I’ve been reading up on football lately. By football, I mean the game where your foot touches the ball, not that weird faggot-rugby-for-blacks that the yanks play. For a long time I’d watched football shows such as Match Of The Day and Sky Sports before a sudden thought hit me – “I’ve been watching this sport for thirty years and I barely understand what I’m seeing.” This was crystallised when watching a Newcastle match with my dad and enduring ninety minutes of him lying on the sofa, arms crossed, spouting unbelievably ignorant gobshite at the television. He’s been watching football nearly sixty years and appears to have absorbed nothing. So, I’d better not turn out like that.
I realised that the live commentators tell you almost nothing – they talk like attention-seeking toddlers, just repeating verbally what is obvious to the eyes: “Ronaldo loses ball to Messi, Messi runs forwards, and is tackled.” Well, thank you Captain Obvious.
So I cast around and got a shortlist of highly-regarded football theory books. I read Jonathan Wilson’s excellent Inverting The Pyramid. After two weeks studying that I had a general awareness of why teams choose their tactical formations and play in certain ways. Now I’m reading Anderson & Sally’s fascinating The Numbers Game which is like Moneyball but for a sport people actually care about outside of the US and Japan. I’m seeing football in a new way. For example, did you know:
- The total number of goals a team scores does not increase with the number of corners it wins. The average Premier League team in the 2010/11 season scores a goal from a corner once every ten games. That’s why Guardiola’s teams don’t bother with them and play it short to keep possession.
- The winner of any given football match is only 50% determined by the quality of the team. The rest is luck. Comparing the success rates of pre-game favourites per the bookies, basketball and NFL have 68% of favourites win. In proper football it’s only 52%.
- Goals per match are almost identical (2.6) in all four major leagues (Premier, Bundesliga, La Liga and Serie A) over the past ten years with an astonishing consistency. This is despite hugely different national ethos and formations.
- Darren Bent was the most valuable player in the Premier League in 2009/10 and 2010/11 when players are ranked according to how many points their goals won (i.e. scoring the equalising goal, or the goal that takes the lead in an eventual win). Yes, Darren fucking Bent.
Anyway, I digress. The reason I bring up football is that there is a really interesting chapter on Wigan Athletic and their then-manager Roberto Martinez. The book begins with some simple stats confirming that Wigan has the lowest revenue of any top-flight club – in a sport where the club wage bill correlates 92% to eventual league position – yet upon promotion in 2004/05 managed to remain in the Premier League for eight consecutive seasons and even won the FA Cup in 2013. Per the stats in The Numbers Game then Wigan stood a 95% chance of being relegated in the first five years. Yet they prospered. Why?
The book’s thesis is that Martinez had his team play “guerilla football” to maximise their strengths as a David playing Goliaths. To quote:
“Martinez’s Wigan are not your typical club. In 2010/11, they created goals in extremely unusual ways. They relied much less on traditional open-play goals than most, and did not bother with anything that resembled a patient build-up. In half their games they failed to score from open play at all. When they did, they tended to come from what are known among analysts as “fast breaks” – lightning quick counter-attacks. And the rest of the goals came from free kicks. Their output in both these categories was exceptional. They scored twice as many goals on the break as the average side, and they scored almost four times as many goals from free kicks.”
“Not only did they score from fast breaks and free kicks, but when we calculated the average distances from which Premier League clubs attempted shots that season, Wigan were the overall league leaders. This looked deliberate: their goals came from a longer distance than any of their peers. Martinez was thinking outside the box in the most literal fashion. Indeed, his team had the lowest number of goals scored from inside the penalty area of any side in the league – just twenty-eight, compared to Manchester United’s sixty-nine. He did not place any emphasis on corners – Wigan scored just one goal from a corner in the entire 2010/11 season – because it meant allowing his troops out of hiding and into open sight, leaving them vulnerable. He had his team lie in wait for their opponents and then punish them on the counter-attack. He employed sharpshooters to let fly from distance and snipers to hit free kicks.”
When reading this my mind spun a little. Hmmmmm….. here is a manager who knows his team is outgunned on the normal criteria of the game. He doesn’t have the size or revenue to buy success through normal channels. He knows most of the time he’ll come up short, but he doesn’t need to win every game, he just needs win enough to get a steady supply of points and stay at the top table. Every now and then, such as 2013, he gets some luck and outperforms the biggest clubs in a major competition. But to do this he needs to think outside the box, work hard, and work very intelligently at his own bespoke system. You might spend ninety minutes absorbing pressure from better teams but when that one counter-attack presents itself you can snatch victory. You can drill a series of well-rehearsed set-pieces on the training ground so that when you get that free kick on the edge of the penalty box your whole team is moving with expert synchronisation, every piece in place to outmaneuver the opposition.
Yes, that sounds very familiar.
Let’s change some of the vocabulary. Imagine someone had realised he was out of his depth in the SMP according to normal criteria. He wasn’t young, tall, muscular or good-looking and yet he wanted to bag the same trophies everyone else is competing for. If he went the same tried-and-tested route as everyone else – nightgame, Tinder, online – he’d barely score a point. So this someone thought outside the box and found a system to get by. It was unorthodox. It involved grinding it out and being alive to when those occasional Maybes and Yeses turned up. And once that chance presented itself, he was ruthless in converting it to a win.
Yeah, imagine getting by for five years or so like that. Sometimes winning the cup final.
Daygame Overkill is available for $199 here. Daygame Mastery is available for $100 here.
December 29, 2014 at 3:54 pm
Yes. Czech national team is past it’s Euro 2004 glory in terms of quality. Yet, they just won against Holland, Turkey, Iceland etc. ale lead the group. Why? Well, organised play, great set pieces and work rate. But they actually play quick combination football, just while also being realistic. Eeverybody know’s what he’s doing.. The new national team coach Vrba led Viktoria Plzen, a small team with a budget of around 7 million Euro per season, to Champions Leaue twice..for example,, they lost 1:0 to Bayern when they were champions, played memorable games against Guardiola’s Barcelona, drew with AC Milan, won against Atletico Madrid year before they reached CL final, eliminated Napoli from Europa League 5:0 on aggregate, eliminated CSKA Moscow, scored two goals against Manchester City away…and now he proves coaching really does matter if you know what you’re doing. In some of the matches it was almost funny how the Plzeň players were slower without the ball than for example Shaktar Donetsk Brazilians with the ball. The same Czech national team played total shit under previous coach who used it as an excuse all the time. Of course there are opposite examples. Like Manchester City in Europe. Such a potential, but they often look like they see each other for the first time.
December 29, 2014 at 3:56 pm
Bit of pedantry, I think you mean Guardiola and not Mourinho. Mourinho’s teams score a fair bit from corners. Surprised you read another footy book after Wilson’s, that’s quite a boring headache though it’s a brilliant book.
December 29, 2014 at 4:02 pm
I also remember few years ago Liverpool tried to build a team from scratch based purely on advanced stats, inspired by baseball team, buying the likes of Henderson etc.. It didn’t work, because baseball is a game where stats taken out of context mean a lot more than in football due to it’s restricted nature where many actions happen in isolation. The same situation is in game, where soulless “perfectly” exectuded set is still kind of average…
December 29, 2014 at 5:57 pm
In hindsight, some of my best stories are the ones where the lay came out of left field. A play-by-play shows little in the way of logical progression. Rather, it’s all cobbled together in an amusing and ultimately very satisfying way.
December 29, 2014 at 7:19 pm
I remember watching Wigan beat the millionaire superstars of Man City in the FA Cup Final. Here’s Ben Watson’s 90th minute winner, how many times do you think they practiced that corner drilling it over and over and over again?
December 31, 2014 at 7:56 pm
‘He did not place any emphasis on corners’ – think they must have put the odd ten minutes’ practice in, here and there.
December 30, 2014 at 1:51 am
These are the books I need. I can make SPSS do stuff but I’ve always been like a dog watching card tricks when the football’s been on, No great cause for shame, but nothing to be proud of.
You might like Daniel Finkelstein’s Fink Tank column in the Times on a Saturday – DF and statisticians pick apart detailed football stats, and kick man-in-the-pub common knowledge in the pods.
NFL is fucking unsatisfying to watch (it’s that stop-start thing), but if propensity to smash your head into early onset dementia is a decent index of hardness – it makes the grade.
I’m knackered, so when I read your post I didn’t see the payoff coming. Nice opportunistic long ball into the box there. [I see what you did there. K.]
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December 30, 2014 at 10:26 am
Alan Pardew has left the building.
December 30, 2014 at 1:53 pm
Yes and Sunderland won the last Derby.
December 30, 2014 at 10:17 pm
Promo code isn’t working mate?? [It’s expired now. Pre-order period is over and it’s on general release. K.]
December 31, 2014 at 6:13 am
Great article Krauser. Reminds me of your Cervantes posts [Thanks boss. Every now and then I get the idle thought that I should revive it. K.]
December 31, 2014 at 8:05 pm
Cervantes was great stuff
Always wanted an expansion on the male-female polarity talk K would have with his girls
January 1, 2015 at 3:26 pm
Krauser, someone has just said it before me but writing like this brings me back to your Cervantes blog, which I re-read over the holiday break. I hope this comes across as a compliment rather than an insult but in my opinion those short number of posts on Cervantes are perhaps the best pieces you have ever written; perhaps that is because now I don’t read so much game theory, but I’m sure myself and many others would love to see a book version (you mentioned it on your first post on there, almost 3 years ago.. how time flies!). The relation to game-lifestyle-work-travel that you talked about on there has not been said so well by anyone else, and I’m sure you have much more in the tank now….
January 1, 2015 at 6:31 pm
+1 A.F I would love to see this too.
Nick, Overkill is unbelievably good, funnily enough I think a lot of the principles demonstrated in the street seducer infields are very much applicable to night game/gutter game too.
Any plans for an overkill type infield video recorded product on closing out follow up dates/SDLs?
I think it would be a good seller. [Thanks for the feedback. I don’t suppose you could leave a review over at RVF or someplace? Failing that, a longer feedback on this post? I’m finished with daygame/street instructional material now. My new products will go off into other territory, including dates. K.]
January 1, 2015 at 8:48 pm
I’ve left a review on RVF – post by “onetouch”. Can’t wait for your new products to be released – Your Products are top notch and really innovative.
Best. [Thanks boss. I can’t actually find it on RVF though. Was it in the “Nick Krauser reviews” thread? K.]
January 1, 2015 at 10:52 pm
Yep – it was moved from the “Game” section
My post is in the link below post #20
ps hard to believe some of the idiotic posts on that thread – despite Roosh’s firm stance on trolling etc
January 2, 2015 at 2:31 am
Krauser i’ve recently gotten braces and since then have not managed to land a single date. I got them around my 200th approach and was on about 5 day 2s. Now at my 800th approach i haven’t maanged to get any solid numbers. Do you think braces will affect my SMV ? [Are you trolling? K.]
January 2, 2015 at 9:31 pm
I mean’t to say do you think braces has affected my SMV. Since getting them i haven’t manaed to land any solid numbers. [I think it probably has, then. Either directly or through you being self-conscious about them. K.]
January 2, 2015 at 2:33 pm
Bought Overkill yesterday Krauser, really enjoying it! Clear to see you know your stuff (happy to put review on RVF once done if it helps). You mention a girl you fucked whose boyfriend was extremely wealthy. You said he was also better looking than you. When you say that R selection is about acquiring high quality DNA, how does it manifest in this scenario? Is it more about the charisma you’re showing her etc? [Yeah, review on RVF would be nice. Looks is just the most quickly-demonstrable indicator of high quality DNA, and therefore the most useful. However, intelligence and charisma are also indicators, they just take a bit longer to show. For example, you can demonstrate looks pre-open and passively in-set – hence GLGG. Once a girl starts feeling the intelligence and charisma it is as effective as good looks. K.]
January 2, 2015 at 10:39 pm
January 2, 2015 at 10:41 pm
Sent that prematurely! Will post a review on there then mate. Likely early next week. [Thanks, boss. K.]
January 3, 2015 at 5:41 pm
Think you might like this article: http://www.wired.co.uk/magazine/archive/2014/01/features/the-winning-formula
The whole industry around in-game analytics is only recently taking off. The push for RFID and Video tracking provides some really awesome data for better understanding inter-game dynamics. Especially as the entrenched luddite tendencies among head coaches and owners are starting to fade away. (Disclaimer: I consult for one of these companies in the States)
Also, bought Day Game Mastery about 8/9 months ago, really, really helped my day approach game. While I still have much more to learn, was able to rack up half a dozen lays using a lot of your methods. Thanks! [Cool. K.]