Archive for the ‘Newcastle’ Category

Newcastle v Sunderland-Premier League

Goddamn it. I try so hard not to write about numbers ‘n crap outside of Tuesday, and then I read some thing that makes me get out of my chair and walk around a bit. James Grayson did it today. So, sorry for those who’d rather read about whatever else it is I cover these days. Football finance? Sure.

Before I dive in, just a primer: Grayson’s approach incorporates a lot of the work done in hockey circles. Both hockey and soccer correlate well on a lot of shot/goal dynamics, seeing as they’re both “team invasion sports.” One of hockey’s long-time stats is PDO, which is a pretentious and meaningless term to describe shot percentage plus save percentage times a thousand (see? I’m not even going to write out the formula because I respect you so much).

What does PDO tell us? Well we know from regression analysis that team shot and save percentage are largely a function of random variation, what the world generally calls luck. If a team has a really low PDO or a really high PDO, chances are the numbers will adjust accordingly. Teams with mediocre underlying numbers with a high PDO are generally going to get crappier, and teams with good underlying numbers but a low PDO are generally going to get better.

Things get a bit weird on the high end of the scale, and there’s just a little bit of controversy as to why that is: a post for another day (or likely one I’ve already written).

But PDO is fun because here we have a simple, easy-to-calculate metric that can be used to make a reasonable prediction about a team’s future success. No cumbersome Manchester City data dump required! And Newcastle’s PDO has been interesting for two seasons running now. Grayson tells us why:

As director of football is Kinnear going to be directly responsible for an improvement in Newcastle’s save percentage (reanked 20th out of 20 in ’12/13) or their shooting percentage (ranked 17th out of 20 in ’12-13)? Almost certainly not. However it’s highly, highly, likely that they will regress in Newcastle’s favour, and Newcastle are almost guaranteed to get better results the moment Kinnear walks in the door. Correlation doesn’t mean causation, but Kinnear is going to get a good portion of the credit here, and were I a numbers-savvy member of the MSM who had confidence that this arrangement won’t blow up mid-season I’d be swimming against the tide and saying what a good appointment this is, then making sure to link back to that piece throughout the season.

I love the delicious cynicism here of a potential pundit singing Kinnear’s praises fully-well knowing Newcastle will likely improve as a matter of simple regression and not because Joe’s got a keen eye for great footballers that the Toon can afford. Because what matters “is being right,” not pointing to an objective set of facts that really have nothing to do with Kinnear at all. Because anyone could do that, really. Even you, the unwashed football fan who likely knows as much about this sport as anyone paid to write about it (likely, but not certainly).

Anyway, there is I think a major lesson here for all of us stuck watching this sport until kingdom come. In football, not everything good that happens to a team in football is necessarily the cause of some deliberate good decisions on the part of a single manager or football director. Sometimes it’s just a lucky streak coming to an inevitable end. The flipside of this is is that not everything bad that happens to a football club is the fault of a single manager or football director either. We have here with PDO a means to try and figure out the difference a bit.

As ever nothing is definitive. PDO is one clue among many, but not “the thing in-itself.” One still needs to watch Newcastle, to see what Pardew is doing or how the French midfield is performing, etc. etc. But there’s little excuse for just ignoring these clues altogether and just concocting a story that connects the dots.

Oh, and PS: Kinnear is going to help improve Newcastle for 13/14 with his astute signings and iron-clad leadership. You heard it here first. I know because I’m an expert.

Brighton & Hove Albion v Crystal Palace - npower Championship Play Off Semi Final: Second Leg

When is it practically impossible to bungle a managerial press conference?

When you’re Bayern Munich, and you’re unveiling Pep Guardiola at a time when the club has won a historic treble which included the league and European Cup. That’s when the press will lob you obvious questions and you can lob back charming patter. The future is a blank slate. The world is Pep’s oyster.

Elsewhere, the picture is not so rosy. The Joe Kinnear debacle rages on, with the director of football possibly planning to attend a fan-friendly forum: Newcastle’s answer to the Airing of Grievances. He claims his beef is with the media and not the fans; historical revision aside, it’s not always certain the two can be so easily divided in the era of Twitter. Nor is it certain that Geordies can be so easily placated this time around with a bit of sycophancy mixed with Kinnear’s rags-to-riches tale which supposedly only Tyneside’s halt and lame will understand as a reason to claim achievements that were not his own.

If hirings can be such a delicate matter, what then of firings? It’s certainly possible that Gus Poyet lied on air when he claimed on the BBC while on Confed Cup punditry duty he wasn’t informed earlier in the day of Brighton and Hove Albion’s decision to sack him for an on-going breach-of-contract dispute. Yet even so, his club might have better foreseen the fallout that came with releasing the statement while the manager in question was live on air, ready to give his immediate response. The inevitable sacking (Poyet has been involved in a drawn out dispute with the board over a number of matters) suddenly provides a headline story where one need not have existed.

It’s all an important reminder that there is often no actual brain in parts of football’s brain trust. As if you needed another one.

Newcastle United v Arsenal - Premier League

The Lead

Newcastle United earned £93 million in revenue the 2011/12 Premier League season, the 7th highest in the league. The year before they’d spent a not inconsiderable £27 million on transfer fees, which, as you know, are amortized and so still on the books. Wages totalled £64 million as well. With the club posting a £1 million profit last season, the margins are quite tight. Mike Ashley has already loaned himself £129 million, and the club continues to seek ways to expand its commercial revenues under managing director Derek Llambas.

Once could easily see a need here for a director of football, but only if the person filling that role had a considerable track record of responsible spending, intelligent and cost-effective allocation of resources, and a good sense of areas of the player market that have yet to be fully explored as a source of Premier League-ready talent.

I don’t know for certain Joe Kinnear isn’t that man. But I’m pretty damn sure he’s not. In any case, his train wreck interview with talkSPORT yesterday revealed a man who may not have a grasp on things that actually happened in real life. From the Guardian:

On Monday evening Kinnear gave a shambolic interview to Talksport in which the former Wimbledon manager claimed responsibility for signing Tim Krul [a goalkeeper recruited by Graeme Souness] as well as James Perch [bought by Chris Hughton], said Derek Llambezee [Llambias] had resigned as director of football [a position he has never held] and talked about Shola Amenobee, Yohan Kebab and Hatem Ben Afre rather than Shola Ameobi, Yohan Cabaye and Hatem Ben Arfa.

It’s certainly possible that Joe Kinnear’s David Brent-like public deportment may not reflect on his abilities as a future director of football. But if a company were interviewing for a position that involved the oversight of spending tens of millions of pounds on acquisitions vital to the future well-being of the business, and that person claimed the accomplishments of other persons as their own in a public forum mere hours after hiring them, one would hope that company would see the error of their ways and restart the process, whilst at the same apologizing for failing to do due diligence on such a crucial hire.

But this is Newcastle. When I first read Louise Taylor’s thesis on how Kinnear got hired–Mike Ashley didn’t like how Alan Pardew ‘shared the blame’ for Newcastle’s struggles last season with the owner, and so hired a director of football as revenge–it struck me as journalistic speculomasturbation in the extreme. Now I’m not so sure. The Premier League, despite any claims that gobs of money somehow equal sophistication, slouches toward television to be born and reborn over and over again, in spite of itself.
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Sunderland v Newcastle United - Premier League

We were warned.

Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanksi’s book Soccernomics gave us some candid insight into football’s quirks and idiosyncrasies (mostly) off the pitch, including its notorious conservatism. One of the more memorable passages noted how several elite clubs still didn’t pay attention to small but vital details, like helping overseas players settle in quickly in their new locations as a means to facilitate their transition to a new team.

Many of us believe that in sports as in business, money naturally seeks out efficiency. After all, despite the enormous influence in luck in determining the success of one company over another in a particular market, success is also driven in large part from smart planning, good product development, and an intense focus on cost control.

So when we hear that the Premier League is the wealthiest football league in the world, we assume this is in part because its member clubs have been adept at exploiting all avenues of commercial revenue, retail and gate sales, and acquiring low-cost, high impact players. Clearly to be so rich, they must have been doing something right.

Except that football is not a conventional business. For one, the clubs aren’t selling a product; they’re playing football in a league. To that end, the Barclays Premier League proper has done some incredible work in negotiating on behalf of its member clubs its astronomical rights deal. Whatever you think of Richard Scudamore, the league has arguably been very good at exploiting its international popularity to the fullest extent possible.

So good in fact that of the 18 Premier League clubs that posted a breakdown of revenue by category for the 2011/12 season, 14 earned the bulk of their revenue from TV and broadcasting rights. Of those clubs, 12 earned more money in TV rights fees than all other revenue sources combined. I hope they all give Scudamore a nice bottle of single malt at Christmas.

To reiterate, this is money the clubs received from an agreed upon base/merit pay breakdown for a broadcast deal they didn’t play much of an active role in negotiating. The clubs did not market anything, employ any talent, develop any innovative business strategies to earn this revenue. It was simply handed to them by virtue of being in the top flight.

If you believe (as I do) that football is not a business in the conventional sense, there’s nothing really wrong with this. Clubs, after all, have historically existed to win football matches, not negotiate lucrative overseas commercial partnerships to maximize alternative revenue streams. Once upon a time, it was the job of the chairman who oversaw the club to ensure that it spend money wisely on good players and find a good manager who didn’t expect the boss to sign blank cheques on players. That most clubs “earned” the TV rights deal by staying in the PL should be good enough.

The problem is today the cost of maintaining a competitive Premier League first team skyrocketing. In fact, it’s nearing or has reached a competitive ceiling. Spending-to-win isn’t good enough for the vast majority of teams who aren’t bankrolled by infinitely deep-pocketed investors; in fact, it’s barely good enough for the tiny collection of teams “lucky” enough to be in that category.

Despite this, how these enormous TV rights revenues are spent is still in large part overseen by football coaches or football directors who know little more than how to get a player, an agent and a club representative in a room together at the same time. Newcastle’s bizarre decision to appoint Joe Kinnear as “director of football” is evidence that English football clubs may not be getting much smarter in how they address the crucial question of how to build a winning football club.

This is Kinnear’s role, in his own words (from the Guardian):

Asked who would have the final say on transfers, Kinnear said: “It’ll be me. What I’m saying is, between me, Alan [Pardew] and Graham [Carr, the chief scout], we’ll sit down and iron it out. If those two decide a player we’re looking at is not good enough, my ears will be wide open. It’s not a case of ‘like it or lump it’. If a close decision is to be made, though, and we’re running out of time and it’s something we have to do, whether that’s adding meat or beef to the team, or pace in wide areas, or someone who can guarantee us 20 goals a season, I will buy those players. I will take that chance once I’ve clarified that with Alan, that this is for the good of Newcastle.

“I’ll assess the transfer kitty with Mike next week once I’ve sat down with Alan first, find out what is wanted, who can be shifted out of the club – maybe we can get money back if we shift four or five of them – and then look at the targets.”

“…adding meat or beef to the team, or pace in wide areas, or someone who can guarantee us 20 goals a season.” No doubt the person to decide which players fit these depressing cliches will be Kinnear in consultation with Graham Carr (no word if Newcastle’s performance analyst Ben Stevens will play a role). This is an enormous amount of trust in one person for such a crucial undertaking. And Kinnear didn’t say anything about reevaluating the team’s overall approach to player development and recruitment, or first-to-market buying strategies that marked the club’s “French revolution” under Pardew.

None of this will come as a surprise to seasoned football supporters. But it does challenge the implied assumption made by opponents of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play’s break-even requirements for example that clubs have already explored all avenues in building a winning side beyond simply dumping more money than god into the transfer market.

It’s true that clubs like West Brom and Swansea will likely never be able to come close to securing the enormous commercial revenues of teams like Manchester United and Chelsea (although it’s not at all clear some of these clubs are doing enough to grow revenue in these areas). But I’m yet to be convinced that English or continental clubs have fully explored all options in ways to build a winning side beyond breaking the bank in costly transfers for so-called “proven” talent that proves to be anything but.


Newcastle is almost certainly where good players go to flourish. Hey, that’s the consensus on Michael Owen (which, sarcasm aside, wasn’t that bad actually—30 goals in 79 appearances in all comps anyone?).

Seriously, the days of the Toon springing for Alan Shearer and Les Ferdinand and Tino Asprilla are slightly behind us now. As in, what, 1996?

Anyway, the ever-reliable news publication Sports Direct (clothing stores have news divisions now?) has done a bit of self-reporting:

SportsDirect News has learned the Magpies have already sounded out Rooney’s agent over a potential move, with United keen to offload the 27-year-old.

A source close to the negotiations told us: “Newcastle see Wayne as their ideal player.

“He’s a strong centre-forward, would relate to the fans and would be a massive boost to the club’s brand name.

“Low-level conversations have already been held between Newcastle and Rooney’s agent, though the two clubs haven’t spoken directly yet.”

Which could of course mean anything from “Wayne’s quite eager, actually” to “Sorry, how did you get this number?”

But it’s one of those moves that’s far better for Newcastle than for Wayne Rooney. A Newcastle with Rooney will finish…maybe in 11th place next season? That’s a guess of course. I guess theoretically with that en francais midfield behind him, which rocked the Premier League as they pole-vaulted Mike Ashley’s stripey-stripes to 13th place and six points over the relegation zone, the world is Rooney’s oyster.

And besides, when Bayern says no, what other option is there, really?

It’s the Kentucky Fried Chicken Derby! From the usual people, @amhrichardson and @iamthemonkey.

szólj hozzá: Newcastle vs Southampton 2:1 Cisse
What a goal. The magpies consolidated a good week, one that saw them advance to the final 16 in the Europa league, with a 4-2 win against Southampton at St.James Park. Papiss Demba Cisse’s goal in the 42nd minute reminded us of the guy that stole the show last winter. Get in. Apologies for my poor attempt at alliteration.