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Thursday, 15 November, 2018

Past managerial achievement is no guide to future titles

Football League bosses rarely claim repeat success

Brighton boss Chris Hughton could be celebrating promotion at the end of the season
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Chris Hughton could win the Sky Bet Championship as manager of Brighton seven years after winning it as manager of Newcastle. Chris Wilder could win Sky Bet League One as manager of Sheffield United 12 months after winning Sky Bet League Two as manager of Northampton.

Managers with honours on their CV find it easier to get new jobs. Often these are better jobs with higher pay at bigger clubs. But repeat success is rare. Hughton and Wilder would be unusual.

Perhaps football managers should come with the same disclaimer as financial advisers: past performance is no guide to future performance. There does not seem to be any correspondence between a football manager's past and future achievements.

There are 24 teams in each division of the Sky Bet Football League. If you pick a manager at random at the start of a season, there is a one in 24 chance he will win his division.

If he does win his division, how regularly should you expect him to win a division in subsequent seasons when he is working in the Football League?

If a team's success is attributable at least partly to the manager, the answer would be more often than one in 24. It is not.

I noted every manager who has won a division of the Football League since season 1995-96 - the first with 24 teams in eachdivision - then looked at their career afterwards. They have spent a total of 196 further seasons working in the Football League. On only six other occasions did one finish top of a division.

Three successes came in the Championship with Manchester City, Sunderland and Wolves. Another came in League One with Bristol City. These clubs will usually be among the richest when they play at those levels.

The win ratio was once in every 33 attempts. It was worse than we would have anticipated from managers chosen at random. Even if Hughton and Wilder succeed this season the win ratio will still not be as good as one in 24.

But some managers who won a division of the Football League went on to work in the Premier League, while others won the National League, So perhaps we should draw a more generous conclusion. Other measurements also encourage us to.

The average finishing position in a division of the Football League of a manager who had previously won a division of the Football League was 11.8. For randomly chosen managers it would have been 12.5. And past title-winners were slightly more likely in subsequent seasons to be promoted than relegated.

I reach this conclusion: there is no compelling evidence that a manager who has done well in the past is more likely than any other manager to do well in the future.

Tackling the myth about tackling

Defenders are urged to make tackles and win loose balls. How much do those things influence the score?

I looked at the number of tackles won and goals conceded by teams in Premier League matches during the last four seasons, 2012-13 to 2015-16.

If anything, teams who won more tackles conceded more goals. But the differences were so small I feel it is safer to say there is no evidence that teams who win more tackles concede fewer goals.

A successful tackle regains possession. But there are many ways of getting back the ball. All that matters is that possession is regained.

Paolo Maldini is remembered as one of the best defenders of all time. He averaged one tackle every two games.

Roy Hodgson is a coach renowned for being able to organise a defence well. His teams tended to drop into a formation that was hard to pass through and wait for opponents to give them the ball.

As one out of every five of passes in the Premier League is misplaced, they might not have to wait long.

Teams who prefer to press opponents can panic them into kicking the ball away aimlessly - which brings us to loose balls.

Opta collect a stat they call recovery, which they define as when "a player wins back the ball when it has gone loose or when the ball has been played directly to him."

I found that the higher the proportion of recoveries in a match credited to a team the higher the proportion of goals in that match the team were likely to score.

My suspicion, though, is that many recoveries fall naturally at the feet of attackers who are pinning back a defence. So they are not what most people mean when they talk of loose balls.

When a strong attack pin a strong defence to the edge of a penalty area, watch how often a desperate defender just gets his boot to a pass or cross, only for his undirected clearance to fall at the foot of another attacker.

Size doesn't matter

I keep hearing television pundits say that West Ham cannot cope with a big pitch at the London Stadium. Why?

It did not seem to trouble them on Saturday when they beat Crystal Palace 3-0. Indeed the Hammers have lost just three of their last ten home games in all competitions - against Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal.

Why should West Ham find it harder than their opponents to play on a big pitch? And there is a stronger objection. The London Stadium does not have a big pitch. It is the same size as 14 other pitches in the Premier League.

According to the Premier League, the London Stadium pitch is 105 by 68 metres. Premier League rules say all pitches must be that size unless the Premier League give permission for some other dimensions.

The pitch at Upton Park, where West Ham played before this season, was smaller - four metres shorter and two metres narrower. How much difference could that make?

Many old pros say Barcelona's Camp Nou has a big pitch. Perhaps it seemed big when they were chasing blue and red blurs. The Camp Nou pitch is 105 by 68 metres.

In the Premier League three-quarters of all pitches - 15 out of 20 - are now the same size, and the others differ little.

There is no compelling evidence that a manager who has done well in the past is more likely than any other manager to do well in the future
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