Monday, September 26, 2011

Great Expectations

As promised two blog posts ago, nine points from Charlton's next three games were assured and so it came to pass.

A pleasant two weeks in New York took in the superb US Open mens singles semi-finals, as well as the more sombre tenth anniversary of 9/11.

Sadly the club hasn't offered me a suitably attractive financial incentive not to attend MK Dons, although my effect on the team may be neutralised by the fact that I will be sat amongst the home fans, as I prefer to do these days.

The most recent two wins have demonstrated a healthy combination of spirit (Rochdale) and class (Chesterfield), and my continued belief that we have by far the best squad in League One remains firmly intact.

This is exemplified by the most recent signings of Cort and Kermogant, whose most recent domestic football was at a higher level (yet they don't just waltz into the side).

Whether or not we have the best team however has perhaps not yet been fully tested, the fixture computer having been quite kind so far.

Only 2 of our 9 opponents to date currently occupy the top half, although if we take say 4 or 6 points from MK Dons and Sheff Utd, then this hopefully irrelevant point will indeed be rendered moot.

Another interesting observation about this early League One table, is that nine teams are averaging 1.8 points per game or better, suggestive of 83+ points over a season.

In the interests of completeness, the other eight sides in this leading nonet have played the following number of fixtures against top half sides compared to our two: Sheff Utd (4), Hartlepool (3), Notts County (5), Preston (3), Brentford (4), Huddersfield (5), Sheff Weds (3), MK Dons (4).

The observation may be a form of data-mining, but in the case of Notts County, it appears to be more than merely spurious.

They took 6 points from their first 5 games (all against current top half sides), and then 13 from their second 5 games (all against bottom half sides).

1.8pts per game form is often good enough for automatic promotion, and always good enough for the play-offs, so early signs suggest a very bifurcated division.

The flipside of this rather tautologically, is that a different nine teams are currently averaging less than 1 point per game, usually poor enough form to ensure relegation.

If these trends persist, it implies some very disappointed teams in the upper echelons (and some most fortunate ones in the lower), thus our targets must continue to be ratcheted higher,

For now they are being comfortably surpassed (and in some style), and long may it continue (Huddersfield's current 35 game unbeaten run will take some beating though).

On the subject of great expectations but changing tack, a prominently positioned report on the BBC news website extolled Tottenham's aim of enhancing their global brand in the name of, "flair, style and adventure..."

My problem with the report was perhaps surprisingly not the slogan, because in fairness recently 'Arry's side have demonstrated a reasonable amount of all three.

Instead it was a ludicrous claim from executive director Charlie Wijeratna which really caught my eye, namely that the club has 179 million fans outside of the UK!

I assumed it was a misprint rather than a total misunderstanding of simple statistics, but then it was repeated for posterity: "...we drive zero revenues from these 179 million fans at present."

In order to prove that he maybe should have engaged his brain before speaking, this represents nearly 3% of the entire world's population (including women, children, assorted tribesmen and the billions living on less than $1 per day).

I don't doubt that Spurs are well-supported, but I've travelled far and wide and have never sensed from Sao Paolo to Singapore, or from Doha to Dallas, that approximately 1 in 30 people were eagerly awaiting knews of Ledley King's late fitness test.

Even in their home city of London, I would guess that approximately 60% of people could not care less about football, and that no more than 5% of the remainder would express an affinity for Spurs (that may sound unkind, but it's still 200,000 people).

So in London perhaps 2% of the folk might be considered fans, yet globally it's fully 3%!

How does someone who spouts such nonsense end up in a position of responsibility (and more relevantly uphold it)?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Yann Kermogant - The Contrarian View

Chris Powell has made his 19th signing of the season, bringing in much-needed striker cover in the shape of Yann Kermogant.

The last ball kicked by the Frenchman in English football was a missed play-off penalty for Leicester at Cardiff in 2010.

And it wasn't just any old penalty miss. Displaying typical French flair (surely arrogance? - Ed.), he chose to try a delicate chip which was saved with almost embarrassing ease.

The style is known as the 'Panenka Penalty' after the famous 1976 European Championship winning penalty for Czechoslovakia. It was ok then it seems.

I suspect Antonin Panenka doesn't walk the streets of Prague hassled by locals asking,"'d have looked a prat if you'd missed."

However Kermogant was castigated by the Foxes fans, his choice almost certainly ensured his release by the club, and more than a year later his former side languish in the midtable of the Championship, despite being pre-season favourites.

However I wonder whether he hasn't been harshly treated. Readers of this blog would not expect me to take the consensus view of course.

Is there any evidence for example that 'chipped' penalties have a materially lower success ratio than traditional ones?

Either way, this is probably the wrong question. Academic studies suggest that optimal penalty-taking rests upon a combination of unpredictability and obviously execution.

I recall Matt Le Tissier was an expert at both of these, missing only one of 49 spot kicks (the long-term success ratio is only approx 75%).

Two other esteemed spot-kick men (Alan Shearer and Frank Lampard) rely mainly upon the execution aspect, remaining highly predictable throughout.

Shut your eyes and picture them taking a pen.....where's the ball heading? Yep, to the keeper's right almost every time.

The opposing players in a shootout are entering into a simple 'game theory' situation into which each must form a strategy.

Moreover, in a penalty shootout, each kick is always crucial, unlike some taken in open play.

It would be described as a simple two-person zero-sum game ie. Either he scores or misses. The interests of the striker are always exactly the opposite of the keeper's.

Indeed rather neatly, if one ignores the 'chipped' penalty for now, the 75% success ratio can simply be viewed in terms of the fact that there are broadly four places for the ball to go (left/right, high/ low), whilst the keeper can only choose one.

In the real world a handful (maybe 3-4%) miss the target completely.

The keeper can only gain an 'edge' by either acquiring predictability (from prior kicks, run-up etc.), or perhaps by directly influencing the taker's choice (perhaps by standing somewhere slightly off-centre).

I'm willing to assume that 'chipped' penalties are an acceptable 'fifth way', because a number of players choose to take them this way, even in pressure situations (think Thierry Henry for example).

Indeed there is YouTube evidence that Kermogant has successfully scored chipped penalties before (perhaps therein lied his problem, but anyhow).

Being able to take a penalty in this fashion requires confidence, practice and an ability to disguise what you are planning to do.

I am willing to presume he had achieved all three, and none of them come easily.

The key is whether his previous history increased the predictability that he would try 'the chip', or whether it was just another entirely unpredictable tool in his box.

Unfortunately I haven't seen enough of his penalties to judge, but if the latter, then rather than be castigated his skills should be warmly acknowledged.

After all, by adding a fifth penalty strategy to the simple four-way alternative above, the goalkeeper must choose between five as opposed to four alternatives, reducing his chances from 25% to 20%.

After all there is no such thing as a great penalty save, only a good guess (the ball takes 0.3 seconds to reach him, not nearly enough time to react in an unpremeditated way).

Perhaps Cardiff had really done their homework however, and warned their keeper he may try 'the chip'. Somehow I doubt it.

Charlton fans will recall Paolo di Canio's chipped penalty against Arsenal for example. The line between genius and idiot is a fine one it seems, but the Italian's career was built upon his very unpredictability.

It seems what really hurt the Leicester fans was the fact that a missed chipped penalty just looks worse, not that it should make any difference so long as one accepts the theory above.

We probably like to assume players always do the best to improve their team's chances to win matches, but perhaps a rational player is more worried about reputation.

Indeed unlike Nicky Bailey in our own play-off semi final (or Chris Waddle in 1990), at least Kermogant hit the target; the others had no chance yet were feted like some type of flawed hero.

I would compare their vitriol conversely to the warm applause that greets say a 35-yard effort that whistles over the crossbar.

In most cases a team's prospects for scoring would be enhanced if the player tried to make an incisive pass, but given a pass may go astray (to the crowd's frustration), a rational player may conclude a speculative shot will at least save face (and now and again fly in the net).

Welcome Yann...a true club man!

Thursday, September 08, 2011


"But I'm a substitute for another guy,
I look pretty tall but my heels are high."
(The Who, 1966)

I'm starting to think that I might be the problem.

Whenever I get to watch the Addicks (whether live or on TV), we are usually mediocre, at least to my critical eye.  

I'm now in New York for a fortnight so we should be good for the next nine available points, but I regret to report I've just bought myself a ticket for MK Dons.

On Monday I was eagerly looking forward to seeing our unbeaten side again, but a highly promising start fizzled in the September rain and two points were deservedly lost.

Jose Semedo managed to look fairly stylish which tells you to what extent we lost the midfield battle, his partner David Prutton also looking the part alongside, at least in a football sense (the hairstyle of course is horrific).

Gary Megson will not win many charm awards, but management requires brave acknowledgment that Plan A isn't working.  

It is rare to see a tactical substitution inside the first quarter of a game, but credit to him for recognising the problem.

Chris Powell meanwhile took 78 minutes to make a switch, the type of like-for-like substitution that I like to utilise on Championship Manager.

The five-subs rule has been criticised, but I'm old enough to remember when there was one sub, let alone seven.

Keith Peacock remembers when there were none.  

Three from five is no hardship, and again offers the creative manager the prospect of gaining an 'edge'.

Why for example is a spare goalkeeper deemed by most managers to be essential?

The chances of a keeper being too injured during a game to continue must be about 1 in 30, whilst a red card for him is about 1 in 75.

Even if one took the extreme view that having an outfield player in goal for any meaningful amount of time effectively conceded the points, these odds must be weighed against the usefulness of a fifth outfield substitute.

This risk itself could be mitigated by nominating a couple of outfield squad players to be emergency keeper cover, spending say an hour per week on improving their abilities. Matt Taylor even began his career between the sticks.

The maths is simple.  Having 4 outfield subs offers a manager 14 substitute possibilities, whilst having 5 offers 25, almost double.

When managers had 7 subs to select from, the outfield possibilities (assuming a reserve keeper was on the bench ) were 41.

In other words, by persisting with a goalkeeping substitute under the new system, a manager is cutting his outfield options by almost two-thirds.

All of this despite the total number of substitutes still available falling by less than one third.

Incase you've ever wondered why bookmakers push 'combination' bets so aggressively (Yankees, Canadians etc.), there's your answer.

However if one persists with the cautious route of having a keeper on the bench, there is an understandable tendency to load up the rest of it with 'flexible' players.

However Cort, Mambo or Doherty must take one spot because no-one else in the side could adequately fill the breach if Morrison or Taylor were injured/dismissed (far more likely than a keeper being so).  

Last season Semedo could have dropped back for example, but no such option exists in the current favoured eleven.

Morever it gives the option of going 3-5-2 if a tactical change demands it.

However each of the other three benchwarmers on Monday might be deemed 'flexible' (Pritchard, Hughes, Euell).

For example Pritchard entered the fray against Bournemouth on the right wing, yet played a key central role against Reading in the Cup.  

The versatility of Hughes and Euell meanwhile is well-known.

This may seem like a logical way to offset the 'maths' conundrum above (fewer personnel options, but more tactical ones) but I'd argue it's a suboptimal halfway house evidenced by Powell's indecisiveness on Monday.

Knowing that his options on the bench would be adequate in several roles, but not 'impact' subs in any sense (defensively or offensively), it is perhaps hardly surprising that he acted so late and so unexcitedly.

In short they are the type of substitutes you throw on because you have to, not because you want to.

I don't believe any reasonable person would claim that our chances of winning were enhanced by replacing Hayes (the target man) with Euell, yet Powell probably felt he had to be seen to be doing something.

Megson meanwhile threw some caution to the wind with two out-and-out strikers on his bench, and it paid off with a useful away point.  

Time for some out of the box thinking here I think.