Monday, 25 November 2019

Do statistics lie? A P.S. on the Everton manager

A P.S to yesterday's post on the Everton manager. I see in yesterday's newspaper that Mrs Benitez wants Rafa to come back and manage in the Premier League, so there's hope. And I doubt he would be a candidate for Arsenal or Manchester United when there's a vacancy. He's missed out on Spurs, so why not Everton? There is the small matter that Rafa is managing in China at the moment and is clearly finding the Wanda Project at Dalian stimulating. He has advised on their £230 million training facility (!) which was only started last summer but will be completed by December (!!) Oh, and he's earning £12.5 million nett.

The Sunday Times say Everton and Leicester made approaches to Benitez while he was at Newcastle but he stayed loyal to the Magpies. But if Mrs B wants him home then at some stage perhaps we could see him in charge at Goodison.

I may be being unfair to Dyche but I see him as a young Allardyce.

As for Moyes, I worry that he may not be up to date with Premier League tactics. But that is also probably unfair, as he has always been a fanatical student of the game.

So my considered suggestion is that Everton should line up Benitez for next summer and, if the situation requires a change, bring in Moyes till the end of the season. They would probably have to keep the first bit confidential for Moyes to accept of course and they may have to offer at least an 18 month contract.

Sunday, 24 November 2019

Do statistics lie?

I spotted a stat in yesterday's paper that surprised me. It said "If Everton beat Norwich" (I know, they lost but bear with me) "Marco Silva will have the highest win percentage of any Everton manager since the club last won the title in 1987". But for that clueless, spineless, passionless shambles, Silva would have had an Everton career to date win percentage of 43.1%. What does that compare with?

Howard Kendall had a win rate of 54.1% in his first spell which lasted from 1981to 1987. This was only the second time that an Everton manager in charge for more than one game achieved a figure over 50%. The other was Dick Molyneux in 1889-1901. Kendall is therefore head and shoulders above even the other great Everton manager of my lifetime, Harry Catterick, whose win rate between 1961 and 1973 was 46.5%, though Everton and Catterick were on the slide for some time at the end of that period and he would have had to step aside much sooner in the modern game. Otherwise, Silva's performance is at least par for the course when Everton are going ok:

Roberto Martinez, 2013-16; 42.9%
Colin Harvey, 1987-1990, 42.4%
David Moyes, 2002-2013, 42.1%
Ronald Koeman, 2016-17, 41.4%
Joe Royle, 1994-97, 39.0%
Howard Kendall, 1990-1993, 38.9%
Sam Allardyce, 2017-18, 38.5%

When things are really bad the figure is much worse:
Walter Smith 1998-2002, 32.4%
Howard Kendall , 1997-98, 26.2%
Mike Walker, 1994, 17.1%

And yet, I was still shocked to see Silva so high on that list. Ah, but Everton's current trajectory is worrying, isn't it? It's disappointing after the investment that has been made in the team, but the Premier League form table over the last 6 games has Everton in mid-table at 11th, with 2 wins and a draw from the last 6 games.

As always the mid-table is very congested: one more win and Everton would have been ahead of Manchester United in the top half. I know, being ahead of Man U doesn't say much at the moment, but surely it would be hasty to go with the Goodison crowd: many Everton fans joined in with the visitors when they sang  "you're getting sacked in the morning.."

There are two ways of looking at this. One is that Silva's performance is entirely typical for a decent manager at Everton, chopping and changing never does any good, better to give him more time. The other is that the players currently look flat and disorganised, bereft of any ideas or sparkle and generally lacking in any passion or fight.

From my perspective I've always been a Silva sceptic. I saw nothing in his record at Hull or Watford to make me believe he was a top manager in prospect. I know football has changed and modern managers have to be empathetic coaches rather than hair dryer disciplinarians. But Silva's personality seems feeble and, unless the players can understand what he's getting at better than I do watching his interviews, no wonder they seem to be lacking in direction.

The questions I expect Everton's board will be debating are who should replace Silva and when to make the change. Everton's upcoming fixture list is terrifying: Leicester away, Liverpool away, Chelsea home and Man United away. After that there is a home Haribo Cup quarter final against Leicester and then Arsenal at home. The last of these would traditionally be viewed as a hard fixture but this is probably the least scary Arsenal team in 3 decades. However, by then, Arsenal might well have changed their manager.

There is a case for not subjecting a new manager to that fixture list, risking condemning him to a poor start. And if Everton were to scrape a draw in the derby and win their quarter final, things might start to feel better for a while.

But also there is also a case for getting your man when you can. That is if they have a man lined up. Who are the candidates?

The outstanding available candidate is Max Allegri who Juve decided to ditch after he'd won them four consecutive Italian league and cup doubles without cracking the Champions League. He is apparently learning English but would probably wait for Manchester United to come up, if Arsenal don't bag him now. Mauricio Pocchettino might also sound fanciful but it doesn't look like he's going to Real Madrid or Man United anytime soon. If you think back to 2014 when he went to Spurs, Everton had just finished 5th - ahead of Spurs, as they tended to be then. It would be another Spurs type project (including a new stadium project!) but maybe that's is all Poch can hope for. For most of the time at Spurs he did well and he would be a good bet if Everton could get him.

More prosaically there is Sean Dyche, whose Burnley team nearly always look organised and committed. But I've come to the view that, while David Moyes was as pragmatic as necessary, his heart was in trying to play football - how could you say otherwise when his team evolved to a midfield containing Mikel Arteta, Steven Pienaar and Leon Osman? I'm not sure Dyche is like that and I've gone cold on the idea of him at Everton.

Eddie Howe may never get the chance of a top job, unless he waits for England after Gareth Southgate. He might view Everton as a route forward for his career. His teams are organised and do play with passion. Everton took a risk with David Moyes in 2002 and it worked well. Howe is far more experienced than Moyes was and shouldn't represent as big a risk. But is he, as Bill Kenwright saw in Moyes, a winner? Howe is a maybe. I'm sceptical but not as sceptical as I was about Silva.

The other obvious thing to do is bring back Moyes. That feels like a backwards step to me now, only to be done if there is no other attractive option. The bookies fancy Mark Hughes - not me. And of course there is a top, Champions League winning manager who lives a short car journey from Goodison: Rafa Benitez, who I've said before I would love to see at Goodison. Surely the Liverpool connection is long enough ago now?

If Rafa would come I'd take him every time, even though Everton did manage to finish ahead of his Liverpool team in 2005. If not, Poch, then Howe would be my choices. And then Moyes if none of them can be landed.

The statistics say that it doesn't matter too much who the Everton manager is, unless they are useless the win percentage will be about 40. But damn the statistics, they have no heart and I can't stand much more of this clueless football from my team!

Monday, 11 November 2019

VAR is flaky but Pep should look at himself

For defeated football managers it was generally blame the ref. To that we can now add blame the other ref, i.e. VAR. To be fair, VAR is a long way from working smoothly. Why anyone would think that decisions would become totally clear and uncontroversial - or indeed quick - because you can see a replay I can't imagine. After all, pundits have often disagreed after looking at interminable replays. And it has always been the case that, where one person sees a foul, another sees a defender "being strong", for example.

Rugby's TMO system has got a better handle on this, with the referee asking "is there any reason why I can't allow the try?" It seems this question lends itself to a clearer and quicker interpretation of what football is calling "clear and obvious". Or maybe it's just that football hasn't got it's mind round the issues yet. Maybe they should give it a maximum of one minute then stick by the on field decision because, by definition, it can't be clear and obvious by then can it? But still there will always be the judgement call about whether there was "enough" contact or what actually constitutes an "unnatural body shape". So, unlike Pep Guardiola, I can see why two people will look at the same replay and reach a different conclusion.

What I'm finding difficult about VAR is the spurious precision of the offside line. It seems daft to say that someone was offside by the size of their big toe, as happened when a Sheffield United goal was disallowed at the weekend. I realise that your toe is part of a bit of your body that you can score a goal with, so it "counts" when they draw the line. But by any sensible definition that's "level". Level was once offside, but it was changed years ago to give a bit of benefit to the attacker. Now they can draw that infernal line on a screen, "level" seems to have no meaning, you're either offside or onside. If the football authorities want to keep the advantage with the attacker of being level not behind the defender then maybe the guidance should be that the attacker needs to be "clearly" beyond the defender to be offside. After all, that's the way the game was pretty much played before VAR. But wait - how many millimetres is "clearly"?

However, my real problem with the way it's being done at the moment is that the technology can't currently be precise about when the ball has been kicked, so the accuracy with which the line is being drawn is completely spurious. Indeed, since the ball compresses when kicked should it be when foot strikes ball, or when ball leaves foot? Logic would say the latter. This may seem pedantic but remember we are talking about millimetres with people running at speeds which can be close to ten metres a second.

I always found it harder running the line than refereeing in junior football. That is because you have to look at two things at the same time: watch for when the ball is kicked while also looking at the position of the attacker, who is often sprinting forward, relative to the defenders, who might be moving in the other direction. Given the player playing the ball forward can be 50 yards away from the position of the receiver, to use an American Football term, this is physically impossible. You have to glance at the defensive line and quickly look back to the ball and make the best judgement you can. If the action is close enough, you can watch the line and listen for the sound of boot on ball. (No, I didn't try to factor in the difference between the speed of sound and light.....)  It always impresses me how good the top assistant referees are at doing these things. And it's why the best assistant refs aren't necessarily good refs; they are different skill sets to some extent. Assistant refs don't need to be people managers, for example.

Maybe it's just that the rugby TMO has it easy: checking for forward passes can be fraught but the distances and relative movement aren't as large.

What causes me to muse about VAR was Pep Guardiola's childish behaviour during and after Manchester City's resounding defeat at Liverpool yesterday. (Incidentally, I thought both managers should have been sent to the stands). Yes there was VAR controversy - when isn't there? Many pundits thought City should have been awarded a penalty just before Liverpool opened the scoring. Many others didn't. Former Premier League ref Mark Clattenburg thought the decision was right, but not for the reason given. I agreed with him that, as the ball had ricocheted against Trent Alexander-Arnold's red sleeved arm from the hand at the end of Bernardo Silva's blue sleeve, it would have been perverse to award the penalty.  Neither "handball" looked deliberate to me but, even if Alexander-Arnold was making himself "bigger" with his arm position (for me he wasn't) why should City benefit when the ball had hit their player's hand first? That would go against any idea of natural justice.

More materially, as Martin Samuel pointed out, it wasn't VAR's fault that, 22 seconds later, Liverpool scored a cracking goal. The fact that City couldn't contain Liverpool's counter attacks for most of the game had more to do with it. As did Gundogan's weak clearance to the scorer, Fabinho. And also the fact that City's number 2 goalkeeper, Claudio Bravo, isn't an adequate standby for Ederson. A fact which is proved by the remarkable stat that Bravo has conceded 22 goals out of the last 41 shots he has faced.

Being a good goalkeeper in a great side isn't easy as there are long periods with little to do. Pulling off a world class save after standing around for an hour is much harder than making a great save when your team is under the cosh and you've been making a series of saves. Coming in as a rarely used number 2 goalkeeper isn't easy either. But Bravo obviously isn't up to it. He's an insurance policy that's not worth the premium.

I felt Liverpool's win was much more comprehensive than the scoreline suggests. City's strongest players didn't perform on the day. I was bemused by my newspaper giving Kevin de Bruyne 8 out of 10 for his performance. He saw plenty of the ball but didn't use it particularly well. De Bruyne has hit some killer passes and crosses this season but looked ordinary yesterday; the killer balls came from Robertson and Henderson. Sergio Aguero had chances to break his Anfield scoring duck but bizarrely seemed to pull his foot away from the most dangerous cross towards him.

All of City's players can look outstanding on their day, but I'm not convinced by some of them. Ikay Gundogan can do some nice things in a good team playing well but, for me, he fails the Lee Sharpe test. Sharpe looked a good player for Manchester United and won several England caps but when Alex Ferguson tired of his attitude and moved him on he never looked the same player. This may be unfair - Sharpe did have an injury at Leeds which might have been material. But I doubt I'm being unfair to Gudogan, who is one of those "big lightweight" players, like Everton's Morgan Schneiderlin: a big guy who plays with all the physical presence of a midget. Gundogan is 5 ft 11 in in old money but plays like he is several inches shorter. Yesterday both Claudio Bravo and Kyle Walker came in for criticism for not defending Henderson's cross for Mane to score Liverpool's third. But it was a cross that was every bit as good as a de Bruyne classic. And the problem started with Henderson, who had been suffering from flu in the week and didn't see out the match, bursting past Gundogan on the touchline as if he just wasn't there. To take the Lee Sharpe analogy further, I don't think Gundogan would justify a place in the midfield of any top half Premier League team. Not only would I not swap him for any of Liverpool's midfield squad, I wouldn't swap him for any of Everton's (apart, maybe from Schneiderlin - tough call that) including Fabian Delph who City sold to Everton on the summer. Delph would have done a better job for City at Anfield than Gundogan.

As for their coach, I laughed when he took off his leading goalscorer at 3-0 down, making a like for like change in bringing on the talented but lightweight Gabriel Jesus. That's not what most people would do in that situation, Pep! But City's team selection was curious anyway. Guardiola trusted Angelino at left back and the £10M summer re-signing spent most of the game looking like a startled rabbit. Meanwhile Guardiola had over £100M worth of full backs kicking their heels. Cancelo was on the bench and Mendy, who always looks eccentric at best when he does play, didn't even make the squad. Guardiola preferred to keep midfielder Fernandinho in the back four, leaving centre-back Otamendi on the bench. Fernandinho tried to clear Robertson's cross for Salah's headed goal with his foot when a natural back four player would surely have attempted to head it and probably succeeded, or at least blocked Salah's vision, which is often all a centre back needs to do (spoken from experience). In his place in centre midfield Rodri looked as ineffective as he has all season.

Guardiola can only look at himself for these shortcomings. He has spent a fortune - more than £200 million - on full backs while not getting anyone as good as the ones he inherited (Zabaleta and  Kolarov). He has also spent hugely on centre backs with patchy results. Admittedly, the injured Laporte was a success. John Stones should have been but has gone backwards under the mentoring of his famous manager. In contrast, Raheem Sterling has come on hugely over the last two seasons, so maybe it's just that Guardiola and his style of play don't work as well for defenders. Other doubtful but expensive signings like Otamendi and Mangala preceeded Pep's time at City, so this is a recruitment problem for the club that predates him. Nevertheless, it was puzzling that Vincent Kompany, who retired in the summer, wasn't replaced, meaning City went into the season with three experienced centre backs, four being the normal complement.

It seems strange to criticise someone with such a stellar record as Guardiola, especially in view of his back to back Premier League titles. But before that, let's face it, he had no-one to beat in Germany and only one and a half teams in Spain (Real and Atletico Madrid). One wonders, if Pep had gone to Manchester United or Chelsea in 2016, where would they be now and where would Man City be? United would have been a difficult rebuilding job for anyone.

In contrast, Liverpool's recruitment has been far more targeted and successful. When pretty boy man-mountain Virgil Van Dijk signed for Liverpool rather than City nearly two years ago he said he wanted to play for Klopp, and was impressed by the passion of the Liverpool fans.  I was a little surprised as City seemed the better bet to me at the time. Klopp was sure he had the right man and I can now see why van Dijk made his choice.

I'd much rather play for Klopp than Guardiola and I'm an Everton fan.......

Thursday, 7 November 2019

The analogue enemy strikes

Roy Harper recorded his tour de force album Man and Myth in 2013. I'm still dumbfounded that a man who, despite my admiration for him, made many patchy albums could make one of his best and most consistently high quality albums in his eighth decade. His song The Enemy recalls the bad guys we traditionally feared, the muggers, pickpockets and highwaymen:

We are soldiers from a different world, both her and I
We fight the shadow doppelganger
Of the shady passer-by
The lads go out drinking
While the girls try to keep an eye
But no one's on duty this side of the sky

The song is saying that, while we are genetically programmed to be suspicious of strangers lurking in the shadows, these days it's the hackers and scammers who are more likely to rip you off.

Not always though. After more than 40 years of travelling, while the antivirus and firewall software was guarding the other half of the sky, Mrs H had her purse taken from her handbag by a doppelganger from the shadows while we were on holiday in Tenerife. Yes we'd been drinking - a nice bottle of Albarino with dinner and we weren't on high alert in a smart resort. Sure, the damage is limited: not much more than a hundred euros, two cards that we blocked within half an hour* without them being used and, most hurtful, a purse that had sentimental as well as material value. Scammers can do harm on a far larger scale.

We didn't see this traditional enemy while we stood at the side of a busy promenade waiting to book a restaurant table for the following evening. But a concerned Belgian tourist saw something suspicious and suggested Mrs H check her bag. And he then legged off in pursuit of a small group of youths with me a few strides behind. At least we made them run for a bit.

We've been in many so much dodgier places over the years. In our street market drill I stand behind the shoulder she has her bag on, which is a decoy anyway as there's nothing much in it. I scan nearby faces rather than looking at the goods on display and scowl suspiciously at anyone who comes too close. Basically looking like a psychopathic bodyguard, which would generally make most villains choose a softer, or at least less  crazy, target.

Which is what they did this time. What upset her most was the fact that, recovering from a broken ankle, she was using a walking stick. So they picked on someone who looked old(ish) and vulnerable.

Mrs H takes an Old Testament view of this kind of crime and the appropriate sanction. No tough on the causes of crime for her! She would gladly go round and trash the villain's mother's (or preferably granny's) dwelling in retaliation in order to make them all see the errors of their ways. Any liberal leftie who tries to suggest this might not be quite the best way to handle such things had best keep their counsel in  her presence or they will probably get quite an earful.

For me the intrusion of an old analogue type of foe is unwelcome - and reminds me I can't react or run as fast as I used to. But Harper is right - the main enemy is on the other side of the sky. While it's our own responsibility to  be careful, the more I read about the scams people have fallen victim to the more I find myself incredulous at the pathetic processes and systems banks and other companies seem to have in place. In particular, I seethe about banks that won't co-operate with victims who aren't their customer, protecting criminals who have been allowed to open accounts with flaky ID to funnel away proceeds of crime with impunity. I'm sure there are all sorts of angles on this - after all folk might quite like to retract transactions they regret. But surely banks could cooperate to track fraudulent transfers. And phone companies who allow scammers to make it look like a bank or other instutution is in the line, just do something will you!

The banks deservedly got a bad press over the financial crisis. You wouldn't think their reputation could go lower. But it has. If they are giving these issues any thought at all they are making a very good job of concealing it. They're like one of Roy's shadow doppelgangers, effectively collaborating with crooks on the other side of the sky.

* at least we thought we had. I keep a list of up to date emergency phone numbers separately from cards and cash - calling the number on the back of the card is ok if you have the card. But I don't write down the card numbers and if you don't have the card.... The bank that used to like to give you a little eXtra managed to get in a total tangle and cancel the wrong card as we realised when we got home and a replacement had arrived for a card that wasn't stolen. Which meant the stolen card hadn't been blocked. When we phoned again they didn't seem to understand why we were agitated, given that I had already checked there were no transactions on the card. "Because you're obviously not as good as the other bank we had to call". Aaaaarghhh!