Thinking about transfers and value

Happy New Year.

It’s that time of year again, when the English Premier League is at its precise halfway point, and the experts start looking forward to the end of the season and speculate on winners and losers.

Since the 2002-03 season, it’s also the time of year for the winter “transfer window”, a late Christmas present of sorts for football agents, and ostensibly an opportunity for those battling at either end of the table to call for reinforcements.

So I thought I’d take a look at what actually happened in the transfer windows since the end of the 2013-14 season, to see what stands out in the five windows since (three summer, two winter).

What I did was to load up each window’s net transfers club by club so that I had a column for each of Summer 16-17, Winter 15-16, Summer 15-16, Winter 14-15 and Summer 14-15. [The Winter 16-17 window has just opened]. Then I accumulated them in reverse chronological order, adding a window at a time. So I had a column for the last two windows, the last 3 windows, the last four windows and all five windows.

My source of the data was Transfermarkt, a really useful site for such things. Here’s the precise tab I used, making the selections I needed to make. And thank you Transfermarkt!

Here’s what my own spreadsheet looked like when I finished:

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[I haven’t embedded the actual Numbers sheet here. If any of you wants a copy just let me know where to send it to].

Some observations.

  1. There’s the usual “lies, damned lies and statistics” risk to any such exercise. Why did I choose the last five transfer windows rather than the last ten? Why did I choose to use reverse chronological order for the aggregations? Why did I separate the windows rather than go by entire season? Why did I only show net figures? These are all fair questions, every one of my choices introduces some bias and it will show in the results. My reason for making the choices I did was simple. I wanted to be able to figure out for myself: This is what happened under Guardiola, this is what happened under Mourinho, this is what happened under Klopp, this is the Conte timeline, you get my drift. That’s all, no other reason.
  2. The teams in italics are those that have not been present in all the seasons covered. Only 15 teams have been in the Premiership throughout the period under review, with 9 other teams missing out on one or more seasons.
  3. The “rankings” columns to the right only try and rank the 15 “ever-present” teams.
  4. The transfer money laid out was dominated by the two Manchester clubs, that’s to be expected. Arsenal was consistently the nearest to them, also predictable. What was mildly surprising to me was where a team like Sunderland stood when looked at this way.
  5. The last three Premiership winners were Leicester City, Chelsea and Manchester City. Leicester were mid-table as “transfer investors”, while Chelsea were almost bottom. There’s a lot more work to be done before we can understand the real correlation between investment and table position.  What if a team invested really well in soccer academies and then sold a small portion of that investment in the external transfer market, making just a few judicious buys? Looking just at the transfer markets isn’t enough. But it’s a start.
  6. Keeping net spent low is not in itself necessarily a good thing, given where Swansea are right now. Both Newcastle and Sunderland have tried to spend their way out of trouble, with different outcomes, and the promotion/relegation outcomes this year will prove as interesting as ever.
  7. When you look at the current first/second in the league, not much has been spent net by either Conte or Klopp. But maybe football is like the airline industry, it’s easy to make a small fortune. If you start with a large one.

As with anything else, I just wanted to get a little bit more familiar with the topic by actually looking at the data for myself.

While Leicester’s win last year was remarkable, it’s an outlier. The standout team for me in all this has been Southampton. Net £48m up in the past five windows. Net up in every one of the past three summer transfer windows. I want to dig deeper, see how much of that is through youth schemes and how much is based on careful “bargain” purchases from less fashionable markets, whether the approach they are taking will make them into a “feeder” club (which may not be fair on the fans) or whether there is sustainable advantage to be gained.

Much to think about.

In the meantime, happy new year to all of you. Once again, if you want to play with the data, to plug in this January’s winter window data, but don’t want to construct the spreadsheet yourself, just get in touch with me.

 

 

Thinking about pink balls

[Note to readers. This post may appear to do with cricket. Perhaps it does. But it’s about more than that].

I had to smile when I first came across what Douglas Adams had to say about our reactions to technologies:

1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

I tried to interpret the word “technologies” as broadly as possible, looking for areas where his description matched my reaction to something. And the first one I came up with was cricket. I realised that my attitude to cricket could be summed up in his words. Test cricket? Fine. County and regional? Of course. One-day? As long as it’s the 50 or 60 over variety. Day/night? Pshaw. Pfui. Balls coloured other than red? Over my dead body. Clothes coloured other than white? When hell freezes over.

Until I thought about my attitude to cricket through the lens described by Adams, I considered myself a fairly progressive person. Since reading what he’d had to say, I’ve been working on that attitude, not just to do with cricket but to do with life in general. [That’s a general principle for me. I may write about music or food or sport or work or books or whatever, but what I’m usually trying to do is to understand something else about life].

So it took me a while to get used to people wearing pyjamas on the cricket field. It took me as long to get used to a night game and a white ball. I’m still getting used to T20.

And now.

Now comes a real test. A Test test. There’s a day-night Test in Edgbaston this coming summer. The ball used will probably be pink. Will I try and go? Will I even be willing to watch it?

Hmmm. There’s a part of me that says I should harrumph through my moustache, if I had one — that I should return some prize or honour, resign from somewhere, refuse something. Protest somehow.

But I won’t listen to that part. I don’t. Not any more.

[A digression. I don’t like DRS. Not DRS per se, which I’m fine about: but the way it has been implemented leaves much to be desired. The way the technology providers were chosen and imposed. The madness of the way “umpire’s call” has been protected. Stuff like that. I don’t feel any less progressive for disliking the way DRS has been implemented].

When I heard that day-night Test cricket was on its way, I decided I wanted to understand more about how changes like the 60 over game, the 50 over game, the 20 over game, day-night cricket, the wearing of pink pyjamas, the DRS, and so on, had actually affected the game.

The first pink-ball Test was actually Test number 2190. Does it mean the end of Test cricket as I know it? What could I learn from all that had gone earlier? Here are some of my observations:

We’re playing a lot of Test cricket. In the last seven years, we would have played about the same number of Tests that we played in the first seventy years of Test cricket. Test attendances may appear to be in decline, at least anecdotally, but just try getting a ticket for an Ashes Test in London and you may get a different view. I have debentures at Lords and at the Oval just to make sure I get to see all the touring teams.
I regularly hear assertions that the short game is somehow corrupting the long game, “twittering” cricket if I may be allowed to mangle the term that way. So I looked at the data.
Test number 2243 is being played right now. Since the Second World War, the number of games drawn as a percentage of games played looks like this:

1950-59: 31.1%
1960-69: 47.8%
1970-79: 42.4%
1980-89: 45.9%
1990-99: 35.7%
2000-09: 24.6%
2010-16: 22.7%

Surely fewer games drawn is a good thing. While I cannot draw a causal relationship between the short-form game and the improvement in the percentage of games not ending in a draw, it is a reasonable indicator of the health of the long game.
The first ever individual 300+ scores were compiled in the 1930s. So I took a look at the Tests-per-300 ratio, again by decade, concentrating on Tests since the Second World War:

1950-59: 2 triple centuries, 82 Tests per triple
1960-69: 3 triple centuries, 62 Tests per triple
1970-79: 1 triple century, 198 Tests per triple
1980-89: No triples recorded
1990-99: 4 triple centuries, 87 Tests per triple
2000-09: 8 triple centuries, 58 Tests per triple
2010-16: 7 triple centuries, 42.7 Tests per triple

So the number of Tests taken to score a triple century is the lowest it’s been since 1950. In fact there’s only one decade ever (1930-39) where the ratio was lower, and it’s an outlier for a number of reasons. If the short game is spoiling the concentration of the batsmen then it’s hard to understand how this trend is being evinced.
If I look at the RPO or runs-per-over data this is what it looks like:

1950-59: 2.3
1960-69: 2.49
1970-79: 2.69
1980-89: 2.86
1990-99: 2.86
2000-09: 3.2
2010-16: 3.22

So the batsmen are scoring more runs per over than they did before, they’re taking fewer Tests to churn out triple centuries, and more of the Tests are getting to a non-draw result than ever before. What’s not to like?
Not everyone is a fan of such quantitative ways of looking at the game. Some people prefer to complain that the game’s not the same, that something classic, something essential to the game, has “gone” with all the changes. It’s hard to deal with such statements, but here’s my personal take:
There was a time when the job of a Test opening batsman was to see the shine of the ball off, to batten the hatches while the pace bowlers tired themselves out. There was a time when batsmen were expected to “play themselves in”, to get used to the pitch and to the ball and to the conditions; this playing-in time was measured in overs, sometimes hours.
Along came people like Jayasuriya and Sehwag, and suddenly playing-in time became a myth. They started scoring freely from the moment they walked in. I don’t have good scientific evidence that there’s a causal relationship between the advent of the short game and the emergence of this phenomenon, but it seems unarguable. Limited-overs games aren’t particularly accommodating of playing-in time. It’s also nice to notice that both Jayasuriya and Sehwag have triple centuries to their names.
There was a time when there were no cross-bat strokes expected on the playing field, when Test cricketers played copybook cricket. Now we have strokes like the reverse sweep and the overhead thump over the wicketkeeper’s head. Good batsmen still play largely copybook cricket, but their repertoire has increased.
There was a time when bowlers were expected to be poor fielders and even poorer batsmen. Nowadays you see relay fielding and relay catching being considered normal, where one fielder stops a ball and another throws it back, or one rescues the ball back into the field of play and another catches it. Fielders have become a lot fitter and use techniques learnt largely from the short game. And bowlers can bat. Teams now bat all the way down the card.
All in all, when you look at modern Test cricket from a qualitative viewpoint, the batting’s better, the fielding’s better, the bowling’s better, all showing signs of having learnt from the short game.
I cannot spend this much time talking about how progressive thinking is changing the world of cricket for the better without mentioning Cage Cricket.

 

 

Yup. Cage cricket.

A six-player one-winner enclosed-space form of the game, designed to be gender-neutral.
Okay, I hear you. Harrumph in your moustache. Resign from your clubs. Return your OBE. Have your Victor Meldrew moment. Go on.
Once you’ve done that, please go take a look at the game.

And then look at these photographs I’ve just googled (my thanks to the originators of the photographs, I claim no authorship, just the use of search strings for street cricket).

 

 

Still think that Cage Cricket is all wrong? People have called it all sorts of things, in India I’ve heard terms like para cricket or galli cricket. What matters is that we lower the barriers to entry, get children involved early. Not in watching but in participating. Making it possible for them to play without having to have a cricket pitch or 22 players. Making it possible for them to learn, to develop, and even to compete at world level. Designed to suit the world they inhabit. With peer respect and feedback built in, gender-agnostic.

If you want to learn more about Cage Cricket, just go to the web site and click on Learn More. Simple as that.

It’s not just about cricket. These are things we have to get better at for everything: lowering barriers to entry, adapting to the world our children live in, building things that are relevant to their context, designing to enfranchise all.

I started with a quote from Douglas Adams, ostensibly to do with technology. I think I’ll end with a quote from Roy Amara, as quoted by Robert X Cringely:

We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.

As I suggested at the start of this post, be generous in your interpretation of “technology”.

It’s a systematic treatment for something. It comprises tools and practices. It is based on some real knowledge, based on scientific methods of collection and testing.

I like what Kevin Kelly said about it many years ago, that “technology” is a means of speeding up evolution.

So nowadays, when I learn about a new technology, I check for myself. Am I falling into the trap of looking through the Adams lens? Am I discarding everything recent for everything I am used to, staying in my comfort zone? Am I falling into the trap of not seeing Amara’s Law in action? Am I overestimating short-run impacts while underestimating the long-run ones?

Am I basing all this on data? Reliable data? Data that stands up to corroboration, to source verification, data where I understand the basis of collection and analysis?

Otherwise it’s not cricket.

Comfort-break songs

Those who come here regularly know that I’m stuck in a time-warp when it comes to music. Early sixties to mid seventies. 99% of the music I listen to was made then. It’s not that I dislike the music made before or after; it’s more to do with the fact that so much great music was made during that time that I feel no need to travel beyond those bounds.

Just look at this list. Maybe 1500 albums produced by them. There isn’t enough time left in my life to do them justice.

Allman Brothers. America. The Animals. The Band. Joan Baez. Beatles. Bee Gees. Chuck Berry. Blind Faith. Blood Sweat and Tears. Bob Marley and the Wailers. Booker T and the MGs. David Bowie. Dave Brubeck. Buffalo Springfield. Byrds. Carpenters. Ray Charles. Chicago. Joe Cocker. Leonard Cohen. Elvis Costello. Cream. Creedence Clearwater Revival. Jim Croce. Crosby Stills Nash and Young. Miles Davis. Deep Purple. John Denver. Neil Diamond. Donovan. Doobie Brothers. Doors. Bob Dylan. The Eagles. Elvis. Emerson Lake and Palmer. Fairport Convention. Jose Feliciano. Fotheringay. Fleetwood Mac. Aretha Franklin. Grand Funk Railroad. Grateful Dead. Guess Who. Jimi Hendrix. Herman’s Hermits. John Lee Hooker. Iron Butterfly. Michael Jackson. Jefferson Airplane. Jethro Tull. Janis Joplin. BB King. Carole King. King Crimson. The Kinks. Led Zeppelin. Lindisfarne. Gordon Lightfoot. Loggins and Messina. Lynyrd Skynyrd. Magna Carta. Mamas and Papas. John Martyn. Matthews Southern Comfort. John Mayall. Don Mclean. Melanie. Joni Mitchell. Wes Montgomery. Moody Blues. Van Morrison. Nana Mouskouri. New Riders of the Purple Sage.  Pentangle. Peter Paul and Mary. Pink Floyd. Queen. Otis Redding. Rolling Stones. Roxy Music. Carlos Santana. Seals and Croft. Simon and Garfunkel. Sly and the Family Stone. Steely Dan. Steppenwolf. Cat Stevens. Supertramp. James Taylor. Temptations. Ten Years After. Traffic. Velvet Underground. Ventures. Tom Waits.  The Who. Stevie Wonder. Yes.

The hundred acts above, in their multiple incarnations. With their associated acts that I haven’t bothered to list, of the Derek/Dominos class. There’s a male/white bias I guess, but not a conscious one. It’s what came down the funnel I had my ear to in those days.

One of the odd things this list did was to play long songs. I used to wonder why they were so popular in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Quite by chance, re-reading a Graham Nash interview, I came across a then-DJ’s comment on this and it all made sense. Long songs were the saviour the DJs were looking for, so that they could take a cigarette break.

“Cigarette breaks” are probably not in vogue any more, they’ve been replaced by other things that are antisocial, keep your hands busy, are rumoured to cause cancer and form pinpricks of light dotting the audience in modern concerts. Mobile phones.

At work we used to have cigarette breaks. Then , in the early nineties, we started calling them loo breaks in order not to point fingers at smokers. More recently, we’re calling them comfort breaks, even though many people don’t use them to go to the loo. That way the mobile phone addict doesn’t feel victimised.

I don’t listen to modern music and have no idea what modern DJs do. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the return of vinyl is accompanied by the return of Long Songs, so that the DJs squeeze in some “social media interaction” time.

Comfort-break songs.

Here are a few more from my favourite time, to add to the ones I posted about years ago.

 

 

 

 

Going to the match: more thoughts on tolerance

 

 

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I wonder what LS Lowry would have made of it. As a teenager in Calcutta during the 1960s and 1970s, I never quite experienced the sensation of “going to the match” the way that Lowry had portrayed.

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We went to the matches.

Matches, plural. Not match. Because all the stadia were in the same area. To borrow a simile from the world of horse-racing, they were so close you could have covered all of them with a blanket.

In those days there were three main teams, East Bengal, Mohan Began and Mohammedan Sporting. The league only consisted of ten or twelve teams, so they played each other quite a few times. The sporting schedule had not been destroyed by the ravages of TV scheduling, so all matches took place at the same time on the same day.

And we all went to the matches. One stream of people, comprised of supporters of all the clubs. Intermingled. Unsegregated.

Civilised.

There was occasional violence, but it was rare. Keeping the peace was seen as a collective responsibility, a social responsibility. It worked. Because there were social brakes. We even called that violence “anti-social behaviour”.

When I came to England in 1980 I lived in Blundellsands, near Liverpool, for a while. It was only a matter of time before I made my way to Stanley Park for the first time and chose one of the clubs there as “my” club. I happened to choose Liverpool FC because the story of Bill Shankly had travelled as far as Calcutta, and because I’d heard of Keegan and Dalglish et al.

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When I went for my first “derby”, I felt at home. It felt like Calcutta again. For sure Anfield was full of Liverpool fans, but there was a considerable number of Everton fans as well. And for the most part they sat together, unsegregated.

I have good friends who are Everton supporters, and I treasure the friendship. These things are important.

It’s not always perfect. I have seen violence at Merseyside derbies, it’s been there before and it will be there again. Despite those forays into uncivil behaviour, I think it remains largely true that Everton and Liverpool supporters heave learnt to live with each other, able to compete without the need for contempt.

If not for this, households and families would otherwise be riven beyond redemption. And that’s not a good thing.

This year, we’ve had one or two fairly significant “polarising” events: the “Brexit” referendum in the UK, the US Presidential election. Once again, households and families had the risk of being riven. If we allowed them to be.

We cannot allow that. We must not allow that.

I live with people who voted to leave and with people who voted to remain. I count both sets among my friends.

I work with people who voted Republican and with people who voted Democrat. I count both sets among my friends.

Democracy is about the 100% rather than about the 51% or the 49%. Or whatever other split you care to come up with.

There was a time when ballots were open, often oral. But that created the risk of corruption using force or finance or fear. The move to secret ballots was a partial response. It came with its weaknesses and corruptions as well. More recently, as ballots are often numbered and associated with registered voter numbers, the secrecy of the ballot is threatened.

What matters is not the secrecy of the ballot. What matters is the right and ability to cast one’s vote without fear or favour. If we lose that we lose some key aspects of civilisation.

I am not a deep student of politics, but I do get the sense that of late, politicians appear to be more interested in being re-elected, in ensuring their party stays in power, to the detriment of actually serving the electorate, which by the way is the 100% and not one side or another. So we see gerrymandering, the creation of landslide returning districts and constituencies, the concentration of neighbourhoods into homogeneous single-party voter groups.

Sustaining power that way comes with an ugly consequence, 21st century tribalism at its worst. I suspect it’s going to get worse before it gets better. More on that specific thread in the months to come, if I can bring myself to write in depth about it.

Today’s a day when tradition calls for wishing all of you peace on earth and goodwill to all. Whatever you believe in, I wish you peace. Peace and the ability to be tolerant of people you don’t agree with.

I have read reports that the ancient civilisations of Mohenjo-daro and Harappa showed no trace of weapons or warlike behaviour. That’s yet to be proven, the jury is still out. Cynics would say “and besides, the civilisations aren’t around any more”.

I wish you peace. And the ability to be tolerant of people you don’t agree with. That includes giving them the right to have their opinion.

 

Highs and lows

Yup, it’s another cricket statistics post. Continue at your peril.

Last week England lost a Test match (the 5th Test in Chennai) by an innings, after scoring 477 in the 1st innings, that too after winning the toss and choosing to bat first. The defeat followed on the heels of a similar defeat in the previous Test match, where England had scored 400 in the 1st innings.

That made me think. What are the highest 1st innings scores where the side batting first has gone on to lose the match? And as a corollary, what are the lowest 1st innings scores where the side batting first has gone on to win the match?

Here they are:

Highest first innings total for a team batting first that went on to lose the match:

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That’s right, the recent England loss doesn’t even make it into the top ten.

And here’s the corollary. Lowest first innings total for a team batting first that went on to win the match:

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Score 586 and lose. Score 45 and win.

Cricket.