Data Rant: manager Giggs could benefit from time on the road

May 7, 2014 Tags: , Data 10 comments
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Manchester United’s tepid 1-0 loss to Sunderland last weekend took the wind out of the sails of those advocating for Ryan Giggs’ appointment as permanent manager at Old Trafford, even if the Welshman’s team followed up with a fine win over Hull City. After all, David Moyes’ disastrous tenure has dampened United fans’ appetite for experiment, despite the lure of the “class of ’92”.

Still, as things stand, prospective appointment Louis van Gaal is simply a better choice for the job than Giggs. The argument for the Welshman revolves around the idea that Giggs “understands” United and its philosophy, but one can be successful without being in tune with the club in modern football.

Whatever the philosophy, players must eventually deliver it on the pitch, and a club’s youth system, no matter how successful, cannot produce the entire first team squad. In this sense, a club’s performance is bound by finance rather than the manager alone – even if it is a coach of van Gaal’s experience. The Dutchman has won 15 major trophies with culturally unique clubs such as Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

There are exceptions to this rule – as Gary Neville has argued. Some, including Pep Guardiola, have taken to their jobs with great gusto. Jurgen Klopp spent his entire playing career at Mainz before managing the club. Manuel Pellegrini, another one club man cum manager, ended up relegating Universidad de Chile. It begs the question: was Anders Lindegaard sincere or sycophantic in branding Giggs the “next Guardiola?”

We can look at a range of data to find an answer. First, we look at the top 25 clubs by UEFA coefficients – to see if managers’ playing career has any influence on their managerial performance.

Win Ratio / Playing Career

It is clear, above, that there is little relationship between length or quality of playing career and that as manager. Andre Villas-Boas has built a successful coaching career despite having never actually played professionally. And despite the popular conception that good players are poor coaches Atlético Madrid’s Diego Simeone and Paris Saint-Germain’s Laurent Blanc rank very highly in terms of winning ratio.

Taking the tenuously relevant trend as guide, David Moyes had under-performed at United, while Guardiola is doing better than expected given his playing background. Essentially, a top 25 manager must produce at least a 59 per cent win ratio – and given this analysis Giggs’ stellar Old Trafford background is expected to produce a 60 per cent winning percentage over a coaching career. It would be enough to qualify for the Champions League.

To be more accurate in assessing Giggs, however, we cannot simply compare the United legend to established managers and must consider natural talent. It is possible that the “Welsh wizard” is an innately gifted manager who will belie his callowness should he be appointed?

Win Ratio / Managerial Career

Above is a comparison of managerial experience – number of clubs managed and number of years of training before a first managerial post – and win rate. Again, there seems to be little correlation, although most managers lie in the middle, suggesting that there is a Gladwellian amount of experience required to fulfill a manager’s potential. This perhaps explains why Clarence Seedorf, a player as decorated as any, is doing poorly at AC Milan this season, while Simeone and Blanc, who are both much more experienced managers, are considered among the best in Europe.

Given this analysis Guardiola’s relatively rapid success suggests a possibility of genius – a category in which Giggs could possibly reside. There are five managers who hold a similar career trajectory as the United caretaker boss:

  • Seedorf – spent a significant amount of time at AC Milan then became manager
  • Moyes – player/manager at Preston North End then made permanent
  • Guardiola – a long history with Barcelona – became manager after a year of apprenticeship at Barcelona B
  • Klopp – one club man at Mainz then took over the manager’s job
  • Pellegrini – 0ne club man at Universidad then took over the manager’s job

First job win ratio (%) / Career win ratio (%):

  • Seedorf – 50/50 (on his first job)
  • Moyes – 48/45
  • Guardiola – 67/73
  • Klopp – 40/49
  • Pellegrini – 33/50

Indeed, Guardiola took to managing immediately, while Moyes regressed despite moving up a division with Everton and then taking over the reigning champions in United. Pellegrini, on the other hand, first won a trophy in 1994 – six years after his first job. The Manchester City manager was a slow starter. So is Giggs a ‘Guardiola’ or a ‘Pellegrini’.

Win Ratio / One Club Men

Above, we look at number of playing appearances for the manager’s first club and see whether that knowledge had any role in the subsequent winning ratio. Guardiola is a clear outlier and there is a downward trend with Guardiola removed. This is bad news for Giggs’ supporters, although it does not answer the question: what makes Guardiola special?

Win Ratio / Number of Countries Played In

Above, the horizontal axis charts the number of countries in which each manager has played prior to taking his first job. Guardiola had played in three continents before taking over at Barça B. The Spaniard, along with Villas-Boas and Carlo Ancelotti – who have also played/managed in four countries – form the top three in terms of win ratio at their current club.

Win Ratio / Number of Countries Managed In

The number of countries each has worked in has the strongest relationship yet to managerial success. In fact this data suggests that to break the 70 per cent win ratio mark in a top European club, a manager needs to have been to at least four countries.

The advantage of being cosmopolitan is obvious – exposure to diverse football cultures can only help a manager’s knowledge. This observation strikes close to home: Sir Alex Ferguson’s ex-players have yet to distinguish themselves as managers, with Mark Hughes of Stoke City the best of mediocre bunch. Is it a coincidence that the former United striker has Barcelona and Bayern on his resumé?

This is more a plausible argument than ‘proper’ statistical research, yet the conclusion also makes sense. An English player might have his horizon broadened by moving to the Eredivisie and being taught 4-3-3, for example. An expatriate footballer will also have to cope with a new culture and language – surely players pick up pearls of wisdom as they wander the globe. With United in peril, van Gaal will surely be appointed to steady the ship. Giggs might benefit from a voyage or two himself.

A brief note on methodology:
1) All categories are weighted equally
2) Each figure has been adjusted relative to the ‘best’ in each category
3) Assumptions dictating linear regression have not been held strict – 25 managers should be enough in deriving general conclusions
4) In case of a caretaker manager the pervious permanent coach’s figures have been used


Alexis spiz - May 7, 2014 Reply

where’s Louis?

Nemesis - May 7, 2014 Reply

At best acolytes of 92ism can argue right man wrong time. Notwithstanding this levelheadedness not sentiment is key. Nice read.

Subterranean Steve - May 8, 2014 Reply

Not rally convinced by your article.

Kenny Dalglish became player/manager at Liverpool when 34 years old. He immediately did the League and Cup double and went on to win three League titles, two F.A. Cups and four Charity Shields in six years. He quit at the age of 40.

That ought to make him one of the all-time great managers, but he isn’t.

DrewS - May 8, 2014 Reply

Great article Ed – I struggle to understand statistical data but just about picked it up (my issue not yours)! Well played picking up on the diversity of experience in terms of countries played/managed in – I’m sure you’ve read about Guardiola’s 3-1 rule which he picked up whilst in Italy? Classic e.g. of what you’re talking about – without picking this up and incorporating it into his management style, he probably wouldn’t have been as successful.
It’s these nuances (that again, you’ve picked up well in your article) that go a long way to explaining why managers who are ostensibly very similar, experience wildly different levels of success.
I’m afraid that while we’ve got the tub-thumping Nevilles and whichever-idiot-ex-footballer-from-the-BBCs spuriously linking Giggs and Guardiola via the only characteristic they probably share, we’ll probably end up with Giggs as manager at some point, regardless of whether he’s pushed himself to pick up the invaluable experiences from other countries. If they are going to go down that route, him having spent 3 years assisting Van Gaal shouldn’t be qualification enough – while imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, trying to replicate what the man before you has done never works out well, as we all very well know!

Ed - May 8, 2014 Reply

Thanks. Jay’s article btw, not mine. He set out to look at the factors that might affect managerial performance (as they relate to Giggs) – time at club, number of games, number of games as a manager, number of countries played in, number of countries managed in… and found few with a strong correlation to win ratio. Except (with a couple of examples rather than strong correlation) time spent abroad…. i.e. Giggs knowledge of United doesn’t guarantee success, neither does the amount of games he’s had.

Partha - May 8, 2014 Reply

Excellent article! Really enjoyed it. Data usually does not lie and it does reinforce that although there will always be exceptions, you can definitely deduce some trends.

Having said that, a manager’s success also depends on many criteria: quality of players, life-cycle of team, size of the club etc. I strongly feel that Guardiola’s success was aided by an excellent group of players. Messi, Iniesta, Xavi with the rest were at their prime when Guardiola came in and he could achieve excellence with that team. I do not want to discredit him but just stating an opinion on that aspect as well.


MS Assefa - May 8, 2014 Reply

Splendid read well done sir for an excellent article. Reading this will probably give the idiot Gary Neville a stroke, that is if he knows how to read.

But unfortunately for United the quality required of a manager to take charge of United according to most in the media and SAF is Britishness. This just beggars belief in that barring the old man himself, its been a really really really long time since a British manager succeded in the bright lights of European football. And just shows the delusional grandiousity that surrounds British football.

This will only accelerate the doom of the club especially with all the rumors of ultimatums being issued by the club to Van Gaal to keep Giggs. Why? What has he achieved as a manager? This is just Moyes 2.0 waiting to happen.

In the modern world of ego maniacal players I am sure its delusional of me to expect Giggs to be humble and come out and say that he is not fit for the job and needs expirience. That would be far more respectable if he goes away quietly with all the Nevilles and Butts with him. Just keep Scholes as he can teach our youth a lot about about decency on and off the pitch.

Julian - May 9, 2014 Reply

It seems very likely that United are delaying the announcement of van Gaal’s appointment until Giggs has made up his mind what exactly he wants to do. Does he want to be No 2, or be a player or a coach further down the pecking order. Perhaps they are wondering how many others – eg Scholes, Butt & Neville, they can get LVG to fit in. Once this has been sorted they will then make the announcement or at least that is how it seems. What complete arrogance. If LVG didn’t want the job so badly, I think he would have told the club to get stuffed by now. After all they were requested to make the announcement by May 7th before the first Dutch training camp but to hell with that idea. What on earth is the thinking here and why is Giggs seemingly the kingpin in all this. Let’s say they do get him in as No 2 that automatically implies that they want him as the future manager once LVG’s contract runs out. Other candidates need not bother to apply!

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