Have you ever seen the reality show Undercover Boss? It’s terrible, so if you haven’t, please don’t search it out. Anyway, the premise is charmingly simple. A company CEO goes undercover to work at the lowest rungs of the company. They’re usually planted next to a minimum wage worker with a Protestant work ethic, a heart of gold, and an incredible sob story. At the end of the show, the CEO does a grand reveal and usually gives the worker a college fund for their kids, a paid vacation, or some vague pathway to “promotion” (they never, ever give them a raise or hire them as an exec on the spot).
The recipient almost always breaks down in a heap of tears. Extreme gratitude, right? Tears of overwhelming joy. You would cry too.
The tears are clearly supposed to make the viewer feel great about America and the magnanimous CEOs that run its companies. Except they should be the first clue that something is seriously wrong. Behind that joy, there’s also an element of extreme shock involved from this unexpected stroke of ‘luck.’ That’s because the help offered by the company CEO is an outlier. The person with minimal education in a line of work with little upward mobility has suddenly found their circumstances momentarily altered against the expected norm, which is pretty bad and doesn’t involve paid vacations or money to pay for Billy’s operation.
Celtic’s win over Barcelona was also a gorgeous, wonderful outlier. So unexpected was their victory at Celtic Park that Rod Stewart, a lifelong Celtic supporter, was moved to tears.
It’s even better because in the Champions League, with its smaller number of group games compared to European domestic leagues, outliers matter a lot. Often they’re not, in effect, outliers at all, which is why the European Cup is so compelling. All those skilled teams, and still the hope of a heart-warming upset. And just look at those statistics:
Interestingly, these statistics were used in a comment on a pro-analytics piece yesterday to argue, you know, stats schmats. And yes—if the individual statistics from that game (particularly TSR and STOR) were applied to Barca and Celtic across a whole domestic season, Barcelona would do very well and Celtic would do very poorly. Except Celtic won (and did so using a very good tactical set-up), so, football, bloody hell, right?
Yet this is also something we can learn from; I addressed this very question in a post earlier this week with regard to Hoffenheim’s victory over Schalke on the weekend, also a statistical outlier. As Chris Andersen of Soccer by the Numbers wrote of the relatively random distribution of goals in relation to the more evenly distributed shots and shots on target:
The stuff we care about the most – goals – is the least “normal” of all the events above. But as importantly, think about what the picture above tells us: there is enormous slippage from one stage of the goal production process [shots, shots on target, goals] to the next. Understanding why and how this slippage occurs should be important questions for any budding analyst.
It shouldn’t be the reason to “dismiss” statistics, and in doing so thinking you’re preserving all the romance. The romance of Celtic’s win comes precisely from its relative rarity. It was a classic upset. But it’s worth wondering if Celtic would rather hope for these games once in a while, or think about how they might build a team that could compete with Barcelona over much larger sample size, much like Jock Stein’s team that won the European Cup in 1967. Rod Stewart might cry a lot less watching a competitive Celtic that is expected to finish in the quarters or semis at least each year, but he would arguably be a lot happier.
A case of mistaken identity. The Ottawa Citizen posted a photo of a male to accompany an article on Gillian Baggott (female), who was named Canadian university soccer player of the year. For the real Baggott go to the Ottawa Sun article.
Yaya Toure says the referee cost Manchester City the game against Ajax.
“Chelsea has this special thing that no-one can buy.” -Fernando Torres on his team and luck.
Rooney praises his fellow teammates as United defeat Braga in Champions League.
Wilshere and Osman called up for England in friendly against Sweden.
Barcelona not worried about the loss, still have a comfortable lead in the group.
There were secret plans to fire Juergen Klinsmann if Germany performed poorly at the 2006 World Cup.
Bayern Munich manager pleased with his side’s 6-1 thrashing of Lille in Champions League.
LA Galaxy advance to the Western finals thanks to Robbie Keane’s two goals.
Houston Dynamo defeat Sporting KC to move on to the Eastern Conference finals.
Bit and Bobs
Thanks to Alima Hotakie for compiling today’s links.