Author Archives: rich

Fulham: the decline from peak Hodgson to the bowels of footballing hell

decline

Okay, I’m sticking with my SD scores as I like them and they feel right.

Next we’re going to look back over the time from peak Hodgson to relegation.

The first thing we see looking along the Attack line is that this team has never scored goals. Hodgson’s team was well below average in scoring but was still positive overall: the defence, and remember that this is a team thing, not just the back four, was just outside the normal defensive range for the league. Only Chelsea, Liverpool and Champions Manchester United could say the same. So if there was any doubt – and I don’t think there was – Hodgson’s team was built on defence. That’s how we qualified for Europe. Note that this side was largely unchanged all season, with Etuhu and Bullard doing half a season each.

In the European season we saw a lot of squad rotation. The team didn’t improve at the attacking end and the defending wasn’t quite as good. This is the league remember. I think we all saw the team prioritising that year. Etuhu only played 14 league games.

In Mark Hughes’ first season the attack made a bit of a jump towards normality, and the defence rebounded towards peak Hodgson. This in some ways is a natural regression: if we assume 2009-10 was compromised because of Europe, you’d expect the season after this to see some bounce back. Hughes kept his end of the bargain in this sense. At this point Fulham were fine. The age thing was starting to happen but on the pitch we were right where we should have been.

Jol’s first season saw a progression towards a more attacking team, a setup that allowed Clint Dempsey to score all those goals, but we can see the defensive dropoff immediately. The defence and the attack was now right bang in the middle of the pack, but the balance had shifted too far and the net result was that we were now a below average side. The changes here were tactical, but also personnel based: Senderos took a lot of Hughes’ playing time, and the very underrated Salcido gave way to Riise. Right-back continued to be a transition position. Etuhu was hardly playing, but Dembele was in a more central role late in the season.  The warning signs are there though: the attack isn’t contributing as much as the defence has given back.  The team isn’t as balanced as it was.  It’s lost something.

In 2012-13, Jol’s second season, the attack became a smidge better – Berbatov – but the defence went bad. This was Sascha Reither’s first season, Riise was a regular, and again Hangeland had a variety of partners. The midfield became patched together, with Sidwell and Karagounis the most common CM players, a terrible drop-off from Murphy and Dembele. This was the first season where the defence was below average, but it was still within league norms. The danger was the trend, which was now firmly in the wrong direction, and the midfield drop-off, which to be fair, Scott Parker was then brought in to remedy.

2013-14 we’ve been over enough times. The rot had set in. Everything was wrong. The club got itself into a horrible mess, confusing causes and effects, shipping out ‘luxury’ players like Berbatov and Ruiz, who may not have been helping but who ultimately didn’t play more than 10 games each.  The team began to rely on the graft of Parker and Sidwell… in retrospect it’s not at all clear where we expected the goals to come from… but very clearly the problem was in defence. As noted time and again, we became far the easiest team to play against.  Now again, I have no problem with Sidwell or Parker as footballers but clearly there’s a lack of intelligence on display here.  Hodgson knitted together players into a coherent whole, but it’s almost as if Fulham 13/14 felt that there was no obvious source of goals so they’d all crack on and do their best, and hope that they might collectively get back and do a bit of the old defending, too.  Meulensteen tried the packed defence approach and given what we’ve seen here, I suspect that this was exactly what was needed to at least steady the ship.  He may not have been the right manager, but he was sacked at exactly the wrong time.

If there’s anything new here – and perhaps there isn’t – it’s that the move to attacking full-backs under Jol clearly upset the balance of the side. The team post Reither simply couldn’t defend. I’m not laying this on one man, but stylistically he was clearly not right given how we were playing and what we needed to do. Riise was sporadically terrible, too. He was less attacking than Reither but more inclined to be neither/nor, neither bombing on nor staying back. Again, it all felt a bit ad hoc.  He’d attack if he felt like it, and defend if he was back.

The transition from gifted midfielders to limited midfielders also doomed us, as did the move away from Hughes and Hangeland: we weren’t the same once they were broken up. It’s hard to pin too much blame on attacking players as that side of the game was broadly even, although if we assume that a goal not conceded and a goal scored are of broadly equal value, the team should have received a far bigger attacking lift from the decision (?) to stop defending.  There was nowhere near enough payoff from adopting this expansive approach.

Then by the end we couldn’t attack or defend, which I guess is called bottoming out: in 2013-14 we couldn’t accomplish anything with the ball in part because we were so terrible without it. We would be playing against teams already in the lead, we were playing against teams that would keep the ball from us and indeed take it off us. We had nothing.

 

Among the worst ever

worst ever

These are the only teams I have in my database (1888-1992) who had worse defensive SD scores than did Fulham last year.

Loosely translated, it’s a measure of how much worse than the competition a team’s defence was in any given season. So if, like last year, the average team conceded 53 goals and 1SD either side was 13, that means that the standard range was between 40 and 66. 15 of the 20 teams fell into this band. Chelsea were well below it, Everton and City were just below it, Cardiff were quite a bit above it and Fulham were well above it.

In 1963-64 the average team, playing 42 games remember, allowed 71 goals. The standard deviation here is 15, and so we’re looking at a ‘normal’ range of 56 to 86. Only three teams were outside this range: Liverpool conceded 45, Birmingham conceded 92, Ipswich melted their way to 121 (having won the league two seasons previously!).

So we’re looking at teams whose defences fall well outside the norm for the division that season. The big point here is that Fulham weren’t just outside the norm, which is one standard deviation each side of the average, Fulham were 2.5 standard deviations outside the norm.

ffc

That puts them among the worst 1% of top division teams ever.

Having spoken at length on Monday about how Magath and co are being hard headed in rationalising spending, which I believe they absolutely are, I feel I need to re-stress the obvious: we are tearing last year’s team apart because it was bad, historically bad, far worse than has generally been acknowledged.

Shaun Hutchinson won’t thank me for this (and a genuinely fascinating Fulham relegation nugget)

I’ve struggled to get my head around all the new arrivals but between now and the start of the season I’ll try to have a bit more of a dig.

First, we’ll look at Shaun Hutchinson. Shaun, I’m sorry that your name will be associated with such a dense, awkward and unfortunate post.  The short version is that I’m delighted you’re here and think you’re just the kind of signing we need.  The long and unfortunate version follows.

ShaunHutchinsonBucketI15032012

Hutchinson is a 23 year old centre-back who played for the famous Wallsend Boys Club in Newcastle before being spotted by Motherwell. There he had some injury concerns as a youngster but has been a regular for the last three seasons.

The interesting thing here is that in the three seasons he’s been a regular, Motherwell have been the best ‘mortal’ team in Scotland.

I’m going to digress here for a moment in order to make my point. (Stick with me here, there’s a fascinating Fulham twist coming.)  So yes, long time readers will know how I’ve gone on about goal difference as a good clue as to how good a team is. This is an idea borrowed from baseball, where it was established that by looking at runs for and against you can spot teams that are over or under achieving. You can also see which teams are really really good, or really really bad.

One interpretation of this came in Rob Neyer and Eddie Epstein’s book, Baseball Dynasties, in which they assigned a number of great baseball teams something called an SD score. A what?

rn

SD is short for standard deviation. A standard deviation is a measure of dispersal – keep with me here, I’m almost done. Put it this way, you might have two defenders: one performs at 7/10 every week for four games. So he has 28 points, and an average of 7/10. A second defender gets 10/10 in one game, 8/10 in the next, but 5/10 in the two after that. He too averages 7/10. For player A his standard deviation is zero, so we know that there’s absolutely no variation in what he does – he’s a steady Eddie. For player B his standard deviation is 2.3, which means that while his average score is 7, the rating actually moves around a lot. He’s inconsistent, brilliant one week, iffy the next. You would probably want player A as a defender and maybe player B as a forward. So that’s what standard deviation is.

Another application can come at a team level. In this case the dispersal is not about how a player does each week, but about how dispersed teams are within a league. So they looked at the average runs for and against in a league and then looked at how many standard deviations above or below this each team was. Bear with me…

We can do this for football. So if I take the 1978-79 English season we find that Liverpool scored 85 and conceded 16. This put their attack 2.67 standard deviations above the average, while their defence 2.32 standard deviations above the average. This gives a total score of 4.99, the second highest anyone’s ever achieved (behind Arsenal’s 1934-35 side that scored 115 and conceded only 46). Now mathematically it’s not perfect, but it does give us a nice way and a simple score by which to instantly compare teams throughout the years (next highest is Sunderland from 1892-93!).

lfc

(It helps to control for dispersal. If I just went on goals for and against we’d get some nuts scores in the 1920s when the offside rule was changed, for instance.)

If you’re still reading, here is last season:

ffc

I’ve only maintained the database from 1888 to 1992 (pre Premiership) but that -3.11 would put Fulham right down in the bottom section of the list (something like 1970th out of 2000 teams).  In fact, there’s a lovely coincidence here: the team directly above the 2013-14 Fulham team was this one (1967-68 season). Who says stats are dry, eh?

ffc2

This tells us that the closest historical parallel to the 2013-14 Fulham team, at least in terms of how good it was relative to the rest of the league, was the 1967-68 Fulham team! This is amongst all top division teams between 1888 and 1992. Isn’t that amazing? I’d be interested to learn whether those of you who have seen the two think this is reasonable. Personally I’m going to dig out my Tales from The Riverbank and re-read it this evening.

Anyway, back to Shaun Hutchinson. The point of all this is to say that in the last three seasons, Celtic’s SD score has been 3.92 (but this was when Rangers were still in the league), 4.35 and 4.82. If they did this in England they’d be one of the best teams of all-time by this reckoning. So Scottish clubs are effectively competing against a team that’s so far beyond them that it’s almost not worth them being there. I appreciate that you didn’t need my convoluted statistical fiddling to tell you that, but I personally hadn’t appreciated the extent of their dominance. They’re just miles off.

The point is that when Motherwell came third behind Rangers and Celtic, then second twice in a row just behind Celtic, they effectively won the league. So we’ve bought a young centre-back who played well for a very good Scottish team. The Motherwell SD scores in this time were:

-0.1 0.4 0.3 (so a smidge above average in a league with Rangers and Celtic, kept it tight)
0.9 0.1 1.0 (opened up a bit with Rangers gone and played more attacking football at the expense of defending)
0.6 -0.6 0.0 (probably lost the balance a bit, and using this evidence alone – which of course you wouldn’t do, they probably didn’t deserve second place. Evidenced perhaps by thrashings by Celtic by 3-0 and 5-0 and Dundee United by 4-0 (SH didn’t play) and 5-1)

mfc

Also worth noting that Hutchinson played for Stuart McCall, whose playing career saw him work for long spells under Howard Kendall, Walter Smith and Neil Warnock, which is quite the apprenticeship.

Unless you watch a player play you really can’t have any idea how good he is, so in some ways I’ve just wasted a good deal of your time. But the point I’ve tried to get across in all this is that we’ve signed a young centre-back who *profiles” very well indeed.

The other thing is that with Burn from Darlington we could very easily have a North Eastern centre-back partnership. Had we kept Stockdale on there really would have been something odd going on.

Fulham, Moneyball, David Stockdale, John Terry, and why I’m more positive now

With the disappointing news that David Stockdale’s off it becomes clear that this just isn’t about dead wood.

Here are the positives around Stockdale:

- we got him when he was nobody. It’s nice to see young players come through.
– he’s a good player. England squad, remember?
– he seems like a good egg.
– he seems to ‘get’ Fulham, to the extent that such a thing really exists.
– if he was going to go he’s had several better times to do so, notably when he was being messed about in the latter stages of the Schwarzer era.
– we need a goalkeeper.
– Stekelenberg is presumably aiming higher.
– he ‘knows’ the Championship. I don’t know how that helps either, but everyone talks about knowing the Championship so who am I to disagree?

And so on. There are probably more. Stockdale’s a nice lad who’s good in goal. It feels like a shame to let him go. At this rate – and I’m barely joking – Fulham’s fans will barely recognise anyone when the team takes the field at Portman Road.

So what’s going on? Does Stockdale want a new start? Does the club want to rid itself of all remnants of the 2013-14 disaster? I don’t know. Probably someone else does.

But something else is occurring to me, regardless of the final diagnosis here.

Fulham are going American.

What? Well in baseball you have no relegation and something called a draft, by which teams are continually refurbished with young talent. The worse the team the better access to young talent.

And American sports being heavily unionised as they are, player salaries are quite well controlled. What this led to, probably 10 years ago now, was a fairly widespread realisation that older players were dramatically overpaid relative to younger players. Oh, sure, the coaches and older players would continually big up the need for ‘experience’, but when it came down to it an experienced home run looked a lot like an inexperienced one.

Thing is, a young player would be on a maximum contract of $350,000. It’s more now but bear with me. After a certain period of time the player could renegotiate this, but it meant that teams who were prepared to take a risk on young talent were at an advantage, provided they had identified the right young talent. Generally, once they’d been in the game 7-8 years, experienced players, even mediocre ones, would take home $2,000,000 a year. Again, it’s more now, but you can see the point.

I have long wondered to what extent you could take this over here. My argument, which may be wrong, would be that if you’re paying Darren Bent £50,000 a week and he is useless every single game, you could just as well have played Mousa Dembele, who presumably earns a tenth of that.

You could. I appreciate that “it’s not that simple”, but when it comes to awful performances it doesn’t really matter whether it’s a 28 year old making them or an 18 year old. Except financially: the 18 year olds cost a tenth as much.

Mr Khan and his sons will be all too aware of this, as are we having seen the cheap and cheerful Cauley Woodrow perform just as well as £70,000 Hugo Rodallega in the run-in. Chris David will earn a bit more but presumably much less than the experienced heads who had disappointed before he got the chance. Dan Burn and Brede Hangeland probably played at equivalent levels, but Burn would have earned a massive amount less than Hangeland. And so on.

Now, there’s a limit to all this. That’s why I was saying if you’re going to be awful you might as well be cheap and awful. But where’s the fine line.

My sense is that the powers that be have had a good think here and worked out what they think a player is worth. Say Stockdale’s bringing in £30,000 a week. This is a C+ goalkeeper in the big scheme of things, good but not irreplaceable. Fulham figure they’ve identified someone just as good and he’ll cost them £15,000 a week in wages. So they make the move.

It might be that simple. What if Fulham are ruthlessly moving on all players whose value can be replaced at a lower cost? Players who earned Premiership wages which, even if they’re now discounted, still represent poor investments. Ordinary players making extraordinary money.

My guess is that Mr Khan and his sons have sat down with the Fulham top brass and said “right, we have young kids, they’re good. We have old players, who aren’t that good. We don’t need both” and gone from there. There would have been some variation on the “you win nothing with kids talk” which is probably how we ended up with Ross McCormack (“get rid of all the players who earn too much and I’ll buy you a centre-forward”) but this squad absolutely screams “rational thinking” to me. And if Scott Parker’s still here it’s either because you can take these things too far and he’s a good egg, or we haven’t found anyone who will pay him that much for that long. Probably both.

An argument could and will be made that we’ve turned over too much too quickly, and there may be something too that, but in football an awful lot of money is chucked away. Agents fees are the obvious ones, but when you or I get an inflation indexed pay rise if our employer feels generous, footballers famously get doubled salaries, or extra bonuses, or all sorts of other things like that. Fine, it’s a jungle out there and you get what you can, but we’re in the Championship now. Yeah we’ve got money but so too did a lot of teams who have botched their bounce-back. Fulham are finally going about doing things properly.

We’ll lose games but we’ll do it with a young team that we can get behind. We’ll struggle to recognise the players we see but ideally they’ll have been recruited with a certain profile in mind. (Remember Roy Hodgson moving for players from Scandinavia and other English speaking nations? Well look here: Australians, Swiss, Germans. These nationalities, if we dare generalise, are good ‘character’ nationalities.) These new players won’t be on silly wages, they’ll be on appropriate wages. And of course we have the youngsters, these super talented youngsters, who might not get all that much exposure, who might not do as well as we’re hoping, but whose time is coming.

You know how much better England felt when John Terry was exiled? This is Fulham now. I’m not equating last year’s team with John Terry because that wouldn’t be fair, but in a way I am. Last season WAS John Terry like. The club are trying to remove all traces of our John Terry season, and appropriately enough for such an exercise, they’re doing it intelligently and apparently well. Next season feels like a good season to me. If losing David Stockdale is a bummer, I’m hoping that we did it for the right reasons. And even if we did it for the wrong reasons, it feels like the club is again moving in the right direction.

On Briggs

Really interesting article on a Millwall site about Matthew Briggs:

IAN Holloway will watch video footage of Matthew Briggs’ best and worst career performances before deciding whether to offer the trialist a deal.

Left back Briggs has featured in two pre-season friendlies – against Dartford and Stevenage – since linking up with the Lions at the start of last week.

But Holloway admits he has not yet decided whether to sign the 23-year-old.

The Millwall boss cannot understand why the former England U21 international has so far failed to deliver on his undoubted potential – and is looking for answers.

“Briggs is growing on me but I still need to find out one or two bits about him because I only enter into relationships that I’m sure about,” Holloway said.

“When people try to change a relationship, I don’t like it because I’d never do that myself.

“I have got to make sure Briggs wants the same things as I do and that I can help him with whatever has stopped him from getting those things.

“If I bring someone to my club who might not start well and then cannot handle it, then I’m wasting my chairman’s money.

“I need to find out certain things because I cannot understand for the life of me, with his athleticism and his wonderful left foot, why Fulham dreamt of letting him go.

“At one stage he was in the England set-up so maybe now he doesn’t feel wanted or loved, but I can’t bring in people who can’t deal with that and who don’t fight back.

“I really like Scott Malone, so I’ve got to bring in someone who can push him and challenge him – but I don’t care who plays.

“I haven’t watched Briggs as much as I should have done so we’re going to watch some of his games – one good one and one scheisse-pants one that is his worst fear.

“I want to see why things haven’t worked out. I think he stands there in a game wondering if he’s playing well or not and you can’t let those thoughts in.

“Can I cure that? I won’t do anything if I can’t, but if I can we could have one hell of a player on our hands.”

Very astute from Holloway, there.

Here’s what I’d said to my Millwall supporting friend, Lewis:

He can come across as an absolute wally.

I remember in the youth teams he looked like a nice kid, but about 3 years ago he covered himself in tattoos and started posting silly photos of himself with his hat on backwards, etc. The phrase “wannabe” sprang to mind. There’s a Juliana Hatfield song that goes:

this is not an attitude
that looks very good on you

Briggs has stuck around as he’s been at Fulham forever but his appearances in the first team have been borderline horrendous. He has a nice left foot and is athletic but when played at left back he’s been skinned alive repeatedly. In fairness he only seemed to get pitched in against the big teams for some reason but he got absolutely blown away. He got loaned out and wasn’t used, iirc (Watford when they were on fire). Could make it as a wing back if not asked to defend maybe. He’s a weird one in that physically he’s quite big so you wonder if left back is the right role. He could be one of those who could be transformed into a centre-forward or something and be a revelation. The tools are there but he just comes across as being very laid back which isn’t a good trait when you can’t defend.

Without going all guardian part of it is probably a need to feel valued. Hodgson wouldn’t play young players, Hughes was here very briefly, and Jol was a bit troublesome (apparently told Briggs he was playing at Swansea away, Briggs’ family went down there and he wasn’t even in the squad.

So it’s not been ideal for him but he’s been awful when pressed into action.

It’s a very good left foot though and he’s quick and strong so you never know.

 

PS you’ll forgive me talking about players not here any more.  It’s very hard to talk about players I’ve never seen before, and probably who I won’t see in the flesh.  As you know, we left London a while ago now – a year and a bit – and I can’t get to/don’t want to go to games now with two small kids.  Without actually being there to see people playing I’m not sure what value I can add so I’m not sure how much more I’ll be writing.  Which is a shame as in many ways I think next season will be among the best in recent memory; certainly I’d have loved to still be living 5 miles from the Cottage at this moment.

We’ll see.

Fullback debacle

fullbacks

Ted Knutson of Statsbomb has produced the above for Fulham’s fullbacks. The point here is that the spider web would be all full of colour if the player was doing all of these things really well relative to others at their position. So per 90 minutes, how many times are Riether and Riise tackling, or intercepting opponents’ passes?  Well, the answer is “never”, almost.  These numbers are adjusted to cater for the frequencies of opponents’ attacks, too.  So with all the defending Fulham did, the fact that our full-backs basically never tackled looks troublesome.  Riether’s defenders would say that he is a good attacking player, but here we see that he didn’t ever cross the ball either.

Here is an explanation that includes Lionel Messi and the average player.

Why it’s rarely about the individuals

I think part of why I spent so long defending some Fulham players last season was a feeling that the game is collective and therefore anything an individual does or doesn’t do is in part a function of what everyone else is doing. When you get a collective meltdown it’s very hard for anyone to thrive.

Anyway, the New York Times had a good summary of this.

Soccer is not like that. In soccer, almost no task, except the penalty kick and a few others, is intrinsically individual. Soccer, as Simon Critchley pointed out recently in The New York Review of Books, is a game about occupying and controlling space. If you get the ball and your teammates have run the right formations, and structured the space around you, you’ll have three or four options on where to distribute it. If the defenders have structured their formations to control the space, then you will have no options. Even the act of touching the ball is not primarily defined by the man who is touching it; it is defined by the context created by all the other players.

As Critchley writes, “Soccer is a collective game, a team game, and everyone has to play the part which has been assigned to them, which means they have to understand it spatially, positionally and intelligently and make it effective.” Brazil wasn’t clobbered by Germany this week because the quality of the individual players was so much worse. They got slaughtered because they did a pathetic job of controlling space. A German player would touch the ball, even close to the Brazilian goal, and he had ample room to make the kill.

It refers to this NYRB piece:

Allow me to state the bleeding obvious: this is a tactical game. It is not about passion and individual genius, notwithstanding the relentless commodification of stars like Messi, Ronaldo, and Neymar. No, soccer is about the use of reason and intelligence in order to construct a collective team formation that will contain and defeat the opposition. It requires discipline and relentless training, particularly in order to maintain the shape of the team and the way it occupies and controls space. This is the job of the coach, who tends to get reduced to some kind of either bizarrely animated comic character or casually disaffected bystander when games are televised. But he is the one who sets the team up to play a certain, clearly determined way, the prime mover although sometimes moved rather than unmoved.

Otherwise said, soccer is not about individual players. You can have great individual players in the wrong shape and the results can be tragi-comical, as with veteran English midfielder Steven Gerrard’s performances at this World Cup, where he ran around breathless, pink-faced, and making mistakes, like the one that led to Uruguay’s winning goal. This doesn’t happen (so much) when he plays for Liverpool because he is part of a rational system that he understands, which has a number of interconnected moving parts and which is defined by the ability to relax and rely on your teammates. Soccer is a collective game, a team game, and everyone has to play the part which has been assigned to them, which means they have to understand it spatially, positionally, and intelligently and make it effective. This is what Costa Rica has shown to great effect, without any star players. They know exactly what they are doing and play with admirable pride and trust in their coach.

Brede Hangeland and the decline of Fulham FC

After the fun and games with Riise and Kvist, Brede Hangeland has expanded on his beefs with Fulham, and Felix Magath in particular.

“He is very difficult to work with. He has a reputation of being a very strict manager, which he is. His main tool is to try and mentally and physically batter his players and then hopefully get some results out of that. Is that a right fit for English football? I don’t think so personally. Rather than help us try and avoid relegation, he made things worse and harder for us. I hope I’m wrong because I really love the club but, in a word, no – I don’t think he is the right man. I think things will get worse before they get better and I really think that what’s happening now at the top of Fulham is very disconnected, and very far from the Fulham that I know and from the Fulham fans.”

That’s pretty damning. People have been quick to write this off as sour grapes, but this is Brede Hangeland we’re talking about here. Of all the people to go mouthing off… well he wouldn’t be high on the list, would he?

Egil Østenstad, former Norway footballer of distinction, said on Twitter:

“There are few people I know posessing as much integrity as Brede. His opinions matter and should be taken seriously by Fulham.”

I’m inclined to agree.

Fulham moved quickly though:

“Mirror Sport understands, however, that before being released last month it was Hangeland himself who had lost support within the dressing room. The players are understood to have told CEO Alistair Mackintosh that they didn’t feel Hangeland was mentally strong enough to cope with the fight to keep the club in the Premier League.”

Yikes. That’s a bit below the belt. Can you actually imagine a Fulham player, having seen the chaos around the club, going to Alistair Mackintosh to complain about Hangeland’s mental strength?

Well maybe. Suppose it went something like this: Hangeland playing through back pain, increasingly fed up as his performances suffer. Withdraws from limelight to recuperate and get his back fixed. Maybe people got cross about that, felt he could have played on when they needed him most. Maybe he was fed up about the club’s absolute inability to play coherent football, absolutely exposing the centre-backs. Maybe he got into his own head a bit, withdrew, didn’t present the kind of leadership persona (what am I typing here?) that perhaps the players needed from their captain.

I don’t know. I do wonder why senior professionals weren’t able to restore some semblance of organisation to what became an absolute joke of a football team. They were two seasons removed from being organised like an army. Seeing the descent into shambles, couldn’t the senior professionals have organised something? Afternoon defensive work perhaps? “Look guys, we’re on track to concede 85 goals here. Shall we do some shape work?”

Who knows what goes on in the dank pond of a footballer’s mind. Maybe Hangeland tried all this. Maybe nobody was interested. Maybe they did it but Sascha Riether wouldn’t stop overlapping, even when the opposition had the ball.

One thing’s for sure: I’m more inclined to believe Brede Hangeland than the Fulham press office.

Having briefed the Mirror Fulham complete their rebuff by wheeling out captain du jour Scott Parker, who has nothing but good things to say about the club and the manager.

“Training’s been really good. It’s been intense but we wouldn’t expect it or want it any other way ahead of a new season. The gaffer is working us hard and the boys are looking sharp as a result. Everyone’s raring to go. There are a lot of young boys in the squad so they’re eager to impress and there are a few new signings as well who are looking to show what they can do. We want to hit the ground running. There are a lot of opportunities for everyone in the squad and that makes it a good environment for everyone.”

Well that’s alright then isn’t it?

 

Billy Beane

If you’ve read Moneyball (and if not, why not?) you’ll know about Billy Beane, the Oakland Athletics General Manager who’s trick is to build very successful teams without spending much money.  He’s doing it again this year: the A’s are the best team in baseball; their payroll is 25th out of 30.

1. LA Dodgers $235,295,219
2. NY Yankees $203,812,506
3. Philadelphia Phillies $180,052,723
4. Boston Red Sox $162,817,411
5. Detroit Tigers $162,228,527
6. LA Angels $155,692,000
7. San Francisco Giants $154,185,878
8. Texas Rangers $136,036,172
9. Washington Nationals $134,704,437
10. Toronto Blue Jays $132,628,700
11. Arizona Diamondbacks $112,688,666
12. Cincinnati Reds $112,390,772
13. St. Louis Cardinals $111,020,360
14. Atlanta Braves $110,897,341
15. Baltimore Orioles $107,406,623
16. Milwaukee Brewers $103,844,806
17. Colorado Rockies $95,832,071
18. Seattle Mariners $92,081,943
19. Kansas City Royals $92,034,345
20. Chicago White Sox $91,159,254
21. San Diego Padres $90,094,196
22. NY Mets $89,051,758
23. Chicago Cubs $89,007,857
24. Minnesota Twins $85,776,500
25. Oakland A’s $83,401,400
26. Cleveland Indians $82,534,800
27. Pittsburgh Pirates $78,111,667
28. Tampa Bay Rays $77,062,891
29. Miami Marlins $47,565,400
30. Houston Astros $44,544,174

So when Beane speaks, it’s worth listening.  Here’s his take on the future of sports, and the role technology might take.

(to save you the bother, no, baseball is not like football.)