A calculated insult against the statistical analysis of football? | Football

AI UP

Earlier on Tuesday, Burnley announced a partnership with a company that has created software to tell how good a young player is, a task they accomplish through computerised analysis of uploaded video footage. AiScout, the company involved, can already boast the discovery of one player who has been signed by a Premier League club, though they have since been relegated and the player, who turns 18 next month, was last seen turning out for Poole Town of the Southern League Premier South on loan. But this is new technology, word of its existence is still spreading, and Burnley’s plan, in the words of their academy manager, Jon Pepper, is to invite interested youths worldwide to upload some footage and “hopefully end the search by offering a place on our academy to a player with the talent to follow their dreams into the Premier League”.

One of two things is probably true here. The first is that the app doesn’t work at all, and is merely a vehicle for harvesting the hopes, dreams and data of young people before skimming off the first two and decanting them into long-term cold storage, dumping them on to a virtual seabed in a theoretical concrete sarcophagus like so much radioactive waste, and cynically monetising the latter. The other is that it does work, and the ability of a young human to one day mature into an adult capable of manoeuvring an inflated leather sphere with unusual precision can genuinely be determined with no human input whatsoever. It is hard to know which outcome is more terrifying, but for avoidance of depression and also lawsuits we’re going with option two.

The issue is that Burnley probably aren’t the best-placed club to promote this kind of dispassionate analysis of footballing quality. Though computers might not have been previously used in this way to judge the ability of individual footballers, there is a long-established method for numerically quantifying the ability of groups of footballers. It’s called a league table, and the Clarets are quite close to the bottom of theirs, and on Tuesday night they play Manchester United, a team that, despite being very obviously one Bruno Fernandes knack away from the surprisingly humdrum, will be on their own at the top if they avoid defeat. Burnley are also 17th in the league on big chances created (United sit joint third), 20th on shots (sixth) and 19th on goals (second).

Sure, Burnley have won four of their last eight, a surge that has them a creditable fifth in the last-eight form table, but United are already on their own at the top of that, with six wins and a couple of draws. The Fiver notes that bookies are offering meagre odds of around 4-9 against a United victory. In short, statistical analysis suggests that the chances of a home win in this match are so remote that for Burnley to even play it looks like a calculated insult against any organisation who promotes the statistical analysis of football, such as for example the one they’ve partnered with. It’s probably forgivable, as well as contractually necessary, but if they actually go and win it they will upset a few computers, as well as potentially setting a new record for the rapid demonstration of the conceptual flaw at the heart of a commercial partner’s business model.

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Join Barry Glendenning from 6pm GMT for Sheffield United 1-1 Newcastle, before Simon Burnton guides you through Burnley 1-3 Manchester United at 8.15pm.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“It’s scandalous! Would this have happened with two of the biggest teams in a title clash? Probably not” – Fulham boss Mike Skinner has been drying his eyes, mate, now they have to play Spurs with two days’ notice. José Mourinho was unsurprisingly dismissive of his unhappiness. “Are you serious?” he tooted. “They had 48 hours to prepare for this game. I had the news I was not going to play them two hours before the game started. The biggest impact is to have matches postponed. That is the biggest impact. The changing of the order of the matches, the impact is minimal, I would say.”

Not mugging yourself, earlier. Photograph: Tess Derry/PA

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It’s a Football Weekly special on … Brexit.

FIVER LETTERS

“I think Blackpool FC deserve a mention for their support of The Fiver’s STOP FOOTBALL campaign. By displaying the logo ‘Visit Blackpool’ on their shirts in Saturday’s FA Cup tie, surely they are encouraging the spread of Covid and therefore ultimately trying to STOP FOOTBALL” – Dene Brown.

“While I appreciate Fulham being disgruntled at having to face Spurs without much warning, I understand Sheffield United are willing to take on anyone at short notice. Provided the match takes place in 2019” – Jon Millard.

“Am I likely to be one of 1,057 Fiver readers to have felt more than a little queasy upon hearing that Adam Lee Davies (yesterday’s Fiver letters) peeled a Tasmania Berlin sticker off a toilet wall and stuck it on his fridge?” – Tim Grey (and no others).

Send your letters to the.boss@theguardian.com. And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’the day prize is … Dene Brown.

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Joan Laporta wants Barcelona’s presidential election to go ahead with voting on 24 January, despite lockdown restrictions in Catalonia. “If you can make exceptions to go to work, you can make them to vote,” he blurted, with one eye on the transfer window. “Barça cannot wait any longer, we are missing out on golden opportunities.”

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Hibs getting a last-minute equaliser in the 1-1 draw at the Queen’s Celtic on Monday. Photograph: Jane Barlow/PA

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