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November 2020
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How the FA have manipulated the stats in order to try and gain more power

By Tony Attwood

My little series on FA cock ups and disasters has reached part 8.  We have published enough FA stories of this sort to go on for another 15 or 20 articles, but we’re heading towards the resumption of proper football in a couple of days, so I will make this last one – and we’ll finish with the one I am rather proud of.

Ten years ago I sat at my desk one dull, non-football weekend pondering why some countries do so well in international football competitions, and others do so badly.

The FA were telling us then, as then tell us now (with the help of a compliant newspaper industry) that the answer is that we have too many foreigners playing in the Premier League.  This is indeed a relevant story today since the FA are currently forcing through yet more restrictive measures on foreign players – which they can now do since the UK has now left the European Union.

It struck me when I looked at the figures that countries which had (at that time) been doing rather well did not have all their players playing in their home league.  For example, the Netherlands had most of its top players playing outside of their country – in Germany, in England, in Spain etc.  Some countries do have quite a few of their players playing in their own land, but there was nothing immediately to say that this helped the country.  I was back to the old cause and effect argument.

I wrote to the FA twice and asked them for the evidence they had used to back up their claims, but sadly they chose not to reply, so I did my own research and published it on Untold Arsenal.

I tried looking at a variety of criteria to see if any of them correlated with success in terms of major international footballing competitions.

After a whole weekend of work I could only find one factor that correlated – that was the number of qualified football coaches per 1000 players.   You can read the data through the link above; it has been used by quite a few journalists since then, although without citation of the source.   Indeed I seem to recall that the Telegraph used it once – at the start of the 2013/14 season.

Which is ironic since the Telegraph last year published a piece which is all about how playing in your home country is the key factor for success in internationals.

In their piece they say that “Of the 220 players who started for their clubs over the course of the opening round of fixtures, 83 qualified to play for England, which means just over 37% of players could be considered for selection for the national team….

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That figure was the highest percentage of English players to feature on the opening weekend since the start of the season in 2011 when the average for the entire campaign was 38%…

In Spain, over the course of the 2018/19 season, 59.6% of players qualified for the national team. In France, it was 50.5%, in Germany it was 44.6% and in Italy it was 40.3%.”

And that is it in terms of “analysis” – which isn’t really an analysis at all, because it only looks at a few countries, does not look at countries over time, and doesn’t look at the countries that have not done particularly well of late.

It fails to look, for example, at countries that get to the semi-finals of the World Cup despite having tiny populations compared to England.  We might recall Belgium and Croatia, for example but the Telegraph gave them not a word.  Largely because Belgium and Croatia had virtually every single player playing outside of their country.

This sort of fake analysis in order to prove a point is what the FA does a lot, knowing  the British media will lap it up.

They also threw in the suggestion that foreign managers don’t trust young English players.  That’s not racism, since Englishness is not a race but a nationality, but it is heading that way.  Swap the phrase “Anglo Saxon” for “English” and you are getting rather close to racist commentary.

The really funny thing is that the Untold analysis suggested that the route that the FA was taking would be hard pressed to work, while the route that smaller nations were taking would work – so what the FA is pushing for all the time is (at least according to our figures) not likely to work at all.

So in simple terms, what I found in doing that analysis in the early days of Untold, was that the key issue is nothing to do with who plays where, but the number of top qualified coaches that you have per 1000 people.  That does correlate with success.  But we don’t get that many people taking the top qualifications in England, for some reason.

Of course in England we have the phrase “you can prove anything with statistics” and that is often knocked around.  The response is that no you can’t – not if the statistics are used properly.  It is the FA that is utterly misusing statistics in order to exert more power over the clubs, as they have been trying to do ever since they persuaded the top clubs to break from the Football League, in the hope that they would play in a league run by the FA.  The clubs did break away, but then decided to run their league themselves.   The FA retaliated with the introduction of their “home grown” rule which they are now (with the UK outside the EU) trying to make ever more stringent.

So that seems a good place to end the series.  If you have been, thank you for reading.  If not, and you want a bit of a laugh (or maybe you might shed a few tears) here is the series.  It really is a huge indictment of the organisation that runs our football.

1 comment to How the FA have manipulated the stats in order to try and gain more power

  • Les Williams

    @Tony I remember reading a story about how certain FAs across Europe help with getting UEFA qualifications and the different costs involved. This may help explain your conclusions

    With our lovely FA there is no help at all – The cost at the time of this srticle was £7k plus to cover the UEFA coaching badge. Spain had a system in place that subsidised the UEFA badge costs so that it only cost the person about £700. Hey guess what – Spain has one of the highest number of trained coaches. They have also won a World Cup, 2 Euros in the last 15 years.

    The research you did was right – it is about having properly trained coaches and investing in the sport at grassroots level. I cannot see that happening in any of the home nations due to everything being short term. It is much easier to blame “foreigners” for our failings!!

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