1) The game of football
a. Why do people play?
What drives people to play any game at all? The play instinct is quasi innate. At some point rules are added. Then comes the idea of comparing oneself in competition. Often one remains loyal to a sport as an active player.
b. Individual or team sport
Team sports are even introduced to individual sports by playing individual matches that are added up to a team result. One does one’s sport in a club, where meeting like-minded people is often a source of motivation and enjoyment. Nevertheless, team sports, where one depends directly on the performance of the team members, have a special appeal.
c. Exercise or mental sports
It is usually the case that movement sports are also or especially suitable for spectators. If the complexity increases, the appeal decreases.
d. Football is number 1. Plain and simple
Football owes its status as the number one sport to the simplicity of the game. A ball, a field and two people are all it takes. The ball as a piece of equipment is fascinating.
e. Football in the past – today
The problem of a lack of goals existed to a much lesser extent in the past. For a long time, sportsmanship took precedence over success. Today, pure professionalism is in demand, which has displaced fair play as a thought. It is all about success.
f. The role of the media, the Olympic idea?
The media have the chance to put the spotlight on what they like. So if it is shown that the achievement of a victory is not questioned and that only winners are portrayed in the headlines, while the losers are picked on, then the behaviour of fans and those who run the sport will be controlled by this. The alternative would be: very much ask how it happened, very much appreciate the loser or even elevate him above the winner. That would result in a more pleasant atmosphere everywhere, the sport would have won. And the spectators would definitely honour it.
g. What makes a game exciting?
i. As a performer
For an active person, the focus is on completely different questions than for the spectator. Especially since there are sports that are (almost) only suitable for practising because they are inaccessible to spectators. Football is different.
ii. As a spectator
The spectator’s perspective is that they want moments of tension. The perceived tension is related to the uncertainty of the outcome over as long a period as possible, plus a possible change in the favourite, which can happen very suddenly. In football terms: a goal shortly before the end that determines the winner. Of course, one must urgently distinguish between the neutral spectators and the fans of a team.
iii. The individual scene
In the first place, of course, there is the goal, directly behind it the goal scene. Otherwise it can be a free kick or corner kick, a bad foul, a fisticuff, a red card, a riot.
iv. A whole game
The game is exciting when the outcome remains open for a long time but is subject to some fluctuations. So it is best when there is more than one goal, but the goals are well distributed between the two sides.
v. An entire tournament
Determining the winner in an entire competition can be made exciting (or less so) especially by the mode of play. Of course, a large tournament such as a World Cup or European Championship, which have a fairly short duration, derives its excitement from the fact that discussions can take place on a daily basis, but changes also occur almost daily. In a national championship, the goal remains the same, but over a longer period of time: it is better not to know too early who will win the tournament. Of course, other incentives have been created for this in the individual leagues: Euro League, Champions League place, promotion or relegation.
h. What else makes it worth watching?
In football terms: It can also be fight, passion, emotion, but it can also be a single great scene, a successful save, a hacking trick or a successful dribbling, a double pass, a ball reception. This refers specifically to scenes that do not lead directly to a goal. Even hooligans have their motivation outside the pitch. For spectators, however, it can also be the social event that attracts them. This is where people come together and celebrate – or mourn.
i. The fans versus the neutral spectators
The assertion stands: The neutral spectator is being pushed more and more into the background by the drop in moments of tension. A game that is 0-0 for a long time (as is very often the case nowadays) has long since ceased to “live” from the tension over the uncertainty of the outcome when there are simply no situations in which a goal is in the offing. The fan endures, the neutral no longer watches. But there lies the greatest potential to be captured: the neutral spectator. He could be in the majority at every game, provided he is supplied with suspense, but also justice and fair play.
2) The football rules and their application
a. The responsibility towards the spectator
The responsibility, especially of the rule-makers, in football has never been directly oriented towards the needs of the spectators. The theory is that football seems so gigantically big that one has the feeling that it will always continue to exist anyway and cannot break down. If one increases the elements of tension – here, of course, goals are mentioned first and foremost – one would be guaranteed to fulfil this responsibility, provided that one emphasises the neutral spectator who is in the majority as a consequence.
b. Derivation of the intended goal: How do you increase the tension?
The tension is increased if either more goals would be scored directly, but of course also if one would have the feeling in any scene that a goal could be scored, even if neither goal nor goal situation occurs. Then you look away, no, you don’t even manage to look away. The claim stands, however, that the frequency of moments of tension is so low that it’s not actually worth it (again, meant for neutral spectators; the fan is supposedly “suffering”) to watch any action because you basically already know it’s not going to be a goal. Provided you realise that a 35-minute average wait for a goal is too high to make you feel any serious tension, at least as far as the match situation you are watching is concerned.
c. Psychological causes of behaviour
i. The player
Players know quite well what behaviour will bring them success. They basically only base their behaviour on this success, as this is dictated by the media. Here, too, a simple change in thinking would be advisable, which would make room for the idea of fairness again. The players would then also know that they have to behave accordingly.
ii. The referee
The referees have only one wish: to get a good mark. You get a good grade if you don’t cause offence with your decisions. This is achieved by getting the most critical decisions – those that lead to a goal – right. If a goal is wrongly awarded, there is a lot of hype. If you wrongly disallow one, nothing happens to you. The result: more likely to be disallowed. Because they are almost always the critical ones, goal situations are often prevented in the initial stages. So: A corner sails into the penalty area. The referee blows the whistle. Sure, everyone says, a scramble. The fact that it is always caused by several players, balanced by both parties, and could often just as easily be penalised as a penalty, is only one aspect of it. But the referee blows the whistle — and is off the hook.
d. The tendency of decisions: Against the attackers
The consequence of the psychology of the referee’s decisions is that they are not only against the attackers in the scene mentioned. Almost every duel in which attackers and defenders alike pull, tug, tug, arm out, is interpreted in favour of the defence. In fact, the referee never has anything to fear because the offence can even be proven, so the whistle always sounds rightly. The fact that it could also be blown for the attacker – and would basically be justified just as well – is not perceived, not even suggested in a discussion.
e. Evidence techniques
As far as offside decisions are concerned, the simple counting technique is sufficient: take any Bundesliga match day and add up the situations in which, after the offside whistle, you come to the conclusion that it was not offside after all, and contrast this with the situations in which play continues but the analysis proves that it was offside. If the rule, which was written down for the 1994 World Cup in the USA, that the attacker is given the benefit of the doubt, were to be applied, the ratio of the two figures would have to be in favour of the attacker. However, let it be assured, it would be far to their disadvantage.
In foul-or-not-foul situations, one would have to go to the trouble of using technical aids to touch away the lines, the teammates and the spectators so that only the scene would remain. Then referees would have to be asked to reassess these situations: Foul or no foul? There, too, the result would show: The decisions would reveal against the actual decision from the game that the tendency is clear: Against the attackers.
f. Rethinking is enough
As long as one recognises this basic tendency, it becomes readily apparent that nothing more is required than this rethinking. After all, FIFA’s efforts to contribute to more attractiveness through a few superficial rule changes are recognisable, and there the direct connection between the number of goals and excitement is clear. It should be mentioned, for example, that the back-pass rule was introduced to speed up the game, and that acting, blood strokes or jersey tugging are to be punished immediately with yellow (or in some cases red) cards so that these unsportsmanlike acts are avoided as far as possible. The three-point rule has been introduced worldwide, in all leagues and classes. The aim of all these measures: To encourage offensive spirit, to give the active forces, the better footballers, more freedom to play out their creativity.
However, the “rule” of giving the striker the right of way in case of doubt has never been considered. The “rule” was: Give the attacker the benefit of the doubt. We have a responsibility to the neutral spectators.
g. Individual rules and their interpretation
The offside is the best example to illustrate the problems: At the World Cup in the USA, several proposals for rule changes were discussed. The aim of all these proposals, with the driving force being the organisers, was to increase the attractiveness of the game through more countable, i.e. goal-scoring, successes. The FIFA officials only agreed to very minor changes, out of a conservative thinking of “before the changes, we know what we have. What would be after changes are introduced, we don’t know.”
However, the central passage that the officials may even have allowed themselves to be foisted upon them was this: when in doubt about critical offside decisions, the flag should be kept down, the situation should continue. Exactly there was even verbally anchored what the Yank wished for: You do get more goals, provided you are generous with offside whistles? Everything happens so fast, you’re not sure. The spectator is thrilled when a player appears alone in front of the goal — except for the few fans of the team concerned. Let’s allow him the pleasure: he wants the goal action. The linesman is legitimised to sometimes turn a blind eye, sometimes both. He is not threatened with any injustice if he misses the mark.
Practice shows that just here the opposite has occurred in behaviour. A wrongly given goal due to offside is denounced, a wrongly stopped action is ignored. As I said, the special suitability of the offside rule lies in the fact that it was anchored in the rules – only not implemented afterwards. Today, the flag is practically always up in all critical situations. Afterwards, it can be discussed. The one who suffers: The neutral fan, who (soon) will no longer exist.
- through foul play
A foul situation in the penalty area is only punished with a penalty kick in special cases. One feels, so to speak, that a simple foul, which did not even arise from a goal-scoring opportunity, would be punished with a penalty kick and thus a fairly certain goal, would be too harsh a punishment. Accordingly, one thinks: “Well, it wasn’t a penalty”. Evidence here too: Where does the term “foul not worthy of a penalty” come from? One pronounces recognition of a foul, but at the same time declares that the penalty would be too harsh.
The English, by the way, have long recognised this. In such scenes they say: “Anywhere else on the pitch it’s a foul, in the area it’s not.” Anywhere else on the pitch it would be a foul, in the area it’s not. However, they have not yet identified the true (psychological) causes in the discussions either. You don’t want to give a penalty. It would be too much. That is the reason. Not the so often quoted “he didn’t see that” or “if he had seen it, he would have…” Fiddlesticks. He saw, he doesn’t want to.
- by handball
The fact is that defenders were given pretty generous leeway talking about “deliberate handball” and “active movement towards the ball”. Well, once you know that as a defender, you can move around the penalty area like a handball goalkeeper. If you then get the ball against your hand or arm, in this particular situation and at this point it was mostly not deliberate or intended. But it is still a logical consequence of the wide movement, which causes contact. Just like a handball goalkeeper who, if “shot down” somewhere, certainly could not speak of an intentional movement towards the ball. His art consisted in being wide (and unafraid).
iii. Display of injury time
There has been no advantage to the display of injury time. Since it has, something happens much less often in injury time. The leader immediately pulls out his carefully saved substitution option, the substitutes slink off the pitch, the battered seconds are never tacked on. A possession with a counterattack by the leader often ends in absolutely unpleasant scenes at the corner flag, which are supposed to yield nothing but seconds of play.
As soon as this is noticed, the rule urgently needs to be improved. One idea: As soon as the substitution option is taken, not only is the time taken to play the ball added, but it is simply doubled. If you want to get one minute out of the game, you will be penalised with two. Players would learn very quickly….
iv. Wall spacing
The wall gap is very rarely scored. As soon as it is scored, the wall tapping starts towards the shooter. Apart from that: a direct free kick very rarely results in a goal. Who said that 10 yards distance should be the only possible distance? Why not twelve?
v. Fair Play
Fair play is a pure farce. It is the media that dictates it. The fair play of playing the ball out if a player (of the opponent) is lying injured on the ground has long been used, by conversely simply lying on the ground when the ball is lost, even without any signs of injury. Fair play? An empty phrase.
vi. Goalkeeper protection
Goalkeeper protection may have its purpose. But the fact is that goalkeepers exploit it to the full. If an attacker is in the five-man box, he is jumped on in order to get the ball. If that succeeds, the striker is guaranteed to be found guilty. Basically, there is no point in a striker being in the five-metre area any more. To score a goal? Virtually impossible. Apart from that, often enough an obstruction of one’s own player is used for a theatrical fall and “rewarded” by the referee — for lack of clarity – with a free kick. Moreover, goalkeeper protection is no longer limited to the five-yard box. If he is outside and drops a ball, he has a brilliant chance of getting a whistle in his favour.
vii. The three-point rule
Statistically, the introduction has not been a success. The goal average has remained the same, the number of draws almost unchanged. The increased risk may be mathematically worthwhile if all men are chased forward when the score is even. No one would do it, because if they conceded a goal, this overzealousness would not only be ridiculed by the public and put down by the press, but would even cost the coach his job – even if he were to explain it.
h. Ideas for improvement
Firm as the conviction is that rethinking would bring about a rapid improvement in all these scenes that are often so annoying for the neutral spectator, there are nevertheless a number of rule change proposals that are considered sensible and could complementarily ensure more justice. Key points here: Wall distance, alternative penalty to the penalty (short corner?), display of injury time (as mentioned above).
a. Comparison foreign countries – Germany
Through years of observing a sufficient number of foreign sports reports, it can be stated with certainty: Abroad, the reports are much more interesting in terms of tone and commitment, the build-up of tension and objectivity, and would be worth listening to even if one did not know the language. There is also the question of whether, even if the speaker has already seen everything and, above all, has already seen everything better and could even foresee everything, whether it would then be sensible to put this on the viewer’s nose. Thought experiment: If a narrator knew the end result and yet had to speak the report in retrospect, the legitimate question would be whether to trumpet the knowledge or to do justice to the responsibility towards the viewer to keep him riveted to the events.
b. The simple task for reporters
The knowledge: In all probability, an attack will not result in a goal. So it is advisable to explain already during an attack that one should play faster, play more on the outside or look for the 1 against 1, if nothing works on the left or the crosses are all imprecise or do not promise success with the long centre-backs. Should the attack then expect to score again – a very rare occurrence – there are still plenty of chances to blame it all on the disastrous defensive behaviour, because, as just explained, it could never have come to anything. The analysis afterwards confirms this: A goal like that should never, ever be allowed to happen. The conclusion, which the spectator can no longer draw because he has long since switched off, is: if only we could finally get a grip on all these unbelievable, catastrophic mistakes, then we would soon have reached our goal: there would be no more goals.
c. Capturing tension or being clever?
There must be a reason for every journalist’s choice of profession: One would like to be able to present the story. Wow, I’ve got the story and you, dear viewer become a contemporary witness. The fascination, the enthusiasm is practically never felt. Unless, of course, Germany becomes world champion… As a rule, we wait for a situation to fail before declaring that under no circumstances can it be anything like that. But if the score is 1:0, it is guaranteed to be declared shortly afterwards that it was absolutely deserved. Emotion? No such thing. Passion? Nix there. Sober, mostly wrong, analyses, that’s all. The entertainment value of “Queen Mum visits Berlin” is certainly greater.
4) The predictability of football
a. Basic considerations
i. What does calculating actually mean?
Calculation is based on determining the probabilities for the possible match outcomes. As little as this sounds like “calculation”, the alternative of trying to predict a winner would be ineffective. It all plays out in probabilities. There are 11 players per team, one ball, one referee. That looks like equal conditions, therefore equal chances. But it is not, because the abilities of the individual teams are different. So as soon as you make predictions in the sense of probabilities, you say that this team is 60% favourite against that team, but in another pairing the favourite might only get 55%, which in that sense does not bring any special enlightenment, since you cannot be absolutely sure in either case who will win and in the individual case it still looks like pure chance. In the following it will be shown that there is indeed a difference between 55% and 60%, but that this difference only becomes apparent in the long run.
ii. Mathematical derivation: 100% awarded.
As soon as one wants to predict any event, in the sense given above, one must always take into account the entire range of possible outcomes and make sure that the sum of all individual probabilities adds up to 100%. In the case of a football match, it is first of all the chance of team 1 winning, the chance of team 2 drawing and the chance of team 2 winning. If one were to predict an entire Bundesliga season, with 18 participating teams there would be 18 possible outcomes as to who would become German champion. It is therefore advisable to give a chance of more than 0% for each team and to make sure that the totals of all 18 assessments add up to 100%.
iii. The motivation and determination of the individual parameters
There are a few clearly definable parameters that can be shown to be relevant to the outcome of a match. In the approach used, the teams first have an offensive and a defensive strength, which can be expressed in average expected goals conceded or scored per match. The conversion of these parameters into a concrete forecast of expected goals for team 1 and for team 2 is simple and is also explained using the average values for an entire league. In addition, there are the parameters home advantage and a very special but necessary one called the draw factor.
Interestingly, the latter shows how much the match behaviour of the two teams depends on the score. The insight is that when the score is even, there is less offensive action, which often enough affects both teams.
iv. Translating this into computer logic; the principle of simulation
- single game
In order to obtain results by means of program logic, one must of course somehow convert these results of the expected goals per game for the two teams into probability statements. These result as soon as the principle of simulation is applied in the first step. For example, a single match is played out 5,000 times with the same expectations. The goals are distributed over the 90 minutes in the sense of goal chances that result in a goal at a certain percentage. In this respect, all possible outcomes can occur over the 5,000 runs, but with different probabilities. The sum of all victories achieved by team 1 divided by the number of simulations then results in the relative frequency – and thus an estimate of the chances of victory for this team that is as realistic as possible. The same applies to the draw and the victory of team 2.
In a further step, the simulation was replaced by a function that is equal in results but more reliable.
To simulate an entire tournament, it is first necessary to teach the computer the correct rules. In the large tournaments, this can become a small task, as different criteria regularly apply to determine the order of the table in the event of a tie. Of course, the rules must also be taken into account for the subsequent pairings for the eighth, quarter and semi-finals. Otherwise, game after game is simulated until the tournament is over. If the procedure is repeated, the values counted then give the probabilities, for example, for the tournament victory, the runner-up, for advancing in the group phase or whatever else is interesting (and is counted).
v. Adjusting the parameters to actual results
Determining the playing strengths is the one problem you have if you want to make predictions that are as realistic as possible. Certainly, it is possible to compile rankings on the basis of available, previous results, due to the restriction of the parameters to the essential values that count – the goals. However, before each season, there are a number of variables that change, for example, changes of coach or players, which require a readjustment. This process remains intuitive, as it is impossible to require the computer to change the variables based on future, expected results (note here: It would be possible, provided one had reliable estimates of the playing strengths of all individual players; however, just such a thing is unrealistic, since if one had many parameters to maintain, it would be difficult to realistically make the necessary adjustments).
However, the playing strengths also change in this way, through results achieved. A team that achieves three victories in a row will – even if the outcome is described as lucky in the subsequent analysis – be better than before due to the increased self-confidence. This adjustment must also be made as realistically as possible. There is a convincing mathematical method for this, which will be explained here.
vi. The “fair odds”: what is an “advantage bet”?
The basic principle in betting is the relationship between probability of occurrence and payout ratio. The higher the probability, the smaller the odds; the lower the probability, the higher the odds. It is a reciprocal relationship, which, mathematically speaking, corresponds to an inverse.
If you have a reliable probability estimate – and this was convincingly worked out in the previous chapters – you have the so-called fair quota through the reciprocal of this value. If the market rate is above this fair rate, one has an advantage. Provided one continues to do so, one would – as the mathematics promises – gradually accumulate a winning sum.
Practice shows that this approach works.
vii. The System: The System Bet
A curiosity: The surest way to realise these advantages in the long run is to combine bets in systems. The problem here is that most bettors are not able to correctly calculate the winning amount in a system bet. System betting and its calculation of winnings is explained here in simple terms and made understandable.
viii. Verifiability of the Quality of the Numbers/Predictions
In any case, this method is a bit more demanding and requires some thinking. A prediction is, after all, as explained above, only an estimate of probability. Precisely this term – it seems true (!?) — allows for both occurrence and non-occurrence, so that the meaning of the prediction seems to be dissolved. It comes or it does not come. This or that is coming. One imagines that one was that clever before. Here it is proven in a mathematical way that one can indeed read something from the level of probability and even test the quality of the prediction. This works both if you look at two different predictors of the same events and if you only compare the individual predictions with yourself.
ix. The perfect betting game
Here we present a betting game which, although mathematically absolutely flawless and correct in its own way, will probably never seriously find its way into practical betting games, as it is also based only on probability statements. One idea, however, would be to organise it in a big way on the internet. Maybe then the understanding for it will gradually develop, and from that the joy of playing? In the long run, this would really show who makes good predictions! The winner would certainly not be a product of chance.
5) Historic: The German Team at the Major Tournaments since ’66
The path of the German team in all the major tournaments that the author himself has followed is scrutinised. The basis is essentially memory, which makes this of limited historical value, but the entertainment value is nevertheless high. One is likely to engage with one’s own memory and make a comparison. Of course, one aspect is also emphasised: luck. Are there causes for it? Was it luck at all? Can it be transported? In that sense, there is also a philosophical approach in it.