Saturday, June 16, 2012

pleese look after this og

So, having repeatedly stressed that his contract with Montpellier runs to 2014, flirted with Bayern Munich, dreamt of the Premier League, it looks like Olivier Giroud is, indeed, about to 'fait un', and that Arsenal is his most likely destination.


Now, my friend Busty assures me that "he will be going to a new home where the children will love him and care for him", but I can't help worrying a bit, so here is a handy owner's guide to assist whichever club ponies up the (rumoured) €12m necessary to acquire Ligue 1's top goalscorer 2011/12.

Plays well with others

Goals may or may not be over-rated, but he scored 21 in the league, equal with Nene but pipping him to the title as only 2 came from penalties, and 4 in the cup.

(On this specific point, he also missed two penalties, which indirectly led to the epic narls-up against Evian in game 35 when he didn't want to take the last-minute spot-kick awarded, leaving Belhanda - who had scored the first - to go slightly off on one when he saw that Souleyman Camara was about to take instead; a fight broke out, Belhanda got sent off and suspended for the rest of the season, Camara missed, MHSC drew. So, no need to change the penalty rota.)

You have probably already seen the round-up of his season (with appropriately plaintive music) but there's more to him than the goals; he also got 11 assists (9 in the league) so do please stay to the end (these start at 3mins 50).  He put the chip in for Belhanda's wonder-strike against OM, made the run and cut-back for Ait-Fana's crucial last-minute winner against Lille on day 37; more recently for France, there were two assists in the friendly against Iceland, a one-two with Ribery and then a cushioned header knock-down for Rami's thunderous winner (something he has specifically worked on for Montpellier), and a backwards toe-poke to set up Menez for the fourth against Estonia.

To note, on that last one - Evra's low cross came in slightly behind him, as he barrelled forwards - a lot of strikers would just have over-run it and then given that rueful 'cheers' gesture in the direction of the left-back; Giroud managed to check his run sufficiently to nudge it back to where Menez was waiting.  This is key - he makes smart decisions.  His one weakness, arguably, is a lack of pace, but he is aware of this and tailors his game accordingly, as with the Ait-Fana goal (5mins in on the video); with the score at 0-0 and Lille desperate to win to stand any chance of winning the league, they had pushed everyone up for a last crack at the Montpellier goal - Giroud spots this, hovers just inside their half, so when the ball comes over, is a couple of yards ahead of the defenders but still onside.

He said afterwards that he knew he 'didn't have the gas' to score himself but that's clearly what Lille were expecting him to try, so they follow him; instead he heads for the goal-line, pulls Chedjou out of position, and cuts the ball back for the much more rapid Ait-Fana who has sprinted the full length of the pitch and has nobody on him.  This honesty was also displayed after his beautiful goal against Nancy (1 min in) - interviewed on the pitch, when asked if he meant it, he started laughing; later, in the dressing room, he described it with a smile as "un centre-lob-tir" (a "cross / lob / shot") and admitted that he hadn't.

So, he may be used to playing as a sole striker, but despite his importance to Montpellier's victory, he is no one-man-band.  Play him upfront with a more mobile support striker off him, say, ooh, RVP (as we are apparently not going to see him and Benzema sharing the pitch in the Euros, boo) and that could be a killer combination - not a case of punting it forward to the big man, but one-twos, chips, cutbacks, and overlapping attackers.


Anyway...also important to note:

Good with kids - he is patron of Solid'art, a charity that provides performances and activities for seriously ill children, and involved with ELA (L'Association Europeene contre les Leucodystophies), and local medical charity Karma, raising awareness about defibrillators.  So he should be a solid performer in any oh-shit-a-player's-been-arrested-quick-look-cuddly trips to children's hospitals that are on the club's community outreach / PR schedule.

Affectionate -

He is French. Just bear that in mind.


Props to him for being the first professional footballer to appear as the cover-boy for Tetu, a gay magazine, saying that he'd be delighted if this helped to change opinions.  You can also see from those photos something else he will bring to the party - ink.

The league-leaders in the Premiership in this respect are probably Liverpool; obviously Walcott is trying his best, but it just looks wrong.  One quasi-ethnic sleeve, check, and one Bible verse (L'Eternel est mon berger - the Lord is my shepherd), check.  Useful for any title challenge.

And he's a clothes-horse, of course.  Perfect man-crush material.  Also likes cigars, good red wine, and cheese.

Likes a long run-out in the park

He played 36 league games this season, all starts, and a total of 3201 minutes, which means he almost always lasts the distance.  One of the games missed was due to suspension - 6 yellow cards, given the noticeably harsher refereeing in Ligue 1 than the Premiership, is not actually that bad.

In conclusion; Chelsea have bagged the best player in Ligue 1 by getting Eden Hazard on board (L'Equipe average ranking 6.06, and L'Equipe are stingy, only EH and much put-open Brest goalkeeper Steeve Elana had 6 or over - Giroud got 5.94).  However, whoever picks Olive up have a reliable, adaptable, quality player at their disposal, and for much less money.

Just please - look after him. La Paillade are going to miss him.


Friday, June 8, 2012

Olympic Preview - the XX XIs

The Euros start today, but in attempt to distract myself from my sad lack of a proper wallchart (cultural differences), am also getting excited about the Olympic football competition, kicking off in July.  I am nothing if not prepared.

The format of the competition is a bit 'all must have prizes' as there are three groups of four, with the top two in each group and best two third-place finishers progressing to the quarter-finals.  Thus, while Team GB have a tough group, they should get through, either in 2nd or 3rd.  The groups (with * predictions for progression):

Group E: Brazil*, Team GB*, Cameroon*, New Zealand
Group F: Japan*, Sweden*, Canada*, South Africa
Group G: USA*, France*, Columbia, North Korea

It's a pity Germany aren't going, but there's some very good teams in there - ten of the twelve were at the 2011 World Cup although four of them got knocked out at the group stage, and Canada didn't get a point, stuck in the toughest group - I might be going out on a bit of a limb predicting them to go through, but they are a solid team who just had a dreadful time at the WWC.  Plus their captain is nails.

Cameroon and South Africa were the exceptions, but both only narrowly lost out on qualification in the 2010 African Women's Cup, which was used as the WWC qualifying tournament, with the two finalists going to Germany; South Africa (hosts) got 6pts from their group losing to Nigeria, the eventual winners, and then Equatorial Guinea in the semi, Cameroon drew with EG in the group and then got slightly pummelled 5-1 by Nigeria in the next round.

Happily there looks to be at least one cracking game in each of the group rounds.  My picks would be:

  • Day 1, 25 July at 5pm BST: USA v France 
  • Day 2, 28 July at midday BST: Japan v Sweden
  • Day 3, 31 July at 7.45pm BST: Team GB v Brazil

It's not clear how the knock-out stage draw will work given the format, but I am assuming it will be a hat-based situation but with nobody playing someone from their own group.

Things to watch out for:

1) Whether France have dealt with the lack of confidence shown at WWC 2011 - they got the most shots per game off of any team there (20), but tended to shoot too early / far out, perhaps fearing that they didn't have the strength to hold off defenders; they have the skill, if they can go another couple of yards before pulling the trigger, they could be a threat.  With a bit of luck, they'll have worked on their defence too...

2) Whether teams have worked out how to play against Japan - they play a patient, possession game (average 56% at the WWC) and so have inevitably been called 'Barcelona-esque', but it was a very different style from the more direct approach of the other teams in 2011 which the traditional big teams found very difficult to deal with, and they ground it out, winning on penalties against the USA, who had a shocker in the shoot-out.

3) Whether Brazil will embrace the Olympic spirit and stop rolling around on the floor feigning injury (who says the women are nothing like the men?) and just play the bloody ball, in which case they can be lethal. Their quarter-final against the USA in Germany was probably the game of the tournament, with retaken penalties, late goals, a last-minute equaliser, and Hope Solo.  I love Hope.

4) Whether Team GB can put in a good performance - they should get out of the group, but then may struggle.  Hope Powell made some bad decisions last year, both on and off the field (criticising her players publicly, making substitutions too early which left England limping and basically down to 9 players in the quarter-final with France), so hopefully that will not re-occur.

A dashboard of the stats from the WWC 2011.  You see what I mean about the French defence.

I reckon the answers are 1) maybe, 2) yes, 3) and 4) probably not, so will be tipping USA! USA! to take the gold medal.

I may also cast an eye at the men's competition to see how Belhanda gets on for Morocco. But obviously that's a side issue. Go ladies.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

FIFA Ronkings

So, the latest FIFA rankings are out, to take account of the latest round of pre-Euro etc friendlies (am presuming the table includes all calculations, the team-by-team breakdown seems to be a missing a few things. Like matches. And points awarded. Don't quote me).

England are 6th. Roar.

The FIFA Ranking calculation is really very simple:
  P = M x I x T x C
"M" is the result of the match
"I" is the status of the match
"T" is the value of the opposing team
"C" is the value of the confederation they play in
(for further details, follow the link above)

The points are averaged per game for each twelve-month period up to the rankings release, depreciating over time, so 100% of the average is taken for the period to the current date, 50% to June 2011, 30% to June 2010 and 20% to June 2009.  These annual averages are added up to get to the total points.  I have some problems with this mixture of addition and averaging, but overall it does include important variables to prevent complete rigging of the points by putting 29 past Andorra while your neighbours are off at a tricky tournament.

The depreciation issue also makes sense due to the changing personnel in national squads due to retirement, injury, form, charges pending etc, although there is a vicious circle effect; if a team does badly and does not qualify for a tournament, for example, they will then not have the same level of higher-rated games available to them as a result so subsequent matches will be 'capped' in value.  A comparison of the average unweighted points per year gives a slightly different picture from the overall rankings. 

Comparing weighted and unweighted points

A brief look at the current situation going into the Euros can be seen in this dashboard.  Pick a team to see their results over time, or CTRL/CMD to multi-select for comparisons.  We can also see clearly that the presence of the hosts, with their lower rankings, skews the situation (compare the average - mean - versus median situation in the grid view).

As the rankings often come in for criticism (obviously, England are better than Brazil), in an attempt to address that, I would suggest that there are at least two additional elements would be helpful in properly assessing each team's chances going into the Euros.  I propose adding an "F" and an "E".

F is for Fatigue

Many commentators have pointed out, fatigue could be an issue at the Euros, and have a listen to the recent Red White and Blue podcast where the esteemed Jonathan Wilson explains how that isn't just a problem for the players.  

A variable is needed to reflect this, which would best be made up of two initial factors: the number of games played for both club and country by each member of the squad, and the number of miles travelled in the course of that (thus taking care of the additional fatigue factor on the Spanish squad being dragged all over the world to play friendlies in their cash-cow capacity as world champions).  

Obviously there will still be some drawbacks to this, as each 23-man squad will include some players who will mostly be doing crosswords in dugouts, but bringing in weighting for 'expected starting eleven', when players in the England and French camps in particular are dropping like flies, seems a bit too tricky to factor in.

The Fatigue Factor will be a reducer on the usual calculation, I would suggest:

1 + ((10,000 - ((Average games per player) x (Average miles per game per player))) / 10,000) = %

10,000 representing an arbitrary standard of 40 games a year with average travel of 250 miles as a starting point. Games here being FTEs with a benchmark of 70 minutes, and miles being all travel, whether or not minutes are played, calculated from the training ground to the stadium and back to the usual drop-off point, and with no allowance for frequent flyer miles.  Thus, if one team has average games per player of 40 but average travel of 300 miles, that would be:

10,000 - (40 x 300 = 12,000) = -2,000 / 10,000 = -.02 so the applicable factor is 80%

See? Easy as.  

E is for Expectation

Again, this would be a reducing factor - expectations being high means an inevitable crash out in the group stages, expectations being low means England could just bloody win the thing. Or something.  As each country may have different expectations of both its own and competing teams, this could get very complicated, so these are simply some suggestions for how the English Expectation Element ("EEE") could be calculated (to then be averaged with other national elements eg FREE, GEE, SEE etc).
  • FE, the Iron-y element - number of times 'ROAR' has been used unironically on Guardian football threads, less number of times used ironically (posters to confirm at time of posting);
  • ASDAQ - the number of player in a team who Alan Shearer could recognise in a supermarket;
  • PREMium - the number of players playing in the Premier League;
  • PODium ranking - has the team been written off by two or more contributors to Football Weekly?  This is usually a good sign for the team in question;
  • Under-under-estimation estimation - can this team traditionally never be underestimated? Again, a good sign;
  • Horse-darkness quotient - a straight reducing factor;
  • Levelling factor - how does Zonal Marking rate their chances, he's usually right.
FIFA Rankings: the Fairly Informative Form Assessment.