Tuesday, January 26, 2010

No seriously, the revolution is coming...

I've finally found a soccer blog worth reading: The Unprofessional Foul.

I click over this morning, and find this article with some good analysis of Sepp Blatter's latest political wind-sniffing... only this time, he appears to be considering INSTANT REPLAY!?!??!??!?!

Sepp Blatter supporting instant replay would be like Kim Jong Il hosting an anti-pornography convention. That said, there's plenty of room in "The Tent of Rationality," even for ol' Sepp.

There's some interesting comments after the article, where one Unprofessional Foul fan argues that "the players do not get the aid of technology, so neither should the referee." I've posted asking for an explanation, but my initial reaction is:

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Ireland France

First, dear Irish people: lose the chip on your shoulder. It's old. Regarding their appeal for a World Cup Replay, Irish Justice Minister Ahern had this to say:

"They probably won't grant it as we are minnows in world football," Ahern said, "but let's put them on the spot anyway."

*YAWN*. You're Ireland. You have good players who start in Europe. I just got through watching US vs Denmark, where Dax McCarthy got midfield playing time. You want to talk about minnows.

That said: y'all got screwed. Badly. You will certainly not get a replay. But you could jump on the bandwagon and start supporting a different kind of replay.

Here's the clip, plus a Melissa Theriault style hot-French-reporter-lady:

PS: Dear Robbie Keane: YOU ARE THE BIGGEST WOMAN ON THE PLANET. After Barca beat Chelsea despite questionable calls in the latest CL seminfinals, John Terry went to the Barca lockerroom and congratulated them on a good game, and wished them luck. I'm confident that we'll have to listen to your whining until the next World Cup.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

(Extra) Extra Time for United

The Guardian shows off their statistical prowess with on this article describing how ManU gets more added time when they're not winning than when they're winning.

Here's my letter to The Guardian regarding their awesome, yet flawed article:

Dear Guardian Football Section,

Your recent article "Revealed: Manchester United get more injury time when they need it" provides a fascinating first cut at a very interesting problem. Mainly, is there systematic referee bias in favor of the big four clubs. I applaud you data collection effort and sincerely hope that you continue in these types of studies. The lack of parity in football is one of the most pressing issues in the sport today, and systematic referee bias is one potential facet that could need to be addressed.

That said, I think your argument suffers from several serious flaws.

First, consider this alternate explanation: when the big four are not winning, more added time is called for because of the tactics used by their opponent. If MUFC is losing, it's likely that the other team has found a goal somewhere (via United mistake, counter, etc.) and has promptly sat back to defend in the trenches. Obviously, this doesn't occur every time United aren't leading, but this is a frequent occurrence. Often, this "defending" involves constantly putting the ball out of play, rolling on the ground for several minutes after every single challenge, goalies who forget that they need to return the ball to play eventually, etc. The Big Four throw around the term "anti-football" (which honestly usually just comes across as whining). But with regards to extra time, these tactics warrant more extra time.

Second, a relevant question that the article omits is "United get more extra time compared to whom?" Fundamentally, the article is concerned with the ratio of "added time when not winning to added time when winning." But looking at this number for United alone doesn't tell us anything. We need to know what the rate is for every team in order to compare United's number to something relevant. If anything, the numbers for the other Big Four members suggest United gets less added time than their peers. What about home and away splits? Maybe home teams get more added time when not winning in general? In any study like yours, it's important to consider the relevant "counterfactual" to your argument.

Third, your study does not control for important ommitted variables like number of goals scored, number of cards awarded, etc. In econometrics, we call this "ommitted variable bias." Since you aren't considering all of the relevant information, it's possible that you're drawing the wrong conclusion.

Once again, I sincerely applaud your effort. As a suggestion for further research, I think it would be interesting to answer the question "Are referees more likely to award fouls/penalties to the Big Four than to other clubs?" We would need data on the number of challenges initiated against players and the number of times they're awarded a foul/penalty, so that we can tap into the probability that any challenge results in a foul, and then compare this across teams and players.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Oh la la, comment dit-on PANSY en francais? Ou en Serbian?

Illegal Transfer Approaches and Bad Journalism

If you've read any soccer news outlet in the last week, you'll know that the outrage de jour is over illegal approaches by big clubs to steal younger talent from smaller clubs. Chelski and Man U have been targeted most prominently with these accusations.

As for whether or not Chelsea and Man U have been cheating, all I can say is: smoke... fire... probably cheating. But that's not for me to decide.

I decided to do extensive research in the FIFA/UEFA rules to provide you, the reader, with valuable pseudo-journalistic insight.

My conclusion: "Having a club that is wayyyyy better than your podunk, never gonna compete in Europe, allow me to sell 10,000,000 jerseys, bang a different model each night, so that the younger player signs with my good club instead of your crap club" is not a crime.

In the Pogba case against Chelsea, the allegations are that Chelsea offered Pogba's parents incentives to get Pogba to sign with Chelsea. This seems pretty illegal to me.

But with the slew of other allegations, we don't see anything like this.

Example, this rant on ESPN from Ken Bates where he accuses United of "baby farming." Other hyperbolic terms I've seen recently have included "child trafficking." First, what is this "Leeds" club of which you speak? For me, Leeds is like some relic of the 80's that you kinda remember, but not really: like slap bracelets. Second, "baby farming"? Really? (Where is all this hyperbole when it comes to diving!?!?!) Third, for me to care one iota about any of these accusations, I need the teeny clubs to say why the big clubs have cheated.

I also included "bad journalism" in this post because I blame the journalists. Instead of getting facts and reporting, they regurgitate hyperbolic spew from coaches. *YAWN*

Thank goodness the international week is almost over. Wake me when the US is done thrashing T&T.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

European Apathy = Bad Soccer

I'd like to now make a deliberately inflammatory generalization about millions of people based on one anectdote:

Europeans are apathetic about the effects of their ridiculous diving antics and judicial incompetence on the game of soccer.

Example, this quote in The Times from a Slovenian midfielder after his team was screwed out of a World Cup Qualifier point because of Wayne "Who me? I never dive!" Rooney.

Hamidovic’s complaints were echoed by Nejc Pecnik, the midfield player. “It didn’t look like a penalty to me, but we must accept it,” he said. “Rooney went down far too easily and because he is a big name it made it easier for the referee to make a decision.

"Lots of people dive in football, that’s sport, and if the referee whistles, it’s a penalty. Maybe he fell, but I don’t know. When Rooney went down he kicked Cesar and he’s twisted his ankle. We were very unlucky — our player was injured and somehow England got a penalty.”


No, Mr. Pechnjaiskjdik, just because the referee blows his whistle, it is NOT a penalty. Oftentimes, the referee just blows.

Why isn't there outrage, rioting in the streets? (Continentals/Frogs, I'm looking your direction since you do it for everything else...)

In basketball, the commish Stern has come out pretty strongly against flopping, even though flopping isn't anywhere near the main problem in basketball. (That, of course would be the lack of respect for Ron Artest's right hook). But you just don't see it in soccer. The general attitude is "Oh well, my team got totally jobbed by a bad call in this crucial game... that's soccer."

On a more reality-based note: I think it's time people actually found out if certain teams are more frequently being awarded penalties. This would be pretty easy data to collect, especially since you know who refereed each match. Does referee X give Arsenal penalties at a higher rate than to Boro? My hunch is that certain things could be shown to effect the probability that you get a penalty:

(Let's table the myriad endogeneity problems for now)
1) Home/Away: I bet the home team gets more penalties awarded, and not just because they attack more (potential endogeneity problem)

2) Size of club: I bet big name clubs get awarded penalties more often, even controlling for similar endogeneity problems.

3) Referee heterogeneity: I bet some referees give penalties at different rates overall.


UEFA, as soon as you start reading my blog, send me a large check and I'll do this research for you. Or I'll do the research for free if Drogba and Kaka agree to sing "Ebony and Ivory" at the next FIFA awards banquet.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Fergie Weighs in On Eduardo and Replay

Fergie Quote article #1:
Fergie: UEFA right to punish Arsenal star Eduardo

Fergie Quote article #2:
Ferguson agrees with Wenger on Eduardo

If your immediate reaction was "???" then you were not alone.

When you read the actual Fergie quotes inside, you see that Fergie's argument is actually pretty reasonable. He says "Eduardo dove and should be punished." AND "That UEFA should be consistent in their rulings."

The soccer media (esp the English) has a penchant for cherry picking select quotes from high profile managers, flagrantly omitting any context, and basically misrepresenting their opinions with the sole intention of stoking controversy. Shame on you for dishonest journalism.

I'll omit a rant about the hypocrisy of Fergie's "No manager ever wants to win by diving" sermonizing. The folks at arsenal-mania.com do a better job than me about this.

But the main point is this: The high profile managers WANT consistent replay usage. They DO NOT disagree over this, in principle, even if they disagree over specific incidents. Actual examination of their opinions shows that the opinion in favor of anti-diving replay is growing, despite the facade of disagreement that the media displays.

I hope UEFA and FIFA take note. The revolution is coming.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

New Anti-Replay Argument Added to "To Do" List

UEFA (read: Michel "Complete Former and Current Pansy" Platini) opposes video review of diving because it would "undermine the authority of the referee."

Wow, this one's gonna need a whole post. Forthcoming.
Arsene Wenger anger at dive verdict likely to grow;
No plans to use video evidence on regular basis

Wayne Rooney: Constipated or Diving?

Wayne Rooney, AKA Diving Shrek, Claims He's Not a Diver - Times Online

Monsieur Rooney, regardless of whether or not you're a diver, you are an idiot:

From the Times Online:
"Rather than rely on television evidence, Rooney feels the referee is the best person to deal with such issues, even if there are instances when he might get it wrong.

'It is difficult to prove,' he said. 'You see some that should not have been penalties but get given and others that are clear and do not. The decisions are down to the referee. It is a difficult job but they do the best they can.'"

Here's the actual conversation:

Interviewer: So what are you're feelings on diving and instant replay?

Rooney (nervously fidgeting with simian-shaped ears): Errrmmm, since I'm from United, Fergie is real strict about what we say about this in the media, since, uhhhh, you know (leaning in and whispering) *we're a bunch of huge diving pansies*.

Interviewer (cleaning spit out of ear): I won't tell. Do you think there should be instant replay?

Rooney (whistling at female intern who has just delivered coffee): Well, it's really hard to tell who's diving. So we should stick with the referees even though they're worse at telling who's diving and who isn't. They're trying their best. I mean, they only make game altering mistakes *some* of the time.

Interviewer: You're an idiot.

Rooney punches interviewer in the face.

PS: You're also a F***ing liar.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Eduardo Diving Farse

UEFA bans Eduardo for 2 Champions League matches - Soccer - SI.com

Some initial thoughts:
1) He dove. For real. Like seriously dove.

2) I do not buy Arsene Wenger's "he broke his leg so he's avoiding contact" argument. Eduardo fears contact because of a bad past experience like I fear putting 10 tablespoons of Sriracha hot sauce on my late-night drunk-food veggie burger. No matter how many times I get burned in the morning, come next Friday, we all know I'll be right back at it.

3) I DO buy AW's argument about consistency in application of the rules.

Was Eduardo's dive worse than all the other dives in ECL matches this year?
It wasn't.

Does UEFA think that this will deter diving?
It won't.

Is UEFA going to revisit things like Messi's headbutt (AW's example) or, say... Cristiano Ronaldo's career?
They won't.

That said, an enemy of my enemy is friend, I suppose. So here's to you Scottish FA, for arguing in favor of video review of diving. Your gritty and inelegant style of football, which warms this American's heart, would benefit greatly from de-pansy-fication of soccer.

Finally, will the Scottish FA continue this noble crusade, proving that this wasn't a one-time political maneuver to give sniffling Celtic a consolation prize after getting stormed by the Gunners? (They got stormed. Like seriously stormed.)
They won't.

The times posts a great article about just how silly UEFA has been on the Eduardo situation. While the journalist likes UEFA's "two more referees plan," which is -50 life points, he does present some good arguments and advance this debate.
Eduardo ban the worst case of Uefa bungling, says Patrick Barclay