Thursday, 9 May 2013

He's Done a Better Job Than You Think...

The Statistics Behind Moyes' Reign - It Might Surprise You

It now appears certain that David Moyes will be replacing Sir Alex at the helm of Man Utd.  Contrary to some opinion, Moyes does in fact represent the safe route (as I explained yesterday).  An alternative choice like Mourinho was too risky a venture for a club built on stability.

With Moyes now confirmed to take over Ferguson’s barely cooled seat, those who criticise him for his lack of ‘success’ will be out in their droves.  My intention is therefore to examine Moyes’ Everton career and subsequent legacy to determine how successful a manager he has been.

Many opponents and detractors to this appointment will highlight Moyes’ apparent lack of success. Indeed, in his time at Everton Moyes has won as much silverware as most of England - that is to say, nothing. That much is indisputable. 

However, ‘success’ is always relative.  A reasonable measure is not against titles and trophies such as that made against his predecessor, but rather his achievements versus other Everton-sized clubs and those with similar purchasing power and spending history.

In his 11 seasons with Everton, the Toffees sustained an average Premier League position of 7.7. This is in contrast to similar sized clubs like Aston Villa (10.2), Sunderland (16.7* - if Championship finishes are counted as 20), Newcastle (10.9* - if Championship finishes are counted as 20) and Tottenham (7.5).

Furthermore, in 2003 Everton qualified for the Champions League, usurping Liverpool for the fourth spot.  Since 2003, only Tottenham (twice) and Newcastle (once) have managed such a feat.
I’ve discussed relative spending before, last year when Van Persie went to Man Utd, and there are some remarkable statistics to be viewed.  Everton’s spending over the last 10 years has been less than that of all comparable clubs, including Newcastle, Sunderland, Aston Villa, West Ham and Tottenham.  The stats are listed below (courtesy of The Transfer League).

What is even more impressive than the difference in spending (£50m+ less than Newcastle and Sunderland over the last 10 years - both of whom have been relegated (Sunderland twice) - is that Moyes has traded in the transfer window for an average loss of only £863,450 a year!  Now, it's hardly fair to call him 'unsuccessful' when you compare that to Chelsea's average loss of over £52m a season...

Everton have clearly been run incredibly well over the last decade, performing far better than similarly sized opposition whilst spending next to no money.  Even Tottenham who have averaged only 0.2 higher places in the League over the last decade have done so to the tune of over £238m in additional spending. 

Now none of this accounts for spending on wages - which to some degree may explain how Arsenal can make a profit on transfers of around £1.5m a year whilst retaining even more impressive league results than Everton - but it does clearly show Moyes' resourcefulness. 

As I've argued before, the Premier League is very predictable and nowhere near as competitive as some would have us believe.  Those over at 5 Added Minutes and The Guardian have also made compelling arguments to support this recently.  Indeed, in recent seasons it has been possible to predict a team's final position to within two places purely on spending alone (only West Ham's relegation in 2011 went against this rule of thumb). That said, this only takes into account spending, not profit and loss, so despite it being a predictable league, a team breaking even mid-table is still more competitive than one losing millions just above or below it.

With this in mind, it could well be argued that despite winning no silverware, David Moyes has accomplished great feats at Everton.  To achieve such finishes on a consistent basis, whilst playing attractive football and protecting the bottom line, Moyes is one of very few managers to find the perfect balance.  Aston Villa, Sunderland and Newcastle have all suffered far more (and continue to do so!), whilst spending many millions more.  In every reasonable measure, Moyes has been successful, but for Man Utd fans, the hope is that this is only the beginning.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

The Special One Isn't Special Enough

Why Mourinho Isn't the Answer

A veteran of 26 top flight campaigns, countless European travels and 1498 matches with Manchester United.  Ferguson will retire this season, with one of the most incredible CVs in world sport.

Ferguson joined Manchester United in 1986 following European triumph with Aberdeen, before building the world’s biggest club – if not in terms of European success, then at least in name and prestige.
The Glazers will find the previous difficulties and protests they’ve faced paling into a light wind against the avalanche of fury they’ll encounter should they get this replacement appointment wrong.  That said, is there even a definitive candidate to take over from Ferguson?

Moyes appears to be the front runner, some way ahead of Mourinho in what is sure to be the main topic of sky punditry and pub chatter during the next few weeks.  Others included in this shortlist are Jurgen Klopp and the former united players Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Ryan Giggs and Laurent Blanc.

Now there are a number of reasons as to why commentators and fans are keen at the thought of Mourinho as the next Man Utd boss: two Champions League trophies, four different domestic trophies, a number of domestic cups and an ego to match.  If there’s a manager as well known in world football as Sir Alex, then it's Jose Mourinho. 

However, Mourinho comes with a certain risk.  He’s currently in the process of attempting to have himself ousted by Madrid – due to a supposed £20m release clause that even he can’t afford.  He is a man that must have his way, and will do so in a manner that does not always befit the position he holds.  It seems that Madrid fans will be only too happy to see the back of him, even with consecutive Champions League semi finals, a Copa del Rey (and another final still to play) and a domestic supercup.  His antics on and off the pitch (his notorious eye gouge Vilanova for one) and perpetual complaints about referees and tactics have been too much for Madrid’s fans, who expect their team not only to win, but to do so in style.

Now Mourinho represents a dilemma to the Glazers.  He clearly comes with an incredible CV, but one that has been supported by charitable owners and their deep pockets.  At the red side of Manchester, he will find the purse strings very much tied in comparison.  He may have a little to spend, but nowhere near enough to rebuild or reshape in the manner he did at Chelsea and Real.  The new manager at Old Trafford will be expected to continue to build on Ferguson’s legacy, and with the squad he inherits.

Man Utd have enjoyed 26 years of stability under one man. Mourino cannot even be considered if he isn’t willing to live in Manchester for at least the next decade.  That’s not to say that he isn’t capable, or even willing, but with track record or careers that don’t outlast three years at any one post, there remains significant doubt.

Mourinho is as a divisive character as there is in the game.  Ferguson has always irritated his opponents and nobody gets into the minds of others like he can.  However, his methods have been far more subtle; the odd rant and “Fergie time” aside, we’ve seen no eye-gouging or public tantrums, just the odd red cheeks and a banned BBC journalist.

Mourinho may be up the job, but he represents a step away from what Man Utd know.  Ironically, considering their respective achievements, a man like David Moyes represents the far safer bet; a clear history of security and stability, and the ability to make great purchases on a shoestring budget.  That said, with players like Bilyaletdinov, Moyes also shares Ferguson's occasional fallibility in the transfer market.

The accusation that Moyes isn't capable because he "isn't successful" is shortsighted and unfair.  Indeed, how many managers can really be determined as 'successful in' England these days, if not at a top 4 club?  Only Michael Laudrup and Harry Redknapp have won anything in England outside of Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United, Man City and Liverpool.  Gone are the days when clubs like Nottingham Forest or Everton could be competitive - certainly gone are the days when Aberdeen could win anything.  What Moyes has accomplished on a meagre budget is surely as impressive as winning cups with a wage bill 150% of revenue - that isn't hard, that's the least you'd expect.

Perhaps what we can see is that there is no outstanding candidate.  There is no Sir Alex Jnr with a pocket full of trophies and a demeanour to match.  Guardiola has gone to Bayern and the Martin O'Neil following has died.  In this dilemma, it's the wrong man with the trophies and the right man without.  

Friday, 3 May 2013

Here Comes the Summer

Why Football in July Solves All Our Problems

It’s always been a confusing issue to me.  As a young boy I remember asking my Dad (who was then a PE teacher) why the council took the football goals away from our local parks in the summer – he had no idea either.

Why is it that in a country aligned with the tropical climates of Moscow, Alaska, Sweden, Norway, Canada and a multitude of other countries far more accomplished at the Winter Olympics than us, we persist in playing the beautiful game throughout the winter months?

Summer football makes sense to Scottish Football in as many areas as you can possibly imagine.  In fact, I’d go as far as stating that there isn’t a single, significant or justifiable reason as to why the status quo should remain unchanged.  Stirling University just submitted their report on the permutations of the change.  Here are my reasons why it should happen:

Reason #1 – Crowds will increase

How many of us have cancelled an appointment, dinner, meeting, or any other event because of the weather?  Now how about I suggest to you going to watch your local, mid-table lower league team play an unimportant game on a Tuesday night in mid-February, in blowing gales and driving rain, pitch black and until half nine at night.  Fancy it?  Oh, there’s also a Champions League tie between Barcelona and AC Milan on STV/ITV... It's hardly a dilemma.

Scottish football has been merciless in forcing team to postpone Saturday afternoon games due to awful weather, to perhaps be postponed again the following week, to then play on a midweek night in mid-January.  Any away fans?  Stranraer versus Elgin?  Doubt it.  Inverness or Ross County versus Kilmarnock?  Probably not…

Now, just imagine for a second these fixtures were instead played in the summer.  No postponements, (and when there are, a summer’s evening with sun until 23.30 is hardly a turnoff), kids off school and the opportunity to watch your local team play in decent weather conditions on a decent pitch. It's a no-brainer.

Reason #2 – The State of our Pitches

How often have you heard the better footballing nations or world class teams, faced with an away game in furthest flung Eastern Europe where the groundskeeper’s lawnmower is owned by the local farmer and the pitch is also used for weekly rock concerts, bemoan that the pitch isn’t up to scratch?

A poor workman always blames his tools, but you can’t expect Andy Murray to serve out a Wimbledon Final on a gravel court and you can’t expect McIlroy to sink a 25-foot put if the green has been used to graze cattle.  Simply put, poor pitches enforce poor football.  Regardless of the quality of the teams on show, they can only play to the level they’re standing on – if we have ruts in the pitch, we’ll have ruts in the game.

Reason #3 – TV Money, who are we competing with?

All Sky Sports subscribers will know only too well the serious lack of sporting events to watch over the summer period.  Aside from the European Championships or a World Cup, football fanatics are resigned to country cricket, the Tour de France and the odd Diamond League meet.  Well, how about having Scottish football available to watch all summer?

Granted, it isn’t the best quality of football around – but it isn’t competing with anyone else! No English Premier League, no Champions League, no La Liga, no Bundesliga and no Serie A.  Not even any English Championship! When you’re not competing against anyone else, simple economics dictates that the value of your product increases.  In a footballing nation where money is as scarce as Vitamin D, summer football could be a godsend to our cash-strapped clubs.

Reason #4 – A team other than Celtic might win a European game

Celtic are possibly the only team that might be perceived to lose out with this arrangement – but this is to misunderstand the situation.  The argument put forth is that summer football would mean a Scottish team surviving the winter in Europe would enter the next stages in February without the match fitness of competitive games.  This argument rests however on two tenuous assumptions:

  1. That a Scottish football team is capable of consistently making it past the group stage of either the Champions League or the Europa Cup.  
  2. That the league structure is insufficient in providing competitive football and adequate preparation.  Currently, the Russian league does not play summer football but nevertheless has a winter break from mid-December until mid-March.  Despite this, Anzhi Makhachkala, Zenit St Petersburg and Ruban Kazan all won their February ties in the Europa League without playing competitive football over the winter.

The argument that Celtic will be less competitive in Europe does not provide sufficient justification for organising an entire league structure around what they ‘may’ be capable of doing.  Their European run this year may have been impressive, but it was nevertheless unexpected.  This coming season will require them to play three qualifying rounds prior to the group stage – and, even if they get through all of that, another 5-0 defeat in February to a team like Juventus might seem likely, regardless of the dometic league setup.

What summer football does create however is a league in full flow and at its most competitive in July and August – coinciding exactly with the first qualifying games for European competitions. This should in fact be Celtic’s priority - they know that they have to be strong in July and only hope that it may be a requirement come February, particularly as a club that has experienced significant failure at this time of the year in recent seasons. Furthermore, a strong Motherwell/St Johnstone/Dundee United would also have a greater chance of progressing further should they qualify for European competition, and, as Celtic are currently experiencing, a weaker Scottish football presence both at home and internationally directly affects them through a lower coefficient.  A few more Scottish victories in Europe and we jump up the pecking order, ultimately allowing Celtic to qualify directly for the Champions League group stages without the need for qualification, as was the process a few seasons ago.

Summer football is as close to a ‘no brainer’ as it gets in the Scottish game.  It allows for significantly increased revenue streams through increased attendances, fewer postponements, and more attractive TV deals.  The quality of our pitches would increase substantially, also saving money on floodlights and under soil heating – even the quality of football on show could improve.

Simply arguing that the status quo must remain, because it's "what we’ve always done" is to further bury our heads in the sand.  We did so for almost a decade after France ’98 and are only now realising that our league structure and player development is pitifully inadequate for effective competition.

We have a chance to make things better simply by changing the time of year when we play.  It also happens to be what the fans want.  With the SFA’s response to Stirling University’s report I wait with hope and in anticipation.  In a game that misses opportunities like an Iwelumo open goal, we cannot afford to let this chance pass us by. 

Monday, 29 April 2013

Once Bitten, Twice Shy

But for who is this a lesson learned?

Now that the storm engulfing Luis Suarez has retreated to the horizon (if yet to blow away completely - the red tops will get their man), we’re given opportunity to reflect on what exactly this means to English football.

As an ordinary punter with some sense of right and wrong, I reckon I can safely say that I speak for the majority in being appalled at the scenes of last week’s Liverpool v Chelsea game.  Yet, with a season of unpunished stamps, career-threatening tackles and racist abuse… to me, a 10-match ban looks a little left field.  Surely the questions should not be how we punish Suarez, but rather aim these at the FA.  Caught asleep at the wheel, what on earth have they been doing?

Suarez bites Ivanovic

No punishment handed down by any authority, outside or inside football stands alone.  No decision may be standalone and absolute, but rather each response is measured in relative terms against other comparable judgments also handed out.  Just as the cases of Suarez v Patrice Evra and John Terry vs The People of England have shown, there are often great variations in the punishments produced, even when the crime remains vaguely the same.

‘Fairness’ and sporting integrity are always terms bandied about by those who wish to be the arbiters of neutrality and objective justice.  Yet in the case of Suarez and his all-too-close-embrace with Ivanovic, the FA have surely lost sight of this purpose.

Now, the last time I was bitten was probably by the family dog (I probably deserved it), and before that my little brother – both were afforded a proportionate response by the forces that be (my parents in case you were wondering - there was no sibling retribution).  Just like many other 3-year olds, (though apparently distinct from the Uruguayan) I can be certain he did not become a repeat offender.

Suarez, unlike the toddlers of this island, appears not to have learned that lesson.  Perhaps his mother failed to wash his mouth out with soap, or ground him for a week.  Perhaps he has a pathological issue that requires persistent media scrutiny and in the only way he knows how… Yet, is it really the FA’s job to point out only the glaringly obvious? Or is their job to protect the integrity of the game and punish the real offenders? (and yes, thanks David Cameron, the country’s gone to s***, but please do tell us all about your opinion of the Liverpool striker).

I have no doubt that a ban until October is a considered and proportionate response to a crime so heinous – enough to even make the gargantuan Serb rub his arm like a 3rd year pupil receiving his TB jab.  But, like all punishment by the FA, this one does not stand alone.

The most obvious comparison would be with that of ex-Liverpool man, then playing for West Ham who was bitten on the arm by Jermain Defoe.  Not exactly a carbon copy of last week's incident, but nevertheless very similar in the circumstances.  Defoe's punishment?  He got a yellow card. 

The point is, a 10-match ban is utterly defensible when it’s given in a sphere where foul conduct is routinely punished.  But in England this year, this is blatantly untrue; the FA have been found more than wanting.  Aguero stamped with both feet on David Luiz and McManaman tried to amputate the leg of Newcastle's Massadio Haidara.  Even the infamous incident between Roy Keane and Alf-Inge Haaland only resulted in an initial 3-match ban with a further 5 added after his admission of deliberately injuring the Norwegian.  Perspective?  We're getting there now.

McManaman Haidara tackle

A year ago we saw Rooney blatantly and deliberately elbow a fellow professional in the back of the head.  But no, please make sure these acts stay in the game – after all, we can’t be having our 12-year olds nibbling each other on a Saturday morning, that can be left for the alcopop-fuelled Saturday night.  As long as the 50-50 balls are challenged and our kids “get stuck into them”, well, we’ll at least be able to say they care.

Suarez is no role model, but implicit in the FA’s decisions is that players like Aguero, Rooney and McManaman are somehow to be upheld, that their decisions are just ‘part of the game’.  Rather than punish those who may actually do some harm to our sport, we brush those aside and jump on the obscure, that we all know to be wrong.  Please don't confuse my stance on this, I'm absolutely not condoning his actions, but a stiff penalty only makes sense, and can only be fully justified if these decisions are both fair and transparent; right now they're anything but.

Please tell us FA, who are you deterring?  Maybe, if you still fail to understand the seriousness of your actions, why not ask Ivanovic whether he’d like to see Suarez again or be set upon by McManaman and co?  I know I’d prefer a wee nibble, it’s the broken leg I can’t stand.

With so much wrong with the game in Britain, this is at least one area that wouldn't take years to fix.