No, football is not like baseball…

Alright! The problem with being a football outsider is that often you find yourself having to speculate about things you can’t really know about.

Well that’s fine in a way. This uncertainty has given us the scope to have a good think about what might possibly be happening behind the scenes at Fulham.

To recap, it seems to me that the Khans realise that football clubs, and their operations in the transfer market in particular, can be financial disasters, and have decided to stop wasting their money.  I also think that this is something that reasonable people would more or less agree with, even if the approach being taken – as best we understand it – is not for everyone.

Now Sam Wallace of the Daily Telegraph has thrown us a bone.

Kline is the architect at Fulham of what he calls the “Both Boxes Checked” system which is intended to give equal weight to traditional scouting methods and Kline’s own brand of statistical analysis. Without a positive score in both categories, a player will not be signed and that means, at the very least, that he has equal authority on signings with Jokanovic and the club’s chief football officer, Mike Rigg.

The thinking behind the scheme is that there should be consensus between the analytics department and the manager. Neither side should lay claim to the final say but instead, by a process of elimination, they alight upon a player who checks both boxes.

The plan at Fulham, in spite of Kline’s difficult relationships with former manager Kit Symons, and now Jokanoic, has been unwavering. The club are no longer prepared to sign players who are not “Both Boxes Checked”.

The American contingent is understood to have been unhappy with the signing of Richard Stearman from Wolverhampton Wanderers last summer for around £2 million on a three-year deal. They felt that he was overpriced, did not score highly on data and has not subsequently justified the investment. After that the introduction of Kline and his statistics-based approach was insisted upon as a key feature of the club’s recruitment.


That makes sense doesn’t it?  You use analytics and scouting!  Eureka.

Again, to those who are angry now, go to this page and tell me that the ‘traditional’ way was working. Look at all the ‘players in’ columns, the fees paid, the wages that we can’t see, and tell me with a straight face that this is how things should be done.

As an aside, it’s not as if Jokanovic has a cast-iron track record that demands he have ultimate transfer power. To the extent that he has made his name in England, we’d probably give him most credit for the 2014/15 Watford team which came second in the Championship. But someone being cynical could say that he achieved this on the back of some very canny moves in the transfer market:

Heurelho Gomes played 44 games in goal and arrived on a free from Spurs and had a fine season (so it appears). But he joined in May 2014. Jokanovic didn’t sign on until October 2014.

Matěj Vydra bagged 16 goals in 31 starts. Odion Ighalo got 20 in 22 starts. These two were on loan to Watford from Italian talent factory Udinese (and they weren’t alone here, either: Udinese pumped the Hornets full of emerging talent). Troy Deeney, who signed in 2010, got 21 in 37. That’s the mother of all forward lines, and Jokanovic didn’t sign any of them.

So back to the task at hand. What is wrong here, exactly? Fulham are attempting to put tighter controls around expenditure. Manager doesn’t like it. He’s not expected to like it, as best we can tell.

As we’ve said, the process can hardly be any worse than the one the Khans walked into, so in my opinion the sensible thing is to give them credit for trying to build a better mousetrap.

Again: it can’t be any worse than what we had before. Someone could do a hit/miss rate on those transfers, and work out what we’ve wasted. Someone at Fulham undoubtedly has done this, which is why we are where we are.

Craig Kline’s methods may not be perfect. No: they won’t be perfect. They’ll make mistakes, false positives, false negatives, everything. But the interesting thing about building data models is that they learn. You can feed in results and improve performance. I realise that this invites the usual MY FOOTBALL CLUB IS NOT SOME LABORATORY IN WHICH TONY KHAN’S FRIEND CAN EXPERIMENT  observations, but that’s how these things work, isn’t it? In life any senior businessman will make decisions based on imperfect information. You take what you can, realise its limitations, and all the time try to make it better. Are we seriously saying we’re happy to keep backing hunches, or are we going to try to get better in the transfer market?

Defending Slaviša Jokanović

Yesterday’s post earned me some interesting feedback, and I thank those who took the trouble to read.

As most could see I was not in any way attempting to suggest that we replace the manager behind our legendary/extraordinary start to the season with an American baseball robot, and to that, I remain aware of the myriad differences between football and baseball. But I stand behind the view that there are decent principles behind what the Khans are attempting. Whether they get it right remains to be seen, and of course sceptical supporters have some reason to question things, but my opinion is that they’re at least facing in the right direction.  Whether their next step is forwards or backwards is anybody’s guess, but we can forgive fans for fearing the worst.

There’s a big elephant in the room here though.

Slaviša Jokanović has been very frank about his views on the subject of Craig Kline’s involvement. Shockingly so in many ways.

“I had an opinion from one of the best managers in the world [Jose Mourinho] on one of the players and he believes it is a good signing for us and I believe that too. Craig doesn’t believe it is a good signing for us and this guy is not with us.

“It generally depends on this guy [Kline] who is going to sign for us or not. The last decision is in the hands of this man. It is not my business.

“I’m a little bit disappointed because no one knows who this guy is. Instead he’s sitting in the directors box. I want to take responsibility for how I work with my team and how they perform but I am not part of the recruitment business. It is in the hands of people who believe they’re more prepared.”


If we go back to yesterday’s thinking, we can look at this a couple of ways:

1) it’s all true. Fulham have given Craig Kline veto power over transfers
2) it’s partly true. Craig Kline has a say in transfers and has scuppered this in some capacity
3) it’s partly true, in that Kline has a say, but here the deal wasn’t killed by him, but by other factors we don’t know about
4) it’s not true and an agenda of sorts is being played out in public

I’d imagine we’re looking at guess number two. If the Khans have given Kline full veto power then I’d be stunned.

So if it is #2 (or even #1), what reasons are there for the deal not going ahead?

Transfermarkt has Pereira as a 20 year old attacking midfielder of Brazilian descent. United bought him from PSV for £128k and he’s now valued at over a million pounds. Pereira scored a goal in one of his first team appearances, of which there seem to have been around half a dozen.

So why might we not want Pereira?

It could be that Kline simply doesn’t think he’s good enough. That would be a surprising conclusion given that United signed him and Jose Mourinho recommended him to us. In this situation it’s hard to envisage a situation where Kline’s perspective is given sufficient weight that his judgement would be backed over that of both our manager and Manchester United’s. Even if Pereira hasn’t developed a solid statistical base to Kline’s liking yet, Kline would surely appreciate that the player is developing, is 20 years old, and has his best years ahead of him.

It could be that Kline doesn’t think we need him. We have other attacking midfielders after all. Again, it seems curious that Kline could make that call. The manager would have a better sense of what he needs to make his squad functional, after all.

Maybe there’s a cost involved. If we look through United’s recent history we can see that they often do charge a loan fee to clubs taking their players. They often don’t do this – or if they do, the fee isn’t listed – but it’s a possibility. Perhaps Kline figures that Pereira’s not worth this fee. But this seems unlikely, too. Significant loan fees seem to apply to established stars like Chicarito, not up and coming players like Pereira.

None of these answers is satisfactory, really.

Unless Kline isn’t blocking the transfers at all.

In any case, this looks like a mess. Any organisation needs clear accountabilities, particularly when attempting to ‘innovate’. If your manager is mouthing off to the press about another member of staff then you have an issue. Whatever the rights and wrongs your manager does have an important role within the club (duh!) and if he is undermined then this will, in the end, impact how his players respond to him. He needs power, and to be seen to have power, too. If he’s emasculated by some shadowy outsider than this is clearly a very bad thing.

If I can return to the dangerous ground of baseball, this happened in that sport, too. There were many stories about how the very best analysts were able to work in ways that gained the trust of those they were attempting to influence. This would be a softer approach, not ramming numbers down the throats of those less inclined towards this kind of information.

Which is why I’m so puzzled here. The Khans must know all of this. They must know that they can’t just give someone with no football credentials more power over transfers than their most important non-playing member of staff. They must.  You can’t force these things.

Two conclusions then. First, I’m almost certain that the situation can’t be exactly as it’s being portrayed. But second, I’m equally certain that something isn’t right (duh!) and that the manager shouldn’t be in a position where he’s talking to newspapers as he is. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and family Khan need to take a long view here, build up the credentials of any new approaches they’re developing and find ways to blend them into the running of the club, even if this takes them longer than they’d like.

I get that they’ve probably lost trust in the old school way of doing things quite quickly, having been spectacularly burned by other supposedly well-credentialed managers in the very recent past. But if only for their own PR they need to find a better way of running the club, because at the moment it’s far too easy for fans to project their worst fears onto the ownership and senior management group. All this when the team’s winning, too. Just wait until results turn.

Defending the Khans and analytics as they apply to Fulham FC.

“The League Managers’ Association has revealed that in the Championship, where there were 20 dismissals in the recently-completed season, the average spell in charge is just 0.86 years.”

Presumably each of these managers knows exactly what his team needs to do to win when they’re first brought in.

First he’ll use his superior abilities as a coach to make the existing players better. That will be the start.  But then he will note that he now needs to spend a bit of money. A lot if possible. While he is a fine coach and will use his good attitude to do what he can with the players he has inherited from the lesser coach from before, he does need better players if ambitions are to be achieved, they need to be *his* players, players to fit his system.  Five or six of them.  Maybe more.

He’ll do his thing, achieve what he achieves, and when he’s replaced, the next manager will come in with similar ideas.

It’s a culture that results in football clubs wasting a fortune, with money flying all over the place. Here’s Fulham’s recent history of shopping.

We’ve bought 18 players for at least £1m since 2012/13. That’s not a lot, but this is at a time when the club has been lambasted for not spending deeply or wisely enough. It’s inefficient. To see what this looks like at another level, try Liverpool. Or Manchester United.

Coach-loads of players, vault-loads of money, and are these teams any nearer to being where they wanted to be five years ago?  No!

So I don’t think you can blame people running football clubs for wanting to find “a better way of doing things.”

One idea has always been to take spending out of the hands of managers. This is how baseball works: you have the ‘front office’ people making personnel decisions and managers taking what they’re given. Many chairmen – seeing this huge turnover of managers – want to change the dynamic in football via the dreaded Director of Football job, which theoretically ends this silly ‘my players’ cycle of dramatic squad turnover every year, but the cult of the manager is such that few are prepared to risk their reputations without ‘control’. This is fair enough – who wouldn’t take control vs no control? – but it does leave clubs at the mercy of their managers, most of whom will be gone sooner rather than later. But if you want the best managers you have to accept that the best managers will want to choose their players. So the alternative would be to find a manager who’s happy with this, and that probably means someone unproven, so what do you do about that?

Another ‘better way’ is to try to apply some objectivity to transfer dealings. We know very well that not all transfers are ideal: many/most rely on agents, and on relationships between several people, and it’s not a case of seeing player A and offering a fair price for him. As we see above, lots of transfers – most transfers? – are failures, and expensive ones at that.  There has to be a better way.  This can’t be all there is.

The trick would be then to try to improve your decision making, which is what most largish organisations that use money do.  For that you can either find people who are better at making decisions, or you can improve the quality of the decisions that current employees make.  Both, ideally!

This is where we are now, with Fulham (and many/most others) trying to apply a bit of rigour to their recruitment. This happened in baseball a few years ago, made famous by the book/film called “Moneyball” but beginning a long time beforehand.  I could give you a history but you don’t need that.  Suffice it to say that until a few years ago some teams had a tendency to value the wrong things in baseball players and to spend money accordingly.   That left inefficiencies that cleverer teams could exploit, although of course they had to do the other things like scouting well, too.  It was never one or the other.

Baseball is a different sport – people will point that out once in a while – and you can’t compare baseball and football. But this isn’t about taking baseball approaches into football, it’s – if I can be so bold here – it’s about science, about trying to understand more than is known now.  Mankind has a good track record of making surprising discoveries, e.g. harmful effects of smoking, the earth being round, the industrial revolution and where that’s taken us in 100 years, an understanding of the human genome… and so on. Point is, things look complicated until someone makes them less complicated.  Football really isn’t that complicated, although some have a vested interest in making it seem so.

At the moment football clubs throw money all over the place. In transfer fees and wages the cost of business as usual squad building is staggering. An analyst costs about what you’d pay in a week to a good player. Why wouldn’t you try to find efficiency by making use of data, information, etc?  Is the current approach working, really?

Back to Fulham. There is a concern that the manager is in some capacity being overruled by a mysterious American statistician in matters of player recruitment. Now, clearly this is a curious thing. What are we to make of the assertion?

a) that Fulham are blindly entrusting everything to an idiot with a spreadsheet
b) that the statistician has a role but it’s not that black and white.

Okay. What about this ‘overruled’ part?

a) that it didn’t happen
b) that it did happen: Slaviša Jokanović wanted a player but the analysis department said “no way”, Slaviša and walked off just like that.
c) that something happened but we don’t quite know what. Perhaps Jokanović wanted a player but the analytics team found a serious red flag (e.g. this kind of player has historically never done well in the Championship, perhaps he’s even something so banal as an injury risk, perhaps he just doesn’t look like good value). Perhaps there were other reasons.

We can’t really know though can we? Some seem quite quick to assume the worst, but is this really likely?

I don’t think so.  I suspect the Khans can see that English football is a wonderful thing, but realise that it is ripe for inefficiency finding.    Cost control is not an interesting matter but the days of buying players willy nilly on a manager’s say so then hoping for the best ought to be over.  No, you can’t quantify everything a player does on the pitch and make a value judgement, but you can try, eh?   And if you succeed there’s gold to be had.  If your competition continues to waste money, continues to make bad decisions, well, even if you only find a five point edge a season, that edge could be the difference couldn’t it?  Let’s not forget that the equivalent gains in player purchasing cost BIG money.  Ross McCormack cost 8 figures and might only be worth 5-6 points over an average player each season, after all.  So if you can find good players that others can’t see the rewards outstrip the costs by some way.   It’s worth a try.

We’ve been here before of course.  You don’t overrule your manager unless you have a really good reason.  You don’t not watch players.  You do use all available information intelligently to try to get better at what you’re doing.   That’s a laudable thing and should be encouraged, because it’s not an easy thing to do.  For that reason it won’t always go right but the alternative has been bad for a long time.  Everyone deserves better.  And again: why wouldn’t you try to understand more about how these inefficient processes are going wrong?  Why wouldn’t you try to get better?



Let’s forget Fulham’s 2015-16 forgettable season


(by timmy; apologies for mislabeling when Kit was fired/Joka hired on a few of these images)

The 2015-16 Season can be told in 3 chapters: Kit, Interim, Joka. Throughout these chapters was the same bad stats, poor defense, inconsistent offense, and otherwise anonymous cast of characters.

Kit was kept on as manager because he initially did extremely well taking over for Magath’s Reign of Terror. Things regressed heavily toward the end, as we crawled toward the finish, but we felt most of that could be attributed to the poor squad composition and PTSD from Felix. I dare you to visit a match report from late 2014-05 and not laugh at the starting XI’s. That wasn’t a team, it was a casserole.

This season was supposed to be different. Summer signings like Tom Cairney, Ben Pringle, Jamie O’Hara, and failed attempt at Lewis Dunk showed the club’s movement toward analytics and the process, over big names well past their prime .

A full offseason of Kit’s philosophy would undo whatever damage and upheaval the past 18 months had left.




But, things never really took off. Inconsistency reigned supreme. The defense kept shipping goals. The offense made up for this with an astronomically high conversion rates, but most knew it couldn’t last. Soon it became evident Kit simply wasn’t the right man, and probably shouldn’t have been kept on over the summer.

There was an interim period where under the guise of Alan Curbishley(?!?) and Peter Grant, furtive gestures were made to Steve Clarke (got fired anyway!), Nigel Pearson (wanted his assistants still at Leicester to come with; good thing they stayed put!), before finally convincing Slaviša Jokanović to leave Israel for London.

Joka corrected the defense, but the that offensive regression we worried about came with a vengeance. A league-high 36% Shooting Percentage under Kit would tumble to a league-average of 29%. DangerZone shots for would also decrease from 36% to 32%, with about a half-less shot in the DZ per game (when you’re only attempting 4 to begin with while giving up 6, that’s a big drop).

SoT Share

Rolling Sh%.png

Shooting% For

Three wins in a row for the first time since 2012 (was that the year?) would be immediately followed with the wheels falling off the bus. 13 goals against in final 5 games. Opponents shots surpassing 19 on 4 of the final 6 games.

The task at hand, already appearing daunting, requires more work than most suspected. Unless Joka can work magic this summer, a long stay in the Championship beckons. The pieces are there, but several of the large ones must be sent away in exchange for additional parts.

dz fordz against

On Saturday this not particularly fun or noteworthy season ends.

Let’s analyze Slavisa after just 7 games!

(by timbo)

As I mentioned yesterday, Fulham’s TSR has increased whereas the Shooting % has decreased in Slavisa Jokanovic’s 7 games in charge. This is a very small sample size, and barely half of what Kit’s is, but it’s still illustrative of the changes he’s made.

Below are four graphs. The first set is Fulham’s TSR and then PDO under Kit, the interim period (weren’t like 3 people in charge then, including Alan Curbishley?), and Slavisa.

The second set is Fulham’s Shots on Target Share (i.e. our % of a match’s total shots on target; if we have 3 and our opponent has 7, we have 30% SoT Share) and Shooting % (how many shots on target result in goals). There’s also our Danger Zone Shots For % and Danger Zone Shots Against %.


Notice the TSR uptick under Slavisa? Despite our overall bad TSR metric (see yesterday’s post), we’re actually trending upwards, ever so slightly.

The defense, Kit’s achilles heel, is actually improving ever so slightly. We’re giving up 1 less shot in the Danger Zone per game than before (6.3 to 5.4). That might not sound like much, but our offense was carrying this team in a very unsustainable way.

And the second set of images:

Shooting % & DZ %.png

Holy crap our shooting has nosedived, especially in the Danger Zone. This may contradict what I wrote about our TSR improving, but that’s why it’s helpful to look at these things in many different ways.

Part of this is because:

  • We’ve played some very good opponents since Slavisa took over. Hull are currently in an automatic promotion spot. Derby and Sheffield Wednesday are currently in the playoffs. Wolves were a top-10 team in mid-January. Blackburn, despite having the then-tied-for-worst-offense, has a top 6 GA defense.
  • He’s kept the same formation between matches just once (Kit changed formations once in his 16 games in charge).
  • If you count his first game as zero, he’s averaged 2.6 changes to the starting lineup between each match (Kit averaged 1.5).
  • Ross McCormack missed a match where we had but 9 shots total, 2 on target (remember, this is only a 7 game sample size).
  • Just watching the team you see a new offense: whereas before the offense was an open, exciting/frantic give-and-go system that too often exposed the defense; now we’re possessing the ball and playing with a high line.
    • On average we’re still shooting the same amount of times, but far less on target and much less in the Danger Zone. This isn’t surprising when you introduce an entirely new offense half way through the season.

Slavisa was given half a season to try different things to see what will work for next year. He’s clearly attempting that, and some metrics are taking a slight hit.

It will be fascinating to see where these numbers, and the team’s results, go in the remaining 15 matches this season.


Championship Advanced Stats

(by timbo)

I’ve been keeping advanced stats for Fulham all season long, but I’m happy to announce that I’ve finally figured out how to tally up data for the entire league. Here are the fancy numbers, via WhoScored:

# Team TSR SoT Share Shooting% Save % PDO
1 Hull 0.584 0.621 31.1% 79.3% 1.105
2 Middlesbrough 0.533 0.563 28.9% 84.8% 1.137
3 Brighton 0.545 0.546 29.2% 73.7% 1.029
4 Burnley 0.450 0.510 36.4% 79.5% 1.159
5 Sheffield Wed 0.508 0.555 37.1% 68.9% 1.060
6 Derby 0.543 0.554 31.0% 74.0% 1.050
7 Birmingham 0.476 0.486 30.4% 77.3% 1.077
8 Ipswich 0.515 0.542 28.0% 67.8% 0.957
9 Cardiff 0.475 0.502 30.2% 73.6% 1.038
10 Notts Forest 0.525 0.533 21.2% 78.9% 1.001
11 Preston 0.490 0.507 26.4% 72.9% 0.993
12 Wolves 0.471 0.451 32.3% 72.2% 1.044
13 Brentford 0.472 0.465 30.2% 70.0% 1.002
14 QPR 0.518 0.518 28.5% 68.6% 0.971
15 Reading 0.618 0.592 23.9% 65.3% 0.892
16 Leeds 0.479 0.430 29.6% 73.8% 1.034
17 Huddersfield 0.542 0.523 30.9% 64.5% 0.954
18 Blackburn 0.529 0.578 22.2% 70.7% 0.929
19 Fulham 0.457 0.463 34.1% 66.9% 1.009
20 MK Dons 0.452 0.415 25.0% 70.2% 0.952
21 Bristol City 0.474 0.504 22.3% 59.7% 0.820
22 Rotherham 0.492 0.470 28.3% 61.5% 0.899
23 Charlton 0.386 0.435 21.7% 64.1% 0.858
24 Bolton 0.481 0.452 24.4% 65.1% 0.895

Unfortunately I don’t have a sorting function handy (feel free to copy/paste into your own excel or google spreadsheet), but here’s where Fulham are overall within each metric, with notes in parenthesis:

21st overall in TSR (this means we’re getting outshot a lot, and it’s happening more often than the rest of the league. This is not news.)

19th overall in Shots on Target Share (we’re giving up less shots on target than we’re giving up in total, but 18 other teams are both shooting and conceding on target better than we are.)

3rd overall in Shooting % (our offense is scoring a lot of goals despite not attempting many shots on target. This is probably due to the system we were running under Kit, but that is material for another post. That said Experimental361 dubbed us “Languidly Clinical”—so I guess the ghost of Berbatov still lives with us!)

18th overall is Save % (our Save %, which is essentially ‘Goals Against’ divided by ‘Shots on Target Against’, is where it is because our defense is so atrocious. If you look at the current table you’ll see only Rotherham & Charlton have conceded more goals. The fact this metric is not worse is, in my opinion, a credit to the play of Andy Lonergan.)

11th overall in PDO (this is hard stat to compare each team with, but as the mean PDO is 1, we’re basically where we should be in the table because of our, in the context of of our defense, astronomical Shooting %. Yep, things could be worse.)

One silver lining is that our TSR has been increasing steadily since Slavisa Jokanovic took over. However, our Shooting % has nose dived—presumably because he’s running an entirely different tactical setup.

I’ll write another update this week discussing his first seven games in charge, especially comparing things to Kit and whoever was in charge during the interim period.

Fulham go moneyballing for gold

Football and analytics fight!

This has been going on forever in baseball, so no shock to see it happening here, now, either.  Worse, much of what the likes of Bill James discovered in the 70s and 80s was more or less indisputable, but it still took until relatively recently for his ideas to take hold.  Now all baseball teams (it really is all now, I think) embrace analytics, looking for an edge anywhere they can find it.

Football is harder.  Anyone unconvinced with the whole notion will tell you that: instead of discrete batter v pitcher matchups, football is a fluid game with indefinite happenings.  Chain reactions abound. There’s more noise than… not noise.  It’s a minefield, it really is.  But still, you look for edges where you can find them, right? Better to spend £250k on a middle of the road midfielder from Slovakia than £2m for a middle of the road midfielder from Leeds.  If you can pull it off.

Anyway, much excitement on twitter over this recent piece.  I won’t go into the details, but what fascinates me is what the powers that be can have seen in Madl and Mattila in the first place.

Now, we can’t retro-fit these two at all.  The data that must be in use is not in the public domain as best I can tell, so we must go top-down (e.g. look at a team level).  I don’t think this is the worst idea, anyway: after all, a top down approach means you’re looking at what happened to the team the player played in.  It takes a brave man to see a poor defensive side and decide that there’s a centre-back in there who’s doing a fabulous job.


I can’t see anything.  Have a look at these numbers, which are the games Mattila played in before we signed him.


This is what I’m getting at.  Here we have a team that, in 2015, was beaten by five goals twice and four goals twice.  Now that could be a systematic failure from any number of perspectives, but from an analytics POV, what can you see in there that makes you think a defensive midfielder is worth a punt?  He’s making lots of tackles?  I bet he is! His team’s being attacked relentlessly.  He passes well?  Maybe, but if so he must be a lone beacon of positivity in what seems to be a very poor side.  We know, we think, that even the best players are only worth a few points over an average player a season, so it’s possible he has been playing brilliantly, but using a top-down viewpoint at least, it’s a mess, to the point where I’d be nervous about unpicking an individual’s contributions.

The sensible retort might be that the team has used several years of data, which I hope is the case.  The comeback might be that he’s bounced around from team-to-team for a while, only settling in his recent stint at Aalesund, which itself is confusing.  There must have been pedigree there or Udinese wouldn’t have bought him in the first place (they are scouting masters), but after that, nobody seems to have been convinced.  A true diamond in the rough if he works out.  From here, it’s hard to see.

Michael Madl is half-similar: he’s come from a team (Sturm Graz) that appears to have been comfortably top half for the last couple of seasons.  They’ve scored and conceded goals at a perfectly normal rate in the last couple of seasons.  So what do we take from that?


This uses standard deviations to unpick where a team’s strength lies.  I can see here that Sturm Graz have been a better defensive side than might initially have been guessed: they were a pretty good side in 2014-15, and much of that was because they had the second best defensive team in the league.  Now, sometimes there’s an alarm bell around this, because the attacking play isn’t all that.  What it could mean is that this is just a team that sets itself up defensively (e.g. keep men behind the ball even in possession): goals dry up and so any top-down measure will make defenders look good and attackers less so.   This could be what we see here, as the Sturm Graz games have been among the lowest scoring in the league for the last couple of seasons, implying more closed, cagey games.

All of which is a long way to say that I really don’t know.   Madl, I can see, maybe there’s a sniff of something, and if Fulham got Opta numbers to probe further maybe they did see that Madl’s leading a defence that is perhaps a bit better than average in Austria.  It’s a reach though.   As noted from the outset, it’s very hard to unpick an individual contribution from his team’s performance, and there’s nothing I can see (which doesn’t mean much, of course!) that suggests we might be on to some kind of dynamite.

The key here is scouting.  If the club have enough analytically to peer deeper, watch the player a few times, then that’s fabulous, and hopefully what’s happened.  Otherwise, well, your guess is as good as mine.

We do know that previous signings have had an analytical ‘calling card’, e.g. the key passing acquisitions of the summer, and to an extent Ream and Stearman doing their thing (what was it, blocks?  I can’t remember), so perhaps it’s as simple as that: they’ve found players who, in ways I can’t see, are statistical outliers, and, at lowish cost, have taken a punt.  Time will tell.

Roy Hodgson book now on Amazon


Still here.  I will write more soon.

I just wanted to give a heads up: my Roy Hodgson book is now available as a paperback on Amazon.  It’s a proper paperback format, and I’m pleased with how it’s come out.

The link’s here:

The initial self-published paperbacks sold out, so this is your chance.  I’ve re-read it, and I think it still stands up quite well.