Top 10 things I learned about football

Written on 21 October 2019, 03:02pm

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Inspired by this question, I put together a few things that I learned after 30 years of watching football.

  1. There will always be a next game. So, your team just lost in the last minute of the game. A mix of disappointment and anger fills your head; we all know the feeling. But think about this: there will always be a next time. Always.
  2. Support your club when it’s down. Especially when it’s down. This is when it needs you the most. “At the end of a storm, there’s a golden sky…”
  3. Avoid the banter. When your team wins, celebrate and avoid laughing on the others. Remember that things in football tend to be cyclic. Even the best teams will have their bad seasons. Mock now, you will be mocked later.
  4. Don’t point fingers at players. Yes, at the top of the pyramid they are extremely well paid. But maybe the football players are just ordinary men in their 20s who are really good at footie? Or maybe they are more likely to develop mental disorder?
  5. You’ll never have the full picture. We tend to form our opinions based on the limited information that we receive from social media, TV, etc. But we’ll rarely know all the tactical/practical/human details. Remember this before complaining that the coach played the player X instead of Y.
  6. Use facts, not your own beliefs. I get it, football is a subjective matter. But subjective doesn’t exclude rational. See also #5.
  7. Stay away from the extremes. Remember those ‘fans’ always criticizing and complaining on social media no matter what? Don’t be like them. But also avoid the fanatics, living in their own deluded world; they are just as toxic as the fake fans.
  8. Be a supporter, not a fan. If you can afford it, support your club financially. Buy a yearly membership or try to find other ways to help your club, especially if it’s local. Volunteers will always be needed.
  9. Be aware of the negativity bias. Human beings are wired to give more importance to the negative things. This also applies in football. Which means you’ll be more likely to remember the bad games rather the good ones. Try not to.
  10. Your team can’t win everything. We live in a world where winning a semifinal doesn’t mean anything if it’s not followed by winning the final as well. A good run is no longer enough, people expect their favorite team to win every competition. Well, manage your expectations. Sometimes a historic win will be more memorable than a loss in a final. Enjoy that!

These would be the 10 most important things I would tell my children if they’ll ever be into football. No matter the team they will choose to support 🙂

Football is more complex than a bunch of people kicking a ball around…

CL draws reloaded

Written on 14 March 2019, 04:25pm

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You have 8 teams. They will be drawn one against each other, so 4 pairs in total.

Question 1: how many distinct pair sets are possible?

105. I got to this number after running a large number of simulations. Then I did a little bit of research and I also found the formula:

k=4

Question 2: if 4 of the 8 teams are from England, what is the probability that all 4 of them will be drawn together?

Again, after analyzing the 105 distinct pair sets, I found that only 9 of them have all-English pairs. The full probability set is:

  • two English pairs: 9/105 or 8.57%
  • exactly one English pair: 72/105 or 68.57%
  • no English pair: 24/105 or 22.86%

Football is just business

Written on 1 March 2019, 05:08pm

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I recently wrote a post on a Romanian sports site about trying to apply an IT process to find the root cause of a football problem. I will try to make a summary here since the post that I wrote is in Romanian.

It’s about Liverpool FC and it essentially starts from 4 facts about Premier League (PL) football:

  1. Modern football is a business. There are revenue streams (media, commercial, match-day), expenses (squad, facilities, etc), assets (the players and the staff) and risk management governing the entire process. In order to survive, a business needs to turn a profit.
  2. For the Top 6 PL teams, the main source of revenue is the participation in Champions League (CL). The difference between finishing 1st and 6th in PL is few million pounds (basically peanuts), while missing out the Top 4 (ensuring CL participation) could have significant financial impact. Example – Liverpool reaching the CL final last season meant that their profits tripled compared to the previous year.
  3. Every business has a vision, and a strategy for implementing the vision. The vision means the desired future position, while the strategy is a long-term plan to implement the vision. To implement the overall strategic plan, a shorter-term, tactical plan might be needed – easier to monitor and coordinate.
  4. Higher ambitions means higher risks. It all depends on the risk appetite of the business.

With these facts in mind, I try to make a root cause analysis of the reasons why Liverpool seems to lose pace in the recent period. Many supporters see the recent transfer window as a missed opportunity. Despite several injuries, in January 2019 the club was still on the 1st place with several points advantage. You would expect a club to strengthen from a position of strength. It didn’t, and the takeaway is that the vision of the club is different from the vision of the supporter. While the supporters would aim to win the PL, the club vision is to maintain a sustainable growth and sound financial management. This can be done by remaining in the Top 4 (virtually achieved at this stage of the season) and staying in CL for as long as possible. Aiming for the first place would involve bringing in new players, which introduce additional costs and risks. Higher ambitions means higher risks, which are not necessarily accepted by the business.

In these conditions, winning the PL would be simply a happy side-effect.

In the end, I touch on two more things. First, having the realization above made have a more relaxed approach in supporting Liverpool FC. I understand that my expectations are not necessarily aligned with the club priorities, and therefore I have to manage these expectations. For the first time in the last few years, last weekend I decided to skip watching a Liverpool game and enjoy some time with the family:

Time to chill

The second point is that I am getting a little bit annoyed with the extremists-optimists supporters on social media. This tweet is spot on:

Nobody is denying the progress Liverpool made since Klopp took over. I fully support him and I think he’s a perfect match for the club. In any other season, having 66 points after 27 games would virtually guarantee you winning the league.
But that doesn’t mean that we can pretend things are going great: Liverpool won a single game from the last 5, it’s definitely not the right time to celebrate being first of the league with a mere point ahead of the second place, when all the bookmakers and predictive models predict that Liverpool will finish second. Hypothetical statements such as ‘if you would have known this at the beginning of the season…‘ don’t go anywhere and tend to focus more on the past rather than the future.
This is the political correctness applied to football.

Conclusion: doing a root cause analysis using the 5 whys to find why Liverpool is no longer favorite to win the PL leads to the following results:

  1. Why? Because the squad is not good enough to fight the financial giant currently on the 2nd place
  2. Why? Because there are big differences between the starting XI and the bench
  3. Why? Because the club did not bring in enough players during the last 2 transfer windows
  4. Why? Because it was not needed; finishing in Top 4 is virtually guaranteed
  5. Why? Because football is a business and trophies are just a caprice of the supporters