Football Is Still Not Mathematics

 

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Opeyemi Adediran

 

This week, Ope Adediran features as a guest writer on Lolo’s Thoughts. He weighs in on the age- long discourse about the unpredictability of the beautiful game of football.

Ope resides in Ibadan, Nigeria. He holds a Bachelor and Masters degree in Animal Science from the University of Ibadan. He has interests in reading, trivia/quizzing, social critiquing, and writing occasionally.

 

 

 

Photo Credit: peel.wikia.com
Photo Credit: peel.wikia.com

“Football is not mathematics” is a cliché among sports journalists and fans in Nigeria. The maxim attempts to clarify the fact the game of football and many of its outcomes are not things one can calculate with absolute precision like one would in mathematics.

Since football is a well-followed sport globally, it is natural for many people who have watched a game or two, or played amateur football to consider themselves football pundits, let alone those who have had the opportunity to play and manage the game professionally and at the highest level. Several times in the past while watching football match broadcasts in public viewing centers and bars, I have come across several opinions – from the informed to the ridiculous. Even on internet football-related forums the experience has been similar. Personally, as one who has been following the round leather game for over two decades, I also feel entitled to some level of punditry.

Many times while watching football in public spaces, I hear fellow viewers opine that the coach should have substituted a particular player, or deployed him in another role, or adopt a particular formation in prosecuting a match. Sometimes, when the coach makes a substitution, they claim he has made the wrong one if it does not tally with what they had in mind. But, what some of these people fail to realize is that even in mathematics whose calculations they are trying to impose on football, sometimes, you can arrive at the same answer using different formulas.

A few cases in contemporary football are a perfect illustration of the reason football is not yet mathematics. First are the cases of Sunday Oliseh, Nigeria’s current national team coach, and Gary Neville, the manager of La Liga’s Valencia CF. Prior to their respective appointments as managers, both Sunday and Gary were respected football pundits who had previously played professional football at the highest level. Their analyses of live matches on TV and blog posts/articles were usually sleek, in-depth and professional (Of course, who should know much about the round leather game if not them?). If football were equated to academics, they should be associate or full professors.

Following their appointments, virtually everyone expected them to quickly bring their “professorial knowledge” of football and their analytical skills to bear on their jobs by delivering world class performance from their players and results for their teams. Alas, sometimes, some things are easier said than done as Sunday, Gary and the football world have found out. Gary is yet to record a win in nine league matches. His only consolation so far is making the Copa Del Rey semifinals, and even that will most likely end in a tragedy, as their opponent is in-form Barcelona FC, who have already thrashed Gary’s Valencia 7-0 in the first leg of the tie.

Sunday Oliseh on his part was only able to record a lackluster draw in his first competitive match against Tanzania. He was also involved in an altercation with former Super Eagles goalkeeper and captain, Vincent Enyeama, which ultimately culminated in the retirement of the latter. There hasn’t been much to cheer about regarding the Super Eagle’s performance under Oliseh, with the latest being Nigeria’s group stage exit at the ongoing CHAN 2016 tournament, in which his sacked predecessor made the semifinals at the penultimate edition. As is typical of Nigerian football fans, many have become impatient with Oliseh and are already demanding his replacement even though he was only appointed in July, 2015.

Last but not the least, football mathematics seems to have turned on his head as far as the current season of the Barclays Premier League is concerned. In nothing short of a miracle, the league leaders after 25 matches are less fancied Leicester City FC who only got promoted back to the Premier League in 2014, after a ten-year absence and were bottom of the table at Christmas 2014. They have been top of the table at Christmas 2015, January 2016, and still currently top the table this February. Some of their stand-out performers like Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and N’golo Kante were relatively unknown prior to this fairy tale run.

They lead big spending, star studded Manchester City who are currently in third place with a six point gap. More so, after their emphatic 3-1 victory over the blue side of Manchester on their own turf in the top of the table clash just last weekend.

Meanwhile, last season’s run away champions Chelsea languish in 13th place after suffering a spectacular collapse this season, and perennial “nearly men” Arsenal currently occupy third place, just one spot above their usual fourth position. Pundits and fans expected Leicester’s amazing run to fizzle out, but have been disappointed so far, as the Foxes have continued to “outsly” everyone, and have defiantly remained at the top of the table with 13 games left to play. If Leicester are able to maintain their consistency as the season climaxes, who says they can’t be champions (which pundits are starting to believe is possible) at the end of the season?

There is a precedent to this in the Italian Serie A where underdogs Hellas Verona won the scudetto in 1985, just three years after regaining promotion to the Serie A. Even if Leceister don’t win the league come May, their achievements this season will still be the stuff of legend for many years  to come, especially among Leicester City fans. Nevertheless, we underdog lovers who don’t mind witnessing a real-life fairytales keep hoping Leceister are somehow able to keep “outslying the naysayer’s” expectations, maintain their high performance, have that bit of luck, and emerge champions in May.

If this is a dream, don’t wake us up.

For the game. For the world.

(C) Ope Adediran

4 Replies to “Football Is Still Not Mathematics”

  1. Indeed football is not Mathematics. Maths never defies the odds but football does and that’s what we’ve seen in Leicester City. I also as football writer didn’t believe the Foxes would do the unthinkable winning the league but to still be top at the stage? I’m shocked. Even if they climb down, they look good for the top four.

    For Neville and Oliseh, truth be told punditry and management are not to same thing. It’s a learning curve for both men and I hope the grow from it. My observations, Oliseh needs to control his tongue. His temperament issues from his playing days haven’t left him. As for Neville, I think managing in Spain is difficult because of his lack of knowledge of Spanish language. He won’t be able to effectively communicate with the players and we all know communication is key in football.

    1. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since February when this was first published. Oliseh and Neville are both no longer managers after their debacle debuts as managers. Maybe they will go back to punditry.

      But somehow Leicester City are still a constant at the top of the BPL table at the very least for another week. And if they somehow manage to get at least 8 points in their remaining 4 matches (which they are capable of, and I hope they achieve) they will be crowned BPL champions. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Bravo!

    This is brief and simple, yet analytical enough to feed the intelligent mind. I’m reminded of several years back, when each of my days were punctuated with thoughts and talks on football, especially the Barclays Premier League. If not that I’ve been following recent conversations about Oliseh and Neville, I sure would have been left out of this.

    Ololade’s football articles have been reviving my love for football. Thanks to Ope for contributing!

    1. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since February when this was first published. Oliseh and Neville are both no longer managers after their debacle debuts as managers. Maybe they will go back to punditry.

      But somehow Leicester City are still a constant at the top of the BPL table at the very least for another week. And if they somehow manage to get at least 8 points in their remaining 4 matches (which they are capable of, and I hope they achieve) they will be crowned BPL champions. Thanks for your comment.

Drop a comment, will you! I appreciate them.