Monday, March 02, 2009

A Complete Lottery

Given the ubiquity of my sleep deprivation these days, the insomnia cure masquerading as the Carling Cup final was most welcome.

However I was duly roused from my slumber by Harry Redknapp's post-match comments, taken straight from that well-thumbed reference book, 'Irrational Excuses Losing Managers Can Use.'

He excused his team's 33% penalty conversion rate (compared to United's 100%), by using that famed comment oft used by England managers, " came down to a lottery in the end." It's no wonder the big four clubs have lost interest in this type of old-school manager.

If it truly were a lottery, then rather than put their players through the potential heartbreak of a shoot-out, surely both managers would agree to utilise an actual lottery. Perhaps it could be sexed up asking the respective players' WAGs to pick out cards saying 'GOAL' or 'MISS'?

The core trait of a true lottery is randomness. In the case of the original form of the National Lottery for example, the only 'skill' as such is to try to select six numbers which are least likely to have been selected by someone else.

This would not make those numbers any more likely to come up of course, but it makes it less likely that you'd have to share the top prize. The numbers 1,2,3,4,5&6 are unlikely to meet this criteria for example.

However a penalty shoot-out is far from a lottery, because its outcome is far from random. If it were truly random, then when a team is awarded a penalty during normal time, surely fans would be wondering who will take it (when infact there is a clear hierarchy of takers).

Instead it's a neat way for managers to abdicate responsibility for their own failure to have instilled in their players, the fact that the probabilistic outcome of a shoot-out can be changed in their favour.

In the case of today's final, the bookmakers were suggesting that the odds of a draw after 90 min were roughly 2/1, or 33%. Once the teams began extra-time meanwhile, I would estimate that the chances of it also finishing tied are approximately 60% (tiredness and the acceptance of the 'lottery' of penalties tends to ensure a lack of ambition).

In other words, as the teams prepared for the final, they could be relatively sure that there was a 1 in 5 chance that the tie would be settled by penalties. From Tottenham's point of view, this represented their only prospect for European qualification next season, quite a big deal despite their apathy about the UEFA Cup on Thursday.

So surely Redknapp is doing Tottenham's much-suffering fans a disservice by implying that the end of extra-time took the outcome out of their hands?

It's true of course that the tension of a Cup final shootout cannot be replicated on the training ground, but each likely penalty-taker should at least be comfortable (through intense practice) with which particular 'type' of penalty they are most likely to have the ability and werewithal to execute when the time comes.

Unless each of their top 8 or 9 penalty-takers practiced at least say 100 penalties in the build-up to this final, then they're totally unprofessional.

I'm prepared to assume for example that Spurs will have meticulously revised their set-pieces for hours, but then again they've been doing that all season (so presumably they're fairly well-understood). Only a handful of matches meanwhile could end in a shoot-out, and none as important as this one from their perspective.

It's the type of managerial b*llshit which managers (often seemingly British ones) seek to foist on unsuspecting fans to excuse their own shortcomings. Other favourite well-used excuses include, "It can be harder to play against ten men", and "I thought we deserved a draw."

If it were truly harder to play against ten men (which is plainly preposterous), then managers should presumably only name ten starting players.

However when the opposition manager received the teamsheet, he would realise he'd been 'had' and revert to nine players. Taken to its logical conclusion, this would continue until both managers named zero players and the match would be postponed.

As for 'deserving a draw', I'd like to place it here on record that if I am ever fortunate enough to own, run or manage a football club, then my manager will face instant dismissal for gross misconduct, should he ever acknowledge that a draw was an 'intended' outcome, not a mere accidental one.

Occasionally when I'm watching a match as a neutral, I'll place a 'correct score' bet to add some interest to an otherwise meaningless fixture.

I will always opt for a goalless draw for two reasons. Firstly, it's the only scoreline which is guaranteed to be correct for at least some portion of the game. Second, once the first goal is scored and my bet is thus lost, I can cease watching and go and do something more useful.

Anyhow the key points is that that every (regular season) game begins as a draw, suggesting that to be happy with a draw, to feel your team deserved a draw, or even worse insist that your team plays for a draw, implies a singular lack of ambition that thus would merit the aforementioned dismissal at my club.

A game of football is not like the old gameshow Bullseye, where you can declare what a lovely time you've had and take your prizes (Jim). They give you a draw to start with; they increased the points for a win to three in the hope that teams might actually try to get them.

Back in October, I had a bit of fun at Alan Pardew's expense when I took him to task for some of his equally nonsensical post-match comments.

Nobody is suggesting that professional football management is easy. However whilst some outcomes in a match are truly out of their hands (injuries, wicked deflections, refereeing mistakes etc..), it would be refreshing if a manager did not insult the intelligence of fans by implying a penalty shoot-out is a lottery.

Doing appropriate preparation work does not ensure an outcome of course (that too would be random), but it would be a very good way of influencing it.


At 7:15 AM, Blogger Suze said...

Harry's comments made me smile too, especially after the commentators whilst viewing the two goal-keepers, mentioned that they couldn't really they're not expected to save, but the taker of a penalty is expected to score.

At 12:19 PM, Blogger mikewoodhouse said...

It was a lottery. But Spurs had fewer tickets.

At 1:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Next time you bet on 0-0 NYA go for no goalscorer instead. The odds will be the same as for 0-0 but own goals don't count in the first goalscorer marker so gives you a little advantage.

At 1:47 PM, Anonymous newyorkaddick said...

Anonymous, thanks for the tip. Funnily enough I was going to mention that as I too was aware of the small anomaly, but figured it was a bit off-topic.

More generally however whilst I don't have the stats to hand to prove it, I've sensed that the odds on a 0-0 draw are somewhat generous as it's the scoreline of choice only of manic depressives and misanthropes. Thus they fatten out the odds slightly at the expense of more popular scorelines, particularly home wins.

At 9:21 PM, Anonymous Chris said...

Redknapp is in danger of outdoing Pardew in the excuses department. As you rightly point out, the penalty shoot certainly didn't look much like a lottery as Anderson buried the final spot kick. I also had to laugh when Redknapp said that Tottenham had lost to the best team in Europe, adding that Sir Alex had wanted to win so that he hadn't played kids. By my reckoning Utd fielded only three first choice players, Ferdinand, Evra and Ronaldo, whilst even the bench comprised mainly reserves.

Tottenham have some terrific players and Redknapp has spent serious money further strengthening the squad. He really should take more responsibility. Sadly, I really can't see them going down, though Redknapp seems to be preparing the ground just in case. However, anyone giving Harry credit for their inevitable survival really doesn't understand how much bigger the challenge is for the likes of West Brom, Stoke and Hull City.

At 9:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not so sure about the ten men. Often teams raise their game when a sending off occurs, particularly if they think it is harsh. Their pattern of play also changes.


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