The other School of Science...

Jim Potter 24/06/2017 16comments  |  Jump to last

Whilst mindlessly perusing the internet for all things Everton, I came across a WalesOnline piece concerning how science is being applied to football transfers. (I am merely the messenger – so please do not shoot me for what follows, or if you attempt to, do it in the fashion of Tony Hibbert.)

It concerned The International Centre for Sports Studies (CIES – Centre International d'Étude du Sport if you’re a fancy Dan), based in Switzerland and backed by FIFA. (Okay, they’re already losing face...)

Paraphrasing their website, it states that since 2013 the CIES Football Observatory has developed a powerful approach to estimate on a scientific basis the transfer value of professional footballers. It says it has produced an algorithm that has been based from analysis of close to 2,000 previous transfers over the past seven years, with such factors as player and club performances, international status, experience, book value, contract terms, age and position helping to provide an accurate and realistic value.


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The module presents the performance level of all players from the big five leagues in Europe (Serie A, the Bundesliga, Ligue 1, La Liga and the Premier League) in six areas of the game over the last 1,000 minutes played using data provided by OptaPro. It also includes statistics on players’ careers.

The recourse to statistical analysis techniques has allowed CIES to construct six Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) covering all of the essential actions that outfield players must accomplish in order to enable their team to win. The KPIs developed are composite indicators that are perfectly comparable both spatially (between leagues or clubs) and temporally (between seasons). They combine systematically the number of actions carried out (productivity) and their outcome (efficiency). (Phew – are you still with them?)

The six areas they break down are:-

From a defensive point of view, rigour highlights players who are most able to hamper the ability of the opposing team to become dangerous thanks to a strong presence in duels, both in the air and on the ground. This is an area that notably foregrounds the most skilled footballers in marking. The latter ability relies on qualities such as physical strength and timing.

Also part of defending, recovery measures the ability of players to minimise the opportunities of their adversaries through proficient interception work. This area showcases footballers who are best at anticipating the offensive intentions of their opponents. Qualities such as a sense of position and tactical intelligence are of crucial importance here.

The third area, distribution, highlights players who are best able to pass the ball. This skill is very important insofar as it allows teams to keep a grip on the game. With rare exceptions, dominating clubs have more possession than lesser performing teams. From the point of view of individual qualities associated with this area, technique and vision are of primary importance.

When it comes to attacking, take on measures the ability of players to create dangerous situations by successfully challenging adversaries. Without a numerical advantage, it becomes difficult for each team to create opportunities. Take on also increases the chances to score from set play by obtaining free kicks and corners. Aside from technique, a player needs to take risks and be explosive in order to excel at take on.

Chance creation defines the ability to put teammates in a favourable position to shoot. This area highlights players who are most skilled at making the final pass. These footballers combine aforementioned qualities such as technique and vision, while being also particularly gifted at the levels of decision-making and swiftness of execution.

Finally, the domain of shooting measures the capacity of footballers to target successfully their opponent’s goal. In a sport such as football, where the number of goals is very low, having players that are able to take advantage of opportunities is a luxury that few teams can afford. Apart from the above-mentioned skills, shooting relies heavily on accuracy and self-composure.

The wealth of a club and its need to purchase certain types of player (and the selling club's knowledge of this need) also affect (as do many other things) the price clubs are willing to pay in any given transfer.

So, I put our squad in to their system and these are what the Profs think of our Pros (all prices in millions of Euros and in no particular order):-

Williams – 12
Baines – 4.8
Coleman – 6.7 (perhaps taking the leg break into account?)
Bolasie - 13
Deulofeu – 18
Jagielka – 3.2
Gueye – 14.9
Funes Mori – 16.9 (yeah, I know!)
Schneiderlin – 15.2
McCarthy – 11
Besic – 5.2
Davies – 24
Lookman – 13.1
Calvert-Lewin – 7.5
Holgate – 9.2
Barkley – 30.7
Barry – 1.9
Pickford – not valued for some reason. (Perhaps as a comeback for stealing one of the Profs glasses / cardigan / open-toed sandals or packed lunches? Or maybe dissing a bum fluff beard?)
Mirallas – 8.8
Klaassen – not valued as he came from outside the ‘big’ leagues.
Tarashaj – 4.6
Lukaku – 105.4 (so we’re not completely delusional) And last and probably least:-
Niasse – 3.6 (I can’t recall if the million sign was placed here or not...)

I put in a few of our supposed targets just to see:-

Sigurdsson – 21.9
Sandro – 13.8
Keane – 23
Gray – 12.1
Brozovic – 24.8
Dembele – The Scottish League (– the Profs thought this to be a temperance movement and duly signed themselves up).

Even if all the above seems ridiculous – it is at least fairly interesting to see what boffins think player X is currently worth. (The ‘X’ in this case could possibly be a forgery of Jordan Henderson's signature).

If you are interested in seeing their valuations of any players – or other parts of their site – try this link to the Football Observatory.

As I’m sure you know, it’s probably all a pile of shite. Which reminds me of the old joke:–

"What did the constipated mathematician do? – He worked it out with a paper and pencil!"


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Reader Comments (16)

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Michael Kenrick
1 Posted 24/06/2017 at 17:05:24
That was pretty interesting, Jim. I kinda like it – although it is based unashamedly on player stats, and we know how they are routinely trashed by some on here.

I think the valuations are pretty fair. Of the ones you comment on:

Coleman: He had not been been playing well under Koeman's system before the tragic leg-break... and there must be an age factor in here too (compare valuations for Baines, Jagielka, Barry)

Funes Mori: Despite the populist dissing of this player by some on here, he has qualities that probably appeal more to a continental system; perhaps that's what's showing through here?

And all of the Targets valuations seem low to me. Sandro only marginally above Lookman? Maybe the bias toward bigger clubs and against smaller ones is showing through there?

More explanation provided in Monthly Report #16:

2016 Transfer values and probabilities:
the CIES Football Observatory approach

This includes loads of tabulated values from last year. For example, Barkley was €39.7M; now down to €30.7M after last season, Lukaku has jumped from €58.1M to that rather surprising €105.4M.

Chris Williams
2 Posted 24/06/2017 at 17:30:57
Yes Michael, there seems to be an age factor at work. It might be interesting to see the previous year's figures as a comparison.

Stats like this are useful in the buying process, I suppose, as they show a comparison arrived at in a dispassionate and consistent manner.

But only as a starting point perhaps. You need to factor how urgently a buying club needs a player, or how much competition there might be for a specific player, or how much the market is affected by market forces like increase in cash available to spend in the market, inflation, exchange rates, what point in the window etc.

But at the end of the day, I guess clubs will pay what a player is worth to them and what the market dictates. And it highlights the value of Walsh et al who presumably use other analytical tools to arrive at targets who maybe don't play in the so-called big leagues.

I suppose it's another tool for the toolbox.

Brent Stephens
3 Posted 24/06/2017 at 17:41:24
"Niasse – 3.6 (I can’t recall if the million sign was placed here or not...)".

Very good!

Brian Wilkinson
4 Posted 24/06/2017 at 22:50:48
If you look at Barkley's pass completion, that will always be misleading due to the amount of 3 foot passes he plays, then gets the ball back, then passed again to and thro, sometimes he does this around 4 times in the space of a few seconds, which then makes his pass accuracy much better than it is.

I do not know if it is just me, but it frustrates the hell out of me how he passes it like a hot potato, or am I being a moaning old fart whinging about a annoying passage of play.

So with the age factor, home grown, and passing stats, it's clear to see how Barkley's valuation was worked out.

Iain Love
5 Posted 24/06/2017 at 23:07:14
With rare exceptions, dominating clubs have more possession than lesser performing teams. Leicester and to a certain extent Chelsea spring to mind .

My other point would be the difference between the Premier League and the rest in terms of finance is sure to effect a players value.

Barry Jones
6 Posted 25/06/2017 at 01:15:56
Which just goes to prove that stats are not everything, and are often misleading.
Andy McNabb
7 Posted 25/06/2017 at 04:07:32
I agree with Michael – I sort of like this but don't like some of the results.

Seriously, how can Lukaku be rated so highly over the last 1,000 minutes of the season just gone? Not convinced he exactly put himself in the shop window during that time.

William Cartwright
8 Posted 25/06/2017 at 05:28:50
Good review of a system which has produced some interesting, and reasonably logical comparative prices for the squad. However, there are so many other factors which affect the form, and thus the real value of the player, which limits the actual usefulness of the system; not least being the chemistry of the player, the team structure and club environment. These imprecise data are what makes the game as good as it is.
Ajay Gopal
9 Posted 25/06/2017 at 06:36:10
Another very interesting article along the same lines:

One interesting anecdote in this article mentions that last year when Newcastle United were relegated, they valued Wijnaldum and Sissoko at £15 million each, but when Real Madrid came calling and offered £25 million, Newcastle realised that the market was willing to pay much more, and eventually got double their own valuations for each of these 2 players.

Similarly, the price that Everton paid for Pickford suddenly made Stoke realise that Butland could be much more valuable than what they were being offered.

Fascinating stuff, but surely the bubble is going to burst some day. And then, who will be left holding the can?

Stan Schofield
10 Posted 25/06/2017 at 13:41:19
Algorithms are merely models, and algorithms of real life leave out unknowns that make the predictions highly questionable, and usually fairly useless. Doesn't stop people constructing them, or others using them. Rather than 'school of science', it's more 'school of pseudo-science'.
Dermot Byrne
11 Posted 25/06/2017 at 13:55:49
Let's face it, there is nothing interesting to say today. Sod all. Challenge anyone – in relation to EFC – and it not be repeating something. Just like a Sunday when young and nowt ever happened on that day.

(Not meant in relation to this thread.)

Alan J Thompson
12 Posted 25/06/2017 at 15:39:40
One of the other things about statistics is that they don't distinguish almost exceptional defence-splitting passes cut out by excellent interceptions, that is, all round very good football.
Dermot Byrne
13 Posted 25/06/2017 at 21:17:03
Warned ya, Alan!
Alasdair Mackay
14 Posted 26/06/2017 at 08:19:30
1,000 minutes isn't long enough.

The history of football is littered with clubs over-paying for players on the strength of 1 good season (Andy Carroll, anyone?)

A player's ability should be measure over at least 5,000 minutes (which equates to about 2 seasons – maybe just under).

Also, the algorithm doesn't take into account marketing. A player like Lukaku's value is increased significantly because of the media hype around him and the subsequent spike in merchandise globally.

Martin Clark
15 Posted 27/06/2017 at 14:55:20
It's interesting, actually could get lost looking up random players though started to feel like it was the data FIFA 17 use. I looked up Kane to see how he compared to Lukaku. Kane was €153.6M with Lukaku €105.4M I feel this is round what I'd expect.

Also, it would be quite amazing if Everton secure the list you had.

Sigurdsson – 21.9
Sandro – 13.8
Keane – 23
Gray – 12.1
Brozovic – 24.8
Dembele – ?

I feel these would definitely push us into challenging, particularly Dembele. Would definitely help cover the potential loses of Lukaku and Barkley though would be even more amazing if we kept them!

I hate how Barkley scenario is heading. I feel he's being given crap advice as he comes across as a kid who just wants to play football and is being told he'll miss out on the World Cup if he stays at Everton. The only way he can get on that plane is to play and score more consistently and he'd have a better chance if he just knuckled down!

Give him a year extension and review his position next year!

Sorry for the diversion!

Jeff Armstrong
16 Posted 08/07/2017 at 22:17:27
Brian (#4) – you've answered your own question; you're correct in the Barkley analogy – stats mean nowt... performances and goals are what football is about.

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