September 25th, 2016

True Blue – Statistical modelling is an unknown quantity

True Blue – Statistical modelling is an unknown quantity True Blue – Statistical modelling is an unknown quantity
Updated: 9:58 am, May 07, 2015

IT WAS in the news recently that Mark Warburton is leaving Brentford at the end of the season as the club owner Matt Benham looks to a more continental model in how the club is run.

At the heart of the changes is a move to using statistical modelling to decide which players to sign, how tactics are implemented and the value of players – not unlike the recent book and film Moneyball – which showed how the Oakland Athletics’ success was based on using an analytical, evidence-based sabermetric approach to baseball.

Benham has a majority stake in Danish team FC Midtjylland where they are already implementing this system and it’s working well for them – at the time of writing they are top of the Danish Superliga by a massive eight points after 18 games.

Many fans use statistics to back up their own pet theories in football. For example, looking at Birmingham City’s current season (prior to Tuesday’s match at Ipswich Town), it’s possible to see that Wes Thomas scores a goal every 170 minutes or so as opposed to Clayton Donaldson, who has only scored a goal every 245 minutes.

Using those statistics alone it would be possible to make the argument that Thomas is more likely to score and thus should start in place of Donaldson – a theory it might be harder to counteract of late bearing in mind the chances Donaldson has missed.

However, these statistics only tell half the story. They don’t tell you about the workrate Donaldson has put in, or the way he has moved defenders around to make it easier for others.

Against Reading at home Donaldson was one of the players who didn’t score but his power and his runs were instrumental in helping Demarai Gray to get a hat-trick.

There is no doubt that Brentford will be using much more in-depth statistics than the ones presented here, but I do wonder just how successful it can be.

Football is more than a game of just numbers. Unlike baseball there is more of an X-factor element in football that means that, even with all the possession and chances, teams can still lose.

Reducing the game to numbers, KPIs and metrics reduces a sport to accountancy and, as someone who loves football for the simplistic sport it is, I can’t help but hope Brentford fail in their quest.

However, if it works I’m sure I won’t be the only one digging out an old Football Manager save game file as proof that I should be the next Jose Mourinho.

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