The Lead

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.

Steven Gerrard doesn’t rule out the possibility of playing under Jose Mourinho in the future.


Sampdoria promises to stave off relegation this season.

La Liga

Barcelona not worried about the loss, still have a comfortable lead in the group.

Arteta still hopeful he’ll get the call and represent Spain one day.


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

Celtic manager and players react to triumph over Barcelona.

Catch all of Wednesday’s Champions League highlights here.

Newspaper headlines from Britain and Spain capture Celtic’s historic win yesterday.

Thanks to Alima Hotakie for compiling today’s links.

Comments (10)

  1. How much Undercover Boss do you watch?!


    • you can tell from the thrashing he gave it that it was any watching of this show was research on the social impact of such dis-reality drivel. I’ve seen clips of the show and it always seemed so incredibly contrived. Great description Richard,

      • fuck I need grammar check even more than spell check…..sorry for the hack job in the first sentence. Rewrote without proper review. anywho, on to other topics.

  2. Your mention of the “Protstant work ethic” was pretty clever, considering the whole context

  3. What the statistics don’t show is grit and determination, and that’s where Celtic overcame Barcelona. Anyone watching the match would tell you that.

  4. Well if Celtic had the amount of money barcalona has, we could be more of competing club .. but you know what ? We don’t , we play in a very poor league. We don’t get big tv deals, especially with rangers out the premier league now. Teams in the EPL that Finnish at the bottom of the table have more money than Celtic. It’s a big deal in Scotland because they are realist’s. They know they don’t have a lot of money but batter on and fight till the end. They are an amazing club, one that people fear at Celtic park, the fans themselves are an extra player. Barcalona crumbled under the shaking stadium. One of celtics biggest games. Mind you they have bet barcalona before but the previous team wasn’t nearly as good as the current barcalona squad. Great night in football ! Underdogs beat the giants

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