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March 9th, 2017.
"How do you know - you haven't played the game?" - A common retort from retired ex-professional footballers on radio phone-in shows when a caller has the audacity to question their opinion.
But why should you be required to have played a sport professionally to understand how it works? And why is it virtually a pre-requisite to have played professional sport to be a manager? Wouldn't someone be better off having skills in analysis, motivation and business to manage a sports team?
Let's think of it like this. Imagine you are the owner of a business and you need to recruit a new CEO. Would you give the job to somebody who has a proven track record of success for a rival company, or perhaps a younger, ambitious director of your company who has demonstrated that he has the potential to step up? Or - would you hire the person who has a great track record on the production line or shop floor?
Of course, any sane, logical person would hire one of the former two options, yet in football in particular, the latter (we can substitute the football pitch for the production line or shop floor) seems to be a frequently viable option. This is somewhat baffling considering that footballers - similar to the majority of people in these relatively unskilled job roles - are not known for their above average intelligence (although I am sure there are a few in both areas that are exceptions to this rule - Frank Lampard is one example) yet they are catapulted into a management role with no experience, simply because they were born with a gift to kick a ball.
Earlier this week, I was listening to Jim White's show on TalkSport, and the Chief Football Writer for The Times Newspaper, Henry Winter, and ex-Sunderland left-back Michael Gray were his guests. The topic of the conversation was coaching badges, and the fast-tracking of ex-players. Gray was bemoaning the fact that they took so long to complete.
My immediate thought was of how arrogant this sounds. He is effectively saying that several years is too long to pass a course which would then give the student the opportunity to earn six or seven figure salaries, and control the emotions of tens of thousands of supporters of their club? A degree takes a similar amount of time and very few, if any, graduates can immediately walk into such a salary or position of power. Clearly, there is a reasonable argument that the coaching badges course is far from too long.
Despite this reasonable argument, the Football Association has developed a fast-track scheme to get ex-England players to pass their coaching badges, and Robbie Fowler was one player pictured in various media channels on the course this week. You can read a bit more about it here.
Presumably, given this bias towards ex-England players (those who have excelled on the production line or shop floor) to move into coaching and management, it would be reasonable to assume that previous ex-England players have performed so well as managers that this fast-tracking would be a natural step.
However, as can be seen by the table below, the 12 ex-England players who have been in management since 2010 (e.g. they are active managers) have far from covered themselves in glory:-
Only the current Burton Albion manager, Nigel Clough, has recorded over 1.50 points per game, which would generate 69 points in a 46 match calendar. James Beattie, and particularly Mike Phelan and Teddy Sheringham have recorded atrocious numbers.
However, it is important to add a little context to these numbers. Perhaps the likes of Beattie, Phelan and Sheringham were catapulted into impossible situations, while the likes of Clough was able to take much easier jobs?
The next table below demonstrates the points per game of each of the above 12 ex-England players and compares them to the mean points per game of their predecessor and successor (permanent managers only), ranked by the difference between their points per game and the mean points per game of their predecessor and successor (fifth column along):-
Here were can see that Clough is now level with Keith Curle and behind Peter Reid, so with Curle mid-table in the actual points per game but higher in relative points per game, it would be reasonable to assume that it is actually Curle, as opposed to Sheringham, Phelan and Beattie, who was put in difficult roles. With a relative points per game of 0.18, Curle was able to add 8.28 average points per 46 game season compared to his predecessors and successors in jobs.
However, just four managers managed to get this relative points per game figure of 0.10 or above, and Messrs Beattie, Pearce, Sheringham and Phelan were heavily negative. All four managers showed a mean drop in points per game from their predecessor, while their successor was able to improve matters.
Tim Sherwood was also an interesting case. While his relative points per game figure was far from horrific, he was the only manager in this sample whose successor got fewer points per game than him, with him getting a lower points per game than his predecessor. This could indicate that he leaves clubs in a worse state than he found them in.
Overall, this mixed bag of 12 ex-England players lost a mean of 0.01 points per game from their predecessors, while their successors managed a mean of 0.06 points per game more than them - hardly a ringing endorsement of their collective managerial talents.
Considering this data, I have literally no idea why ex-England players are being encouraged to stay in the game, and with the HMRC vigorously pursuing ex-players who were found to have exploited loopholes, many ex-players will be desperate to move into coaching and management, as they will need the money. However, it would appear that they have no more (and perhaps a little less) to offer than the average manager - so why not give the analysts and people with business backgrounds a chance instead?
This is far from an exclusive situation to football. Other sports also have this issue, and Tennis is no exception. 'Super-coaches', as I discussed here, are fawned upon by fans and media alike, while the majority of commentators have also got history as a player.
Just several days ago, Gunter Bresnik, Dominic Thiem's coach, was quoted as saying 'Thiem's schedule this month [February] was crazy, it's my fault'. I think the majority of Tennis fans, analysts and bettors alike would be able to have to Bresnik that Thiem's scheduling hasn't just been crazy in February, but has been 'questionable' for a while.
It makes me wonder who plans these schedules. Do they just stick a pin in a world map? It certainly doesn't look like there is a lot of science, or logic, involved.
Relatively recently, I discussed my services with several agents to plan schedules and provide dossiers on opponents for players. The agents themselves were keen, and could see the value that statistical analysis would bring. However, quite incredibly, they could not sell the idea to players, because the players just 'wanted to turn up and play', and 'wanted to play the same tournaments as their friends'.
With the amount of money currently in the Tennis world, failure to take advantage of any possible edge is leaving money on the table, and often, quite significant money.
To finish, in the unlikely event that a professional tennis player reads this, I am willing to offer my services as an analyst free of charge to you for the rest of 2017. I will only require payment, which will be established in advance, if there is improvement.
Essentially, it will be performance related based on additional income gained compared to previous years and positive ranking movement.