A very interesting report from the Harvard College Sports Analysis Collective’s Dan Brown (h/t to Dan McTickster), and also a great example of good use of the Manchester City/Opta data dump, reveals foreign players earn more fouls per minute than their English colleagues.

The study uses a sample of 9,603 observations from last season, and corrects for outfield positions (defenders didn’t show significant deviation from the mean), as well as different foreign nationalities compared to English players. Brown discovered that, “A player from South America, Italy or Spain on average receives more fouls by 28% of the mean number of fouls received in the sample.” The conclusion:

From the estimates in (4b), a team with 3 SAIS [South American, Italy, Spain] midfielders or strikers playing 90 minutes every game for all 38 games of the season (for example if Manchester City played 3 from Mario Balotelli, Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez and David Silva all game every game) would expect to receive 40 more fouls in that season than a team with no SAIS midfielders or strikers.

The context of the findings are Michael Owen’s remarks that diving in the Premier League has increased with more South American, Italian and Spanish players. Now, as Brown underlines, the study only tells us that SAIS players receive more fouls; there could be alternative explanations for the deviation, including playing style, individual skill, etc.

But we can’t rule out the possibility that these players are also more prone to simulation…anyway, food for thought, and a great example of simple, meaningful use of the data dump.

Comments (7)

  1. Or maybe good English lads just enjoy chopping the legs out from under them a bit more.

    As an aside, I know if I had the chance to lay a cruncher on Suarez, I would happily take a yellow every time.

  2. As an academic one knows that data like the one presented is purely subjective. My interpretation could say those types of players are: fouled more, or could suggest that their English counter parts have increased their fouling with disregard to player safety since I doubt you’d find an English player playing with the same speed as those aforementioned players. Your article lost credibility making blind, biased, and inaccurate estimations on a flawed sample set.

    • “Your article lost credibility making blind, biased, and inaccurate estimations on a flawed sample set.”

      Actually, the only position the article advances is that “we can’t rule out the possibility that these players are also more prone to simulation”. Fairly non-committal interpretation of tha data if you ask me. For such a diligent academic as yourself, I would think that accurately characterizing the position of someone you are arguing against is a minimum requirement for intelligent discourse.

  3. I think they forgot to account for the skill level because lets be fair the foreign players are the best players in the league. They are the ones who dribble at defenders and try to open up space

    • They did account for it as one of several possibilities in explaining why they’re subject to more fouls.

  4. So… at the end of the day, you can use this data to support what ever theory you held at the start of the argument:

    Foreigners are divers and draw more calls
    Foreign players can’t ride a good old fashioned tackle so they spill to the ground, cry and get calls
    Foreigners are more skilful and therefore draw more actual fouls
    Foreigners are flashy me-first gits who hog the ball and are destined for more fouls
    English players are chop happy
    English players are made of “the right stuff” and will ride a tackle that poncy continentals can’t
    There are more foreigners in the positions that receive fouls than those that typically dish them out.
    English players are killing their opponents to line the path to World Cup 2014

    If you study supports any theory, it really supports no theories at all.

    Meh. Computational masturbation.


    • I would say definitive evidence that South American, Italian and Spanish players receive more fouls in similar outfield positions is pretty important information. But computational masturbation sounds pretty cool I guess…

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