system that does not prove that match fixing is happening, but one that makes it more possible.  And it raises a vital question.  There is no reason to have this limited number of referees, nor to have these restrictions on what broadcasters can say and show, nor to stop referees being interviewed.  So why do it?

This in fact is the PGMO Paradox.  Why be a secretive organisation?  Why have so few referees?  Why hold back on VAR when most other leagues had introduced it?

These are questions that we never get answered, because the media refuse to debate them, and it is that failure to ask and then answer the question, along with the oddity of many results which cannot be understood simply by looking at “expected goals,” that makes it perfectly valid to suggest that there might well be something amiss with the Premier League.

Indeed the only reason I can think of for having the no publicity, no controversial issue discussions, and so few referees, is that there is something amiss.    Why do it this way, when for an amount of money that football wouldn’t even notice, all the worries and doubts could be removed at one go?

4 Replies to “Is football fixed? Part II: why we need to have change”

  1. Further on from your article why do referees “interpret” laws differently, sometimes even in the same match, for different teams.

    I am amazed hearing commentators saying “the ref was lenient” – this means he missed most of the bad tackles and resisted booking players for tackles that warranted such. Then in another match the same referee becomes card happy.

    A perfect example of this happened with Anthony Taylor this year – he only sent one player of in a load of premier league games. In 3 Europa league ties he sent 5 players off! I watched the game between Frankfurt and Shaktar Donetsk It was a very harsh sending off – lets put it this way had that been in a premier league game he would not have sent him off. The rest of the officiating in that match was at best a joke – at its worst downright corrupt.

    The PIGMOB are a dreadfully corrupt organisation – if not they are utterly incompetent.

    It is difficult to believe that they are responsible for “FAIR” play and deserve “RESPECT” when one looks at any statistical analysis of their performance.

    The last paragraph in your article hits the nail on the head – they dont want to “FIX” what they have because it works so well for them.

  2. Where I worked “the appearance of fairness and impartiality was as important as actual fairness and impartiality”. It is a hallmark of a good system that it is apparent that it is just. Nothing good comes from secrecy and darkness. And, of course, there is always the video of he who shall not be named, jumping for joy and fist pumping his fist at a goal scored against The Gunners, in an “unbiased” display of top shelf refereeing.

  3. Rick

    Thanks for that. I’ll go to my grave with that image. With that game and the 50th game any reasonable person would conclude there was bias. Whether it was bias against AFC or bias for the opposition is irrelevant. As I’ve done before on Untold, I urge anyone who hasn’t seen the 50th game recently, or at all, please have a look.

    The referee problems in the EPL, great rift between the top clubs and the rest, continued flaunting of FFP, exploitation of children, etc. are all caused by one thing – money. That’s why it won’t change. The EPL is the richest league in the world and will be more so after the next TV contract. Why would they change? A sense of fairness? For the overall good of the game? Bring more teams and supporters into play? Don’t make me laugh.

  4. I see you have looked at most angles but i would just agree that its hard to say anyone has any concrete evidence..

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