You wonder sometimes how the bookies come up with the betting prices for each game. To the average punter it probably seems like it’s based on recent form and league standings. Cabinteely didn’t seem to take that on board in their first two matches. As the new kids on the block they started life in the big leagues with two very convincing wins. With odds as much as 8/1 in their first ever competitive match against Wexford Youths, in a two horse race where anything can happen like sending offs, bad referee decisions, poor decisions and actions from players you would forgive Eddie Gormley and the club for having a wry smile at present. In last night’s EA Cup game against UCD and with the score and at 0-0 with 15 minutes remaining they still had odds of 5/1 to win the match. Tempting prices yes but will the bookies be so gullible next time. I doubt it; I’ve yet to meet a poor bookie. Ivan Yates might not agree with me! As a manager you are always crunching numbers from match statistics, player recruitment profiles and opposition analysis reports. Shots on target, shots off target, corners won and lost, misplaced passes, missed tackles, goals scored and goals conceded, possession statistics for and against and transitions in play all make the difference when it comes to preparing your team for combat.
Bookies and professional gamblers have now built large computing engines stoked with numbers to predict the outcome of all matches. Football clubs across the globe are embracing this new data, it’s called Analytics. Top clubs in all professional leagues now employ professionals to dissect the sport scientifically. Having read two great books on the subject recently I’m beginning to think that every shred of knowledge we gather can help us win games and understand the outcomes even more. I would spend hours on end each week preparing for the next match with my assistants. Gathering and collating this information was time consuming but you felt it had to be done and the information disseminated to all your players quickly and effectively. I could watch a game three to five times studying the clips at the weekend. The feedback was so important to players and staff. Being comfortable with numbers isn’t the same as producing insights on the game though. The numbers in some of the material I read seemed to suggest that the long ball approach was the most efficient tactic for soccer. Charles Hughes was Director of Football at the FA in England when I completed my FA Coaching License in 1987 and he used some of these statistics to deliver the coaching course. Hughes presented his ideas in a magazine called Match Analysis and concluded most goals were scored from three passes or fewer, therefore it was important to get the ball quickly forward as soon as possible. He based this analysis on over one hundred games at all levels, including games involving Liverpool, Argentina, Holland and the Brazilian national team, as well as many England Youth games. What I couldn’t understand at the time was the clips he had shown us of Brazil and Argentina were from when they won the World Cup.
Bill James the baseball statistician whose work- as made famous in the film Moneyball – went on to influence a whole generation of top soccer clubs. Football clubs are continually pushing and exploring this data further and with so much money at stake who can blame them? Finally, what should fans make of analytics? Obviously people are fans of the game because they love watching it, and it isn’t my place or anyone else’s to tell someone how they should enjoy the sport. If you hate the idea of using numbers in sports then it is your prerogative to ignore analytics and go on enjoying soccer as you always have. However, if after watching a game you are still craving for more soccer, more ways to understand and interpret the game, then analytics will open up a whole new world. Using analytics can launch you into a new series of questions and debates about the sport that watching the game alone never could. With Cheltenham starting this week I might just check out Cabinteely’s odds for their next few matches.