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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

Numbers don’t lie – United worse than 12 months ago

December 8, 2013 Tags: , Opinion 17 comments
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Detailed analysis of the data isn’t required in order to realise that David Moyes’ Manchester United is an inferior vintage to Sir Alex Ferguson’s – of almost any of the past 20 years. But there is illumination in the numbers this season, with Moyes’ outfit failing in comparison to his predecessor’s on almost every key stat. Indeed, the data points to a deterioration in United that is probably systemic – a symptom of the change that Moyes has driven in six months at Old Trafford.

Take the first 15 games of this campaign compared to a similar number of matches from the start of United’s 2012/13 season. Moyes’ outfit is now 14 points worse off than Ferguson’s and has scored just 22 goals compared to 37 under Ferguson after 15 matches. Or to put that in context, United has suffered five league defeats compared to three a year ago, with a goal difference of just plus three compared to 16.

Beneath the surface the numbers fail to show Moyes’ side in a good light either. United’s passing is less accurate, the average length of pass is longer, and the Reds are enjoying less possession in games as a result. Moreover, United’s loss of possession is translating into fewer chances created – just 139 in the first 15 games this season compared to 189 at the same stage of Ferguson’s final campaign as United manager. And when Moyes’ side does create chances the forwards are shooting with a little less accuracy than in the past.

By contrast Moyes’ side is on the back foot more than under Ferguson, with the Reds being forced into 20 per cent more defensive actions – blocks, tackles and clearances – than in the first 15 games of last season. It is no surprise that United has also picked up eight more yellow cards than at this stage last year.

None of this is happy reading, of course, and much of it is the result of Moyes’ tactical desire for United to be a little more direct, channel the ball into wide areas and deliver crosses. Not that delivery from wide areas is accurate this year, while United leads the league in “crosses from deep.” Or in other words aimless balls punted into the box.

Put simply, United is passing the ball longer, with less accuracy, creating fewer chances and the team’s shooting is not quite as sharp. The result is fewer goals and points secured. Never a recipe for success.

It is, some might argue, an old school philosophy in a very modern age, perhaps summarised in a very simple data point: the number of long balls United now plays has increased from 10 per cent under Ferguson to 12 per cent with Moyes in charge. Only Arsenal and Manchester City played fewer long balls than United last season; Moyes’ outfit is now distinctly in the middle of this table now.

Moyes Stats

The numbers don’t look pretty for individuals in United’s squad either, bar perhaps Wayne Rooney. Rooney has scored eight in 13 Premier League appearances to date this season, or 0.61 per game. The Scouser scored at 0.44 goals per game last season.

Meanwhile, the former Evertonian has created 2.15 chances per game this season, compared to 1.8 last season and provided seven assists in the league compared to 10 over the entire league campaign last year.

Robin van Persie, by contrast, has been marginally less effective in an injury-hit season. The Dutchman is scoring at 0.63 goals per Premier League game, compared to 0.68 last season, and has two assists, compared to eight in the full campaign last season.

Elsewhere, especially in midfield, Moyes side has struggled this season. Michael Carrick is passing a touch less this season at 77 per game, but with less accuracy as well. Tom Cleverley and Marouanne Fellaini barely average 50 passes per game. Little wonder United’s possession is down and the side is creating far fewer chances.

Defensively, the key metrics for Nemanja Vidić, Jonny Evans, Patrice Evra, Chris Smalling and David de Gea are down.

The data leads to an obvious question: whether Moyes’ start is symptomatic of a failing strategy, or simply a “transitional period” in the post Sir Alex Ferguson era. After all, Moyes start to life at United has been tougher than anybody expected, with the Reds losing five of 15 matches in the Premier League to date.

Play the season forward from here and United’s 22 points will translate into just 56 by the season’s end – leaving the Reds somewhere around eighth and out of the European places altogether. While United’s campaign is unlikely to be that cataclysmic the numbers surely contradict Moyes’ claim that the Reds can still win the Premier League this season.

In a competitive league it might take less than the 89 points that secured the Premier League over the past two seasons. But should, say, 82 secure the title come May, United will still need to record 19 wins, two draws and just two defeats before the campaign’s end.

In fact fourth place and a Champions League spot might be a significant achievement from this point. It might require nearly 50 further points from Moyes’ side, or 16 wins, four draws, and two further loses. Even in the most optimistic scenario only twice over the past decade has it taken less than 68 points to secure fourth – each time coming with a runaway league winner. In other words, it is likely that United will need to win 15 or more games from the next 23 simply to qualify for next season’s Champions League.

Failure to make the Champions League is, of course, a doomsday scenario for Moyes. One that will test the owners’ resolve to stick with the Scot through his full six-year contract. After all, while most supporters agree that Moyes deserves time, he is unlikely to match the time proffered to Ferguson between 1986 and 1993 before the league title returned to Old Trafford.

After all, Ferguson took charge of an under-achieving squad that hadn’t secured the league in two decades. Moyes, with more than a decade in the Premier League, secured the job as manager of England’s champion club. It is also a club that boasts the third highest revenue of any club on the planet, and for whom failure is inconceivable.

Data: Squawka, EPLIndex, Whoscored, Statto

Data point: September player performance

September 30, 2011 Tags: , , Opinion 9 comments

In partnership with the EA Sports Player Performance Index, Rant Monthly uncovers the data behind Manchester United’s strong start to the 2011/12 campaign. Here’s a sneak preview of the data from October’s magazine…

The EA Sports PPI covers Premier League performance based on a mathematical model developed Dr Ian McHale (a Liverpool fan) and Professor Phil Scarf (a United fan). The index provides objective ratings for players’ performances in a match and over a season, enabling comparisons across positions and identifying how much a player genuinely contributes to a team’s success.

Players are allocated points based on set criteria, including points won by the team, specific actions during a match, time on the pitch, goals, assists and clean sheets. McHale and Scart have analysed hundreds of matches since the Premier League’s inception in order to quantify the relationships between player actions and the match result.

The index demonstrates what many United supporters will already know: Sir Alex Ferguson’s side has made a strong start to the Premier League season, backed up by performances by key individuals

Between the sticks few United players have had more column inches dedicated to them than David de Gea. Despite this the young goalkeeper is the top ranked stopper in the Index, having made an incredible 45 saves already this Premier League season, and conceded only five goals at a shots-to-goals ratio of 9:1. By comparison, Manchester City’s Joe Hart has made 25 saves, conceding five goals, at a shots-to-goals ratio of 5:1. The PPI data draws two obvious conclusions: United is allowing far more opposition shots on goal than the side’s rivals but de Gea is more than up to the task, backing the conclusion that Ferguson’s 2011/12 incarnation is a more open than in the past.

Meanwhile, in a defence that has been disrupted by injuries to first choice pairing Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, United’s younger players have been thrown into the spotlight far earlier than Sir Alex Ferguson may have intended. Yet, Ferdinand and Vidic may have some concern about their long-term positions in the side, after strong showings from Phil Jones and Jonny Evans over the first six matches of the Premier League season. The Northern Irishman is now ranked 24th overall in the Index and is the seventh ranked defender. Phil Jones is ranked 30th overall and ninth in the defenders’ list. Remarkably, the pair hasn’t lost a tackle between them in the Premier League and contributed 13 clearances too. Patrice Evra, now one of the senior men in United’s defence, is the 13th ranked defender in the Index, perhaps underlining the slight loss-of-form some fans have noted in recent months.

The much criticised United midfield has also performed strongly in the Premier League this season according to the Index. Brazilian Anderson has shown signs of fulfilling his promise, ranking sixth overall in the Index, completing 123 passes in his opponents’ half, which works out as one every four minutes 14 seconds. Demonstrating the all-round game the 22-year-old is now developing, Anderson has won 78 per cent of tackles he entered into and made five interceptions.

Darren Fletcher’s return is also a boon to Ferguson, with the younger Scot demonstrating his box-to-box credentials by covering 7.65 miles and 7.37 miles against Chelsea and Stoke respectively. Meanwhile, Tom Cleverley’s emergence is underscored by the young midfielder’s performances in his four appearances to date. Cleverley successfully fired 80 per cent of his shots on target and covered an average of 7.4 miles per match before being injured against Bolton Wanderers.

It is, however, in attack that United’s has performed ahead of all expectations this season, scoring 22 goals in six Premier League games to date. Wayne Rooney is the Index’ leading player this season, scoring nine goals and contributing two assists in five games. Ashley Young, ranked third, has started his United career in fine fashion, while the winger on the other side, Nani, is ranked fifth. Between them United’s attacking trio have made 37 shots on target, netting 68 per cent of the side’s goals so far. Demonstrating the hard work the Portuguese has put into his game over the last 18 months, Nani has also covered more ground – 43.8 miles – than any other United player this season.

Adding some level of proof, if any was really needed, of the delightful attacking football Ferguson’s side has put together since August Rooney, Nani and Young have each completed over 100 passes in their opponents’ half this season – 118, 157 and 116 respectively.