Unprofessional Foul


December 23, 2015

Of Course He FJM’d Something

Guy who isn't the Phish bassist ruins GOOD FOOTBALL MEN

Guy who isn’t the Phish bassist ruins GOOD FOOTBALL MEN

So this was super low-hanging fruit. So much so that I really considered not doing it. Instead I was going to FJM the comments on the same piece, because that’s even lower-hanging fruit. But this piece from October sent the Soccerlytics world into a shit fit, which is about the easiest thing in the world to do. It’s like shooting tits in a barrel.

Anyway, Liverpool is still a bit of a mess. In fact since Rodgers’ dismissal, the club’s expected points total has actually dropped from 61 to 59 (Math!). But let’s not let that stop us from having some fun at Neil Ashton’s expense.

Each morning, when Liverpool’s principal owner John W Henry and director Michael Gordon wake up in Boston, their inboxes ping with emails from the club’s head of technical performance.

Hey guys, I just learned there are these things called “Time Zones” and when it’s one time in England, it’s another, earlier time in Boston. How fucking crazy is that?


Michael Edwards, who is based at Liverpool’s Melwood training ground, has become FSG’s go-to guy in England after aligning himself with the data-driven model of the group’s baseball team, the Boston Red Sox.

Can you align yourself with a data-driven model? I’m not even sure that make sense.

This cosy relationship with FSG, dropping the owners emails throughout the day and increasing his power at the club, led to a strained relationship with former manager Brendan Rodgers.

A) I know when I want to get cozy with the ladies I drop them all kinds of sexy emails. “Hey girl, you want to see this Win Probability Added model I just cooked up? It’s in beta so no one else has even seen it.” Then, and only then, do I exercise my powers over them.

B) Jesus crispies, did Brendan turn on everyone and everything at Liverpool when he got the sack? I don’t even remember if this was written right before or after he was let go, but in the annals of “Cover Your Ass By Talking Shit About Everyone Else,” his is a Top 10 of Cover Your Assness departures. But that’s another rant. Suffice it to say, six weeks on and I don’t hear his name getting mentioned for any of the 4-6 EPL (suck it, Barclays) jobs that are opening up any day now.

Edwards encourages staff to use his nickname ‘Eddie’, giving a matey feel to the working environment. It is understood Rodgers has another name for him.

Ed? Michael? Mike? Dude?

And just who is doing the understanding here? I swear to God, 90 percent of “journalism” in England would evaporate if passive voice were outlawed.

Edwards fell perfectly into place with FSG’s Moneyball strategy, the statistical model designed to extract maximum value in the transfer market. Clearly, with the club 10th in the league and paying up to three times the going rate for players, it needs refinement.

I really, really want to go in depth on the myriad of improper uses of the term “Moneyball.” Judging from the comments on this post (and really, hours of entertainment await you in the comments, if you’re into ignorance), maybe two people in England have actually read the Michael Lewis book. But this feels like a battle that the idiots have won. The idiots win most battles, because there are so damn many of them. I know this. It shouldn’t annoy me, but it does. Anyway, ‘Moneyball’ now means anything you want it to depending on whether or not you like numbers.

Despite a lack of playing experience at any relevant level, Edwards, who earns £300,000 a year, has a big say on Liverpool’s notorious transfer committee.

Oh yeah, Dick Cheney had exactly zero days working experience in the private sector before being hired as CEO of Haliburton. I”m not even sure if that’s relevant. It’s true though. That was a fucking great investment as they got that no-bid cost-plus contract to basically extract money from the American taxpayer after we used blatant lies to justify invading a country that had never threatened us ever. Ooops. I’ve probably gone off message here.

That salary sounds pretty reasonable. I mean, if you’re really good with data and you have an advanced degree you can charge $150 an hour (or more). Annualize that and you’re over $300K. Even after exchange rate conversions it’s not totally ridiculous.

More importantly, someone who can’t put together a rational, coherent argument yet gets paid to write ought not to throw stones at the glass house of job requirements.

He would arrive for meetings with Rodgers, managing director Ian Ayre, chief scout Barry Hunter and head of recruitment Dave Fallows armed with the latest data on potential targets.

Ha ha, what an asshole… showing up to a meeting with information.

He should have brought Doughnuts. People fucking love doughnuts. Do they have those in Liverpool? Fried dough covered in sugar and (sometimes) filled with fruit flavored diabetes. That’s good stuff. Information? You can’t eat that shit.

Poor Brendan. Screwed over by a computer.

Poor Brendan. Screwed over by a computer.

The committee have yet to explain how they came up with the figure of £29million to sign Brazilian forward Roberto Firmino from Hoffenheim, who finished eighth in the Bundesliga last season.

They probably called up Hoffenheim, either made an offer or were given a price. There was maybe some back and forth once an initial number was set and both parties ultimately agreed on £29M. Just a thought.

Divock Origi, billed as ‘a world-class talent’ by Rodgers when he was signed from Lille, could not even come off the bench in the club’s last two league games. There are countless other errors.

Was he glued to the bench? I bet he was glued to it. Man, Balotelli was such a prankster. Love that guy.

Origi did not have a great campaign when he was loaned back to Lille. But you could conceivably call any young kid playing for his country at the World Cup a ‘world class talent’ and technically be correct. God, this piece has me defending Wee Little Brentan. I feel dirty.

Also, you could probably count every single LFC player move made under Rodgers and it wouldn’t break into the triple digits. All of the errors are very countable. No wonder you hate stats, you think ‘less than 100′ equals ‘countless’.

After each Liverpool game Edwards emails analysis and data to the club’s owners in America, detailing where the match was won and lost. It has made for grim reading this season.

That’s not the fault of the analysis. Also, that’s probably something every club should do if it wants to get better at stuff like winning, or at least not losing. Well, don’t email John Henry your breakdowns. That’s not smart.

Edwards has used his relationship with FSG to strengthen his hand at the club, becoming a trusted source of information to a group of people who are obsessed with statistical analysis.

Obsessed. It’s all they do. Even when they have sex with their wives they think of baseball, which is where this stats stuff really works.

Neil Ashton's a nice guy, decent reporter. But this is just stupid.

Neil Ashton’s a nice guy, decent reporter. But this is just stupid.

There is a relationship with Bill James, the American stats guru who is employed by the Red Sox to provide Henry and Gordon with data for their baseball team.

Since FSG took over the Red Sox, they have won the World Series three times. That after almost 90 years of winning it zero times. That’s not all James and Henry. The guy currently at the Cubs probably had something to do with at least two of those. But the point here is what? Someone at Liverpool has a relationship with someone at the Red Sox who is really good at his job?

Edwards can tap away at a laptop and within seconds tell you how many assists the 24-year-old Turkish left back Eren Albayrak has made for Rizespor this season (four).

Man, the world was such a better place when we had to wait 2 weeks for that shit to arrive via carrier pigeon from Rize.

Edwards and his team of analysts have invented a new language for football. Strikers are all about goal expectancy, chances created and the percentage of successful passes in the final third. Old-school managers just want to know if the boy can put the ball in the net. Defensive midfielders are judged on interceptions and the number of challenges won in the centre of the pitch.

A new language? Sounds to me like all of those terms are in completely intelligible English. Unless you translated them for us, in which case good show, old chap. Putting the ball in the back of the net is a stat by the way. It’s called a goal. And Old-school managers probably also want to know if the ‘boy’ is likely to keep doing it, or do it again and how often and the like. That’s what some of those other ‘invented’ things are trying to get at.

The increasing influence of analysts, young men who have no experience of scouting or recruiting players, has meant the end of the road for good football men such as Mel Johnson. He was the scout who recommended Liverpool sign talented young winger Jordon Ibe from Wycombe but was sacked, shamefully, in November 2014. Former academy director Frank McParland has also left.

Won’t someone think of the Proper Football Men™?

Instead a new breed sits in air-conditioned offices, cutting up videos from matches all over the world and burying their heads in the stats.

This is really a fascinating question: What’s the correct temperature at which to properly work? Eskimos aren’t really noted for, say, their architecture, but being fucking cold all the time did lead them to come up with 1246 different words for ‘snow’. On the other hand the Qataris are going to be building outdoor-artificially cooled stadia that can be un-assembled and re-assembled in the developing world. They are engineering and design marvels but because of the heat, lots of slave labor will die.

Basically, being colder will allow LFC to invent more new words. While being too hot would mean they are likely to kill slaves. So what’s the problem with air conditioning again?

Edwards, along with his vast team of analysts, constantly monitors the opposition, providing detail about playing positions, style, routines, set-pieces and other important matchday information.

Why do you hate information, Neil? What did information ever do to you?

They profile players based on their last 10-20 appearances, gathering information and helping Rodgers build a presentation for his players before matches that was usually a maximum of 10 pages on each team. It is a useful, but far from infallible, tool.

Okay, this is actually pretty much dead on. Information is a useful but far from infallible tool. Just like scouting or the eye of a Proper Football Man™ or a hunch or whatever. Nobody who is any good at any part of talent identification and development or at tactical analysis and game planning or any part of what goes in to trying to build a club that wins games thinks what they do is the only useful tool, nor do they think it’s infallible.

Oh, except Raymond Domenech’s star charts. That shit was working perfectly until Zidane told the planets to go fuck themselves so he could headbutt Materazzi.

Anyway, I think the biggest problem with these debates is that the True Believers on one side are almost as annoying as the Ignorance Promulgators on the other. Almost.

John W. Henry loves data.

John W. Henry loves data.

Edwards, who is in his late thirties, began his career as part of the video analysis team at Portsmouth before leaving to work with Harry Redknapp again when he became Tottenham manager.

There, Edwards struck up a relationship with Ian Graham at Decision Technology, a data firm collecting statistics on players from all over the world.

Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy paid Decision Technology a fortune each season for their services, trusting their analysis and using Edwards, in his newly created role as head of performance analysis, to make sense of it all.

Edwards was head-hunted by Damien Comolli when the Frenchman became director of football at Liverpool, turning down an increased salary of £250,000 a year at White Hart Lane to join the Anfield revolution. Levy was distraught.

I might be sympathetic to Ashton here if the argument he is making is something like: “Of course Liverpool were bound for a spot outside the Top 4. They poached all of this ‘talent’ from Tottenham.”

Since then he has emerged as a senior figure at Liverpool, empowered by FSG to make the call on big transfer targets after gaining their trust since his arrival in 2011.

His relationship with Rodgers deteriorated shortly after the former Liverpool manager signed a contract worth £6m a year just a week after Liverpool finished within two points of claiming the Barclays Premier League title.

They clashed over transfer strategy, although Rodgers went on record to insist that he always had the final say over the recruitment of players earmarked for the first-team squad.

In the end, Edwards had his number.

Sorry, I became kind of bored with all of this. I mean this is like the 1×10^13th iteration of ‘math is ruining sports’ articles. I’m sure I could get a deconstruction from some Liverpool fan on who was responsible for which players and how well they worked out and whatever. When Rodgers had Luis Suarez, he was a great manager. After Suarez left he was way less good. Bad even. I’m not sure if that has anything to do with stats, but given the choice between more or less information, I’ll take the former every time.

If you want less, you are free to ignore analytics. You probably don’t work in a football team’s front office. So whether or not they are stats heavy shouldn’t really get in the way of your watching a game in ignorance of things like wCC+.

Unless of course your team is losing all the time because they’re the last hold outs of the Proper Football Men™.

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Precious Roy