Sonntag, 11. Januar 2015

The Best And Worst Champions League Finalists Ever

Inspired by Rob Brown's following tweet, we look at the best and worst Champions League finalist ever.
To answer that question, we should first define what is good and what is less good. Obviously, on this blog our measure will be the average Goalimpact of the team. However, because we don't really know which players were available in the games, we take the average of the starting XI only. Also we need to define what we mean by 'Champions League'. We included predecessor, the European Champion Clubs' Cup

Before we answer Rob's question, let's look at the best finalists rather than worst finalists.

Rank Season Team Goalimpact PeakGI Win
1 2013/2014 Real Madrid 147.7 152.9 yes
2 2012/2013 Bayern München 145.7 152.7 yes
3 2010/2011 FC Barcelona 144.5 152.3 yes
4 2008/2009 Manchester United 140.1 151.3 no
5 2007/2008 Chelsea FC 139.2 150.4 no
6 2007/2008 Manchester United 138.9 146.5 yes
7 2011/2012 Bayern München 136.8 146.7 no
8 1995/1996 AFC Ajax 135.3 150.3 no
9 1973/1974 Bayern München 134.3 139.9 yes
10 2010/2011 Manchester United 133.8 150.5 no
11 1994/1995 AFC Ajax 131.9 147.4 yes
12 1993/1994 FC Barcelona 131.8 139.6 no
13 2009/2010 Bayern München 131.3 142.5 no
14 2012/2013 Borussia Dortmund 131.2 135.4 no
15 2005/2006 FC Barcelona 130.6 138.5 yes
16 2001/2002 Real Madrid 130.3 137.1 yes
17 2005/2006 Arsenal FC 129.8 140.9 no
18 2008/2009 FC Barcelona 129.2 142.6 yes
19 1982/1983 Hamburger SV 129.1 137.3 yes
20 1974/1975 Bayern München 129.1 134.2 yes

As we can see, the answer to the opposite of Rob's question is "Manchester United 2008/2009". That is the best finalist not to win the cup. The second best team not to win is Chelsea FC that lost against ManU in a penalty shoot-out. In Goalimpact terms, the teams' ratings were to close to call a winner, too.

Now, let's look at the other end of that table.

Rank Season Team Goalimpact PeakGI Win
99 1961/1962 SL Benfica 106.1 119.2 yes
100 1959/1960 Eintracht Frankfurt 106.0 118.5 no
101 1975/1976 AS Saint-Etienne 105.3 111.1 no
102 1979/1980 Nottingham Forest 105.2 114.8 yes
103 1973/1974 Atletico Madrid 105.1 118.7 no
104 1967/1968 SL Benfica 104.8 113.8 no
105 1955/1956 Stade Reims 104.6 114.8 no
106 1969/1970 Feyenoord 104.4 111.7 yes
107 1967/1968 Manchester United 103.8 121.2 yes
108 1987/1988 PSV Eindhoven 103.3 113.4 yes
109 1977/1978 Club Brugge KV 103.2 113.7 no
110 1978/1979 Nottingham Forest 102.9 113.4 yes
111 1985/1986 Steaua Bucuresti 102.8 110.6 yes
112 1957/1958 AC Milan 102.8 114.8 no
113 1988/1989 Steaua Bucuresti 102.4 115.1 no
114 1956/1957 ACF Fiorentina 102.0 109.5 no
115 1987/1988 SL Benfica 101.9 111.2 no
116 1986/1987 FC Porto 101.6 111.8 yes
117 1970/1971 Panathinaikos 100.5 110.7 no
118 1978/1979 Malmö FF 94.0 110.4 no

That answers the question. The worst team ever to win the cup was the FC Porto in season 86/87. But that was in the European Champion Clubs' Cup in which winning for a less good team was more likely. If we restrict the list to Champions League only, we end up with

Season Team Goalimpact PeakGI Win
1994/1995 AC Milan 117.89 129.90 no
2003/2004 AS Monaco 117.48 122.08 no
1992/1993 Olympique Marseille 116.52 127.82 yes
1995/1996 Juventus 115.28 127.88 yes
2001/2002 Bayer Leverkusen 114.98 119.15 no
1999/2000 Real Madrid 112.71 126.38 yes
1993/1994 AC Milan 111.98 123.98 yes
2000/2001 Valencia CF 111.38 126.06 no
1999/2000 Valencia CF 110.59 122.10 no
2003/2004 FC Porto 110.48 118.31 yes

And hence, according to Goalimpact at least, the worst team ever to win the Champions League was FC Porto in 2003/2004. They were lucky to play against on of the other ten weakest finalists in the competition AS Monaco. Clearly, those times the concentration of top players on a small number of clubs wasn't that advanced already as it is in Europe today. Therefore, there was still a chance that too underdogs could reach the final. This seems unthinkable today.

Mittwoch, 17. Dezember 2014

Liverpool's Transfers Revisited

Duncan Castles writes on Bleacher Report about the dismal transfer record of Liverpool FC under Brendan Rodgers' management. Part of the critic is the overly reliance on an analytic model in scouting that selected bad players or rejected good. For example, Castles points out that Liverpool rejected Sadio Mane on the ground that the model said he isn't good enough for Premier League. Mane now plays for Southampton FC and is proving the opposite. Given that Goalimpact predicted Sadio Mane to be good enough a full year and 4 Mio. Euros before Southampton signed him, let's check what Goalimpact tells us on the other transfers made. Here is the full roster. Rodgers' transfers are marked yellow.

Liverpool FC

PlayerGoalimpactPeak GIAgeLast National TeamNo. GamesNo. Minutes
Simon Mignolet105.7114.726.8Belgien24122449
Danny Ward74.1131.521.4Wales [U21]9837
Brad Jones85.686.332.712111212
Lloyd Jones79.2112.319.2England [U19]11970
Mamadou Sakho109.1111.924.8Frankreich21518002
Dejan Lovren118.5119.825.4Kroatien22519680
Glen Johnson125.3135.630.3England40936172
Ryan McLaughlin89.9113.220.2Nordirland [U19]302541
Kolo Touré129.7163.233.7Elfenbeinküste50942986
Michael Williams85.2119.119.1Wales [U21]2138
Alberto Moreno108.4119.022.4Spanien [U21]836965
Manquillo96.7117.520.6Spanien [U21]403270
Jon Flanagan112.7125.321.9England [U20]473714
Martin Škrtel105.5113.530.0Slowakei34330267
José Enrique108.7115.328.8Spanien [U21]25821950
Steven Gerrard130.6170.434.5England75163042
Suso91.0109.021.0Spanien [U21]805177
Coutinho101.0111.322.5Brasilien [U20]1439443
Cameron Brannagan64.9104.118.64344
Joe Allen112.9115.824.8Wales23716932
Lucas Leiva108.7113.927.9Brasilien28221344
Adam Lallana114.4115.926.6England27521777
Emre Can109.2128.120.9Deutschland [U21]1249880
Jordan Henderson122.5126.124.4England26921103
Jordan Rossiter72.1115.117.77537
Raheem Sterling102.0126.620.0England1218475
Lazar Marković117.3137.120.8Serbien1268203
Daniel Sturridge121.3123.025.3England21713254
Fabio Borini94.7100.423.7Italien [U21]1247798
Rickie Lambert103.5132.132.8England26621835
Mario Balotelli106.9110.824.3Italien25916740

First thing to note is that about half of the team was signed by him. Apart from Borini, all seem to be good enough to play Premier League, also Coutinho and Manquillo will need some more development.

Some of the players are quite young and expected to improve significantly in the coming seasons. Given their potential, they were not bad signings as such. Even though they are maybe not good enough to qualify for Champions League this season, some are expected to be develop into that level (>120). Due to this fact, one can argue that the prices paid were too high. You'd expect bigger talent or further developed players for that money. Even in England.
Kolo Toure is a very good player, but well beyond his peak. His aging
is going to accelerate soon.

Especially in attack, the signings were not very convincing. We have no information on the factors that lead to the signings, but the two signings from Italy might point to a malfunctioning adjustment for league strength or opposition in general.

Mignolet is for sure a good keeper, but for 10 million Euros you can easily sign better ones. Brad Jones that played against ManU the other day, doesn't live up to Premier League standards.

Optimal XI

Ignoring all tactical considerations (no, this is not a recommendation), just picking by Goalimpact, leads to the following starting XI plus bench.

PlayerGoalimpactPeak GIAgeLast National TeamNo. GamesNo. Minutes
Daniel Sturridge121.3123.025.3England21713254
Steven Gerrard130.6170.434.5England75163042
Simon Mignolet105.7114.726.8Belgien24122449
Dejan Lovren118.5119.825.4Kroatien22519680
Joe Allen112.9115.824.8Wales23716932
Glen Johnson125.3135.630.3England40936172
Adam Lallana114.4115.926.6England27521777
Kolo Touré129.7163.233.7Elfenbeinküste50942986
Jordan Henderson122.5126.124.4England26921103
Jon Flanagan112.7125.321.9England [U20]473714
Lazar Marković117.3137.120.8Serbien1268203
Mamadou Sakho109.1111.924.8Frankreich21518002
Lucas Leiva108.7113.927.9Brasilien28221344
Emre Can109.2128.120.9Deutschland [U21]1249880
José Enrique108.7115.328.8Spanien [U21]25821950
15 Player Average

This is good enough to end up sixth in Premier League, so currently Liverpool is underperforming. But even if they weren't, the team isn't good enough to reasonably expect to qualify for Champions League. Comparing this to the Champions League game against Basel, only Škrtel, Sterling, Coutinho and Lambert weren't first choice players according to Goalimpact. Still Basel (113.6) even fielded a slightly better team than Liverpool (113.1) in that game. This again underscores the fact that the team doesn't live up to Champions League ambitions.


If the ambition of Liverpool FC is to qualify for Champions League the players bought don't live up to that objective. Whilst only Borini would be outright rejected as a EPL transfer target by Goalimpact, most are more suitable for a team in the upper midfield of the league table than for a team with Champions League ambitions. In fact, of all new players only Toure and Sturridge are already as of today above the target Goalimpact of 120. Can and Markovic are expected to be well above the target level in future. In case of Markovic that is very soon, Can will take another year or so. Given the money spent on the transfer market, better far options would have been available.

Sonntag, 7. Dezember 2014

Los Angeles Galaxy - New England Revolution: MLS-Finale Goalimpact of Line-ups

Odds based on starting XI
Los Angeles Galaxy: 52.6%
Draw: 27.8%
New England Revolution: 19.6%

Los Angeles Galaxy

PlayerGoalimpactPeak GIAgeLast National TeamNo. GamesNo. Minutes
Jaime Penedo98.299.033.2Panama1049794
Stefan Ishizaki90.8118.232.6Schweden [U21]23618071
Robbie Keane126.0164.834.4Irland65250021
Robbie Rogers89.393.527.6USA18614159
Gyasi Zardes105.9113.323.3695448
Landon Donovan107.5135.932.8USA37431838
A. J. DeLaGarza100.5103.427.118616232
Omar González113.4113.826.2USA19818008
Marcelo Sarvas96.9127.333.215211574
Alan Gordon79.8110.233.2USA18810187
Todd Dunivant92.0126.633.921018485
Baggio Hušidić101.1105.327.51338937
Brian Rowe99.3114.026.010930
Kenney Walker106.4106.526.012656
Dan Gargan84.7108.832.014311356
Tommy Meyer97.5100.524.7423497

New England Revolution

PlayerGoalimpactPeak GIAgeLast National TeamNo. GamesNo. Minutes
Jermaine Jones90.2120.333.1USA35627716
José Gonçalves88.395.329.2Portugal [U21]19416926
Bobby Shuttleworth99.6105.627.6817487
Lee Nguyen99.8105.528.2USA1289908
Scott Caldwell106.8112.423.8624406
Teal Bunbury101.9104.724.81318304
A. J. Soares100.2100.226.011510329
Charlie Davies100.8106.828.4USA1448564
Andrew Farrell105.5115.122.7706428
Kelyn Rowe100.7109.023.0977111
Chris Tierney88.194.728.917414194
Diego Fagundez96.2122.719.8906045
Patrick Mullins97.0106.022.8231265
Kevin Alston88.790.326.614512213
Brad Knighton93.895.929.8383346
Andy Dorman74.2101.832.620415067
Daigo Kobayashi86.3108.931.81649630
Darrius Barnes91.897.127.913411322

Today's Chelsea FC against Arsenal's "The Invincibles"

Comparing teams across player generations is always a somewhat futile exercise, because they will obviously never play against each other to settle the question which team was better. Today a news paper article comparing appeared in my Twitter timeline comparing Chelsea FC to Arsenal's team in the 2003/2004 season, often called "The Invincibles".

Using a player by player comparison, the newspaper concluded that Arsenal's team at that time was marginally better than today's Chelsea. Just for fun, and knowing that this may raise many critics, we will repeat this comparison using Goalimpact.

Chelsea FC 2014

PlayerGoalimpactPeak GIAgeLast National TeamNo. GamesNo. Minutes
Branislav Ivanović121.7136.130.8Serbien38934226
Filipe Luís124.4131.629.3Brasilien31927549
André Schürrle124.8129.224.1Deutschland27919896
Cesc Fàbregas194.6198.927.6Spanien53440327
Petr Čech186.8187.432.5Tschechien64760121
Eden Hazard135.6140.523.9Belgien33524617
John Terry164.6199.534.0England68561485
Gary Cahill111.4118.128.9England37233905
Diego Costa114.7115.126.2Spanien25018922
Nemanja Matić121.0121.926.3Serbien16513182
John Mikel108.4112.827.6Nigeria36226165
15 Player Average

Chelsea has an excellent team on top European level. They will be a tough opponent for the other great teams such as Real Madrid, Barca and Bayern München.

Arsenal FC 2004 ("The Invincibles")

PlayerGoalimpactPeak GIAgeLast National TeamNo. GamesNo. Minutes
Gilberto Silva118.7123.827.8Brasilien1179704
Patrick Vieira149.1155.128.0Frankreich43738684
Jens Lehmann158.4159.134.7Deutschland55251449
Ashley Cole124.8131.423.5England18116173
Sol Campbell141.0148.729.8England44840084
Thierry Henry143.1145.626.8Frankreich43031576
Nwankwo Kanu120.3125.927.9Nigeria31018040
Robert Pirés143.4156.930.7Frankreich47438687
Sylvain Wiltord129.1138.230.2Frankreich42530288
Dennis Bergkamp158.2203.735.2Niederlande63349708
Freddie Ljungberg114.3117.927.3Schweden24618459
Kolo Touré117.3124.823.3Elfenbeinküste1017109
15 Player Average

According to Goalimpact, the last Arsenal team to win the Premier League was slightly weaker than today's Chelsea. These numbers are taken at the end of the season, so there are some footnotes. Dennis Bergkamp, at his peak, was the best player of all mentioned in this article. Even better than Cesc. However, Berkamp was aging rapidly during the season and therefore his Goalimpact at the beginning of the season, 167, was significantly higher than at the end.

Although Arsenal 2004 maybe wasn't better than the 2014 Chelsea, it was facing far less competition back then. The second team in the 2004 season was again Chelsea. And they had only a Goalimpact of 114. That is helping in becoming "invincible".

Sonntag, 2. November 2014

Ballon d’Or from Goalimpact's perspective

Every year FIFA is selecting the best football player of the world. Every year this is controversial because most people not be satisfied with the selection. Our main criticism to this is the clear bias towards attack players. This year, while there are still too many offensive players, at least some defenders and goalkeepers are on the list. But, if history is going to repeat, none of them is going to win.

The following table shows the Goalimpact of all candidates. All of them are clearly contributing to the success of their teams and well above the average rating of all football players which is 100. Most of them are rated to be among the 100 best football players.

GI Rank Player GoalImpact Player Age PeakGI Team
1 Cristiano Ronaldo 207.8 29.7 215.0 Real Madrid
2 Philipp Lahm 194.8 30.9 209.9 Bayern München
4 Manuel Neuer 194.3 28.5 197.8 Bayern München
6 Bastian Schweinsteiger 186.9 30.2 195.9 Bayern München
10 Lionel Messi 184.3 27.3 187.9 FC Barcelona
11 Zlatan Ibrahimovic 181.7 33.0 211.1 Paris Saint-Germain
14 Thomas Müller 175.2 25.1 177.4 Bayern München
16 Sergio Ramos 172.3 28.5 178.5 Real Madrid
17 Javier Mascherano 168.5 30.3 178.7 FC Barcelona
25 Karim Benzema 154.2 26.8 156.4 Real Madrid
27 Arjen Robben 153.2 30.7 166.6 Bayern München
35 Mario Götze 148.5 22.3 159.5 Bayern München
54 Iniesta 143.7 30.4 154.6 FC Barcelona
56 Ángel Di María 143.0 26.7 144.8 Manchester United
87 Toni Kroos 137.6 24.8 140.5 Real Madrid
128 Eden Hazard 132.5 23.8 138.2 Chelsea FC
184 Yaya Touré 128.2 31.4 147.5 Manchester City
205 Gareth Bale 127.0 25.3 128.8 Real Madrid
222 James Rodríguez 125.8 23.3 133.4 Real Madrid
253 Thibaut Courtois 125.0 22.4 171.1 Chelsea FC
581 Neymar 117.4 22.7 127.2 FC Barcelona
675 Paul Pogba 116.4 21.6 131.4 Juventus
879 Diego Costa 114.5 26.0 114.5 Chelsea FC

But the Ballon d'Or isn't about which player is the best, but about which player did play best in the first half of 2014. This, of course, is also influence by many other factors. E.g. Mario Götze is no doubt one of the biggest talents in world football, but probably he wouldn't have made it on the list anyway if it wasn't for his goal in the World Cup final. Philip Lahm was always one of the best football players of the world, but would he be selected if Guardialo hadn't moved him to the midfield drawing much more media attention on the German?

Despite the many valid reasons on why FIFA will not pick by Goalimpact, we expect the winner to be higher up in this list. Just to proof us wrong, we hope for a defender. Fingers crossed for Lahm and Neuer.

Sonntag, 26. Oktober 2014

Werder Bremen's Demise

Werder Bremen is the second most successful team in the Bundesliga. In the table comprising all games ever, it holds the second place in front of its local rival Hamburger SV, despite the fact that HSV played one season more. In total it won 4 league titles and 6 times the DFB cup. Once they even won the UEFA Cup Winner's Cup. But the last season they ended on a single digit rank in the Bundesliga was 2011/2012. Two seasons before that, they even qualified for the UEFA Champions League, a competition they have been qualified to since their last German title 2003/2004.

We want so investigate how their player transfers influenced the performance and we will start the investigation at the time they qualified the last time for the Champions League. Due to the qualification, they had still the extra income that comes with the participation, money that will be amiss in the season thereafter. Not to get lost in too many details, we will look at the transfers position by position and summarize in the end.

The analysis is based on our Goalimpact methodology. You can read about the algorithm here and here.


2009/2010, when Werder qualified for the Champions League the last time, they had mainly two keepers in the team. Tim Wiese was national goal keeper and Vander was his replacement in case of injury or suspension. Whilst Werder preformed significantly worse when Vander was playing, this didn't cause a big problem because Wiese stayed fit.

Player 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
Tim Wiese 116.6 113.3 112.6 0 €
Christian Vander 90.0 83.9 77.0 0 €
Sebastian Mielitz 96.8 101.3 104.6 103.4 104.3 0 €
Raphael Wolf 200 k€ 81.4 81.6 82.4
Richard Strebinger 0 € 81.1 85.4 95.9
Raif Husic 100 k€ 73.0

One season later, Vander was replaced by the talent Sebastian Mielitz as second keeper. A good move, because Mielitz was already batter than Vander and appeared to have a lot of talent. Wiese, along with the whole team, performed worse than expected and saw both GI and PeakGI drop.

After Wiese's contract ended in the summer 2012, Mielitz became the first keeper. Because as the same time Vander ended his career, Werder brought in two new young keepers, Raphael Wolf and Richard Strebinger. Apparently, Werder was unsatisfied with Mielitz' performance and they refused to prelong his contract and replaced him with Wolf after only one season as first keeper. According to Goalimpact, that was a rather bad choice. Wolf has a significantly lower Goalimpact.

To summarize, Bremen spent a net 300,000€ on keepers to lower their keeper performance 30 Goalimpact points. To be fair, both Stebinger and Husic are very talented and the investment may pay off in future. For Wolf, we don't see a future that bright. We suggest to make Streibinger the first keeper as short term improvement.

Center Back

At the time Werder qualified for the Champions League the last time, they had an excellent defense in the box. Mertesacker and Naldo were both next to world class and maybe the best center back duo in Bundesliga at that time.

Player 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
Sebastian Prödl 105.8 101.0 100.9 97.8 94.8 94.3
Per Mertesacker 137.9 137.3 11,300 k€
Petri Pasanen 133.9 128.0 0 €
Naldo 130.5 129.4 124.4 4,800 k€
Mikaël Silvestre 0 € 99.6 89.3 0 €
Sokratis 4,100 k€ 102.2 100.4 9,900 k€
François Affolter 500 k€ 110.2 0 €
Mateo Pavlovic 650 k€ 89.9 88.5 92.9
Assani Lukimya 0 € 106.2 99.8 99.2
Luca Caldirola 2,250 k€ 93.9 94.2
Gálvez 0 € 99.7

At the end of the season 2010/2011, Mertesacker and Pasanen left. Mertesacker was sold for substantial amount of money, Pasanen without transfer income, because Werder and the player couldn't agree on the conditions for the new contract. Naldo was injured for more than one year and sold one year later for another few million Euros.

From its for center backs, Werder chose to keep only Prödl, the
weakest player. They were unlucky that he underperformed
expectations falling below Bundesliga minimum.
As replacements, Werder brought Sokratis and Affolter on Board. Affolter was hired on a loan basis and left after just one season and returned to Switzerland. Sokratis, despite a development that was less than expected, was sold at a premium two years later.

Then followed investments in Pavlovic, Lukimya, Caldirola and Galvez which, along with long-time Werder player Prödl, form today's center back. In the good old times, the average Goalimpact of the Werder central defense was 127.0. This is now down to 96.5. It is fair to say, that Werder sold their assets and hence had a net transfer income from CBs only of 18,500,000 €. But the players now in the team are hardly on the level you'd expect from a Bundesliga team, even as Caldirola is expected to improve a bit as he is only 23 years old.

Advise: If the team plans to stay in Bundesliga, we suggest going back to the drawing table for the central defense. For the short term, playing Lukimya and Galvez seems to be the best option. However, Galvez plays currently often as defensive midfielder.

Left/Righ Back

The defenders on the left and right back were never as good as the central defenders. But in back in summer 2010, they were more than just decent with Boenisch and Fritz. Werder didn't manage to keep Boenisch as he considered their offer as not sufficient and his contract expired. Fritz plays until today, but due to his age his performance decreased significantly.

Player 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
Aymen Abdennour 104.0 0 €
Sebastian Boenisch 112.2 112.5 110.2 0 €
Clemens Fritz 112.7 108.8 103.4 96.3 90.0 90.1
Dominik Schmidt 93.3 93.5 0 €
Aleksandar Ignjovski 500 k€ 90.23 89.38 90.83 0 €
Florian Hartherz 200 k€ 95.1 150 k€
Lukas Schmitz 1,000 k€ 106.6 106.0 103.3 0 €
Theodor Gebre Selassie 1,800 k€ 108.8 102.5 101.6
Santiago García 2,000 k€ 93.7 93.1
Marnon Busch €0 94.0

2010, Clemens Fritz was a very good player, but he aged
as expected since then and can't deliver as good performance
for a full 90 minutes anymore.
Despite a net investment of 5,340,000€, the player quality for that position deteriorated. Currently, only Selassie has a Goalimpact above 100, the minimum level you'd expect from a Bundesliga player, also even his performance was below expectations from a few years ago.

In total the average Goalimpact of LBs/RBs dropped from 105.6 to a meager 94.7. Most of the loss in performance origins from the transfer policy, some is caused by aging and some by worse than expected player development.

On the upside, the young talent Marnon Busch is expected to reach that level soon and hence we'd suggest to play Bush and Selassie as the current best selection. That said, at least one additional player should be hired according to Goalimpact, because Fritz isn't fit enough anymore for 90 minutes and Garcia lacks the quality.

Defensive Midfield

For a long time, defensive midfield was synonym to Thorsten Frings in Bremen. Frings was a world class defensive midfielder and some say that Germany might have won the World Cup 2006 semifinals against Italy if it wasn't for his suspension. With his departure in Summer 2011, all that was left was below average Bundesliga level.

Player 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
Peter Niemeyer 98.8 900 k€
Torsten Frings 137.6 120.4 0 €
Philipp Bargfrede 108.7 102.4 102.6 101.8 101.1 101.8
Daniel Jensen 113.3 100.4 0 €
Tom Trybull 200 k€ 91.0 99.6 100 k€
Felix Kroos 240 k€ 99.5 97.4 101.0 101.8 102.0

Werder didn't invest money into that position that many think is pivotal in modern football. They even hat a small net profit of 560,000€ in transfers. According to Goalimpact, Felxis Kroos was a good buy, but he failed to develop as expected after the transfer. Still he is now the best player available for that position.

Central/Offensive Midfield

According to Goalimpact, Werder's strength used to be the defensive players, but in the spot light used to be the offensive midfield. After years of glory with Johan Micoud and Diego, the last success is tight with the young Mesut Özil. Despite Özil's doubtless impact, Aaron Hunt and Tim Borowski also played an important role.

Player 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
Tim Borowski 117.1 109.1 101.7 0 €
Said Husejinovic 96.4 96.9 0 €
Marko Marin 105.1 102.8 100.4 8,000 k€
Mesut Özil 120.2 18,000 k€
Aaron Hunt 115.4 111.9 110.3 105.4 98.9 0 €
Wesley 7,500 k€ 93.1 93.5 6,000 k€
Predrag Stevanovic 100 k€ 90.4 91.1 93.6 96.1 0 €
Florian Trinks 91.7 91.9 50 k€
Zlatko Junuzovic 800 k€ 100.0 98.4 93.6 92.1
Mehmet Ekici 5,000 k€ 109.8 110.8 111.0 1,500 k€
Aleksandar Stevanovic €0 91.0 98.3 110.0 0 €
Kevin De Bruyne 450 k€ 105.6 0 €
Cédric Makiadi 3,000 k€ 88.0 87.0
Ludovic Obraniak 1,500 k€ 98.4 97.8
Izet Hajrovic €0 96.8

With Özil's departure to Real Madrid, the fortune of signing excellent creative midfielder seemed to have left the team. They had already secured the service of "Germany's Messi", Marko Marin. A player that was never rated by Goalimpact as high as he was described by the media. Werder did a good deal in selling him for 8M€ as the market value halved shortly thereafter.

The signing of Wesley was seen as way too expensive by Goalimpact. You don't want to pay 7.5M€ for a player that has only a Goalimpact of 93 and is expected to peak at 97. The team contained the damage by selling him at only a small discount again.

The signings of Ekici and Aleksandar Stevanovic, while both no new Özil, were actually quite good, but they were removed from the team at the beginning of the current season. Without them, there is no Bundesliga offensive midfield left to speak of. All of them are below the minimum level of 100 and they are not expected to improve much more, too. The sale of Ekici happened after our Bundesliga season prediction. Even with him on the team, we saw Bremen as the weakest team in the competition. Now we consider the team as even weaker.

Bremen earned a net 19,700,000€ from selling their assets in the offensive midfield, but it caused the average player Goalimpact on that position to drop from 110.8 to 93.4.


Werder's strikers weren't world-class back in 2010, but they were all above average. However, Werder chose not to prolong the contracts of Almeida and Rosenberg and build up a new attack from the scratch around Pizarro. The striker from Peru, however, was unwillingly to prolong his contract due to the little quality in Werder's team and moved to Bayern Munich.

Player 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
Claudio Pizarro 112.5 106.6 103.0 0 €
Hugo Almeida 114.9 2,000 k€
Markus Rosenberg 114.9 750 k€ 106.9 0 €
Sandro Wagner 350 k€ 100.7 550 k€
Denni Avdic 2,200 k€ 100.7 95.0 1,050 k€
Marko Arnautovic 6,200 k€ 99.0 95.9 98.4 2,800 k€
Eljero Elia 5,500 k€ 97.8 90.6 91.5
Nils Petersen 500 k€ 103.9 102.1 102.0
Joseph Akpala 1,500 l€ 106.3 250 k€
Niclas Füllkrug €0 77.9 85.0 90.1 400 k€
Johannes Wurtz €0 106.1 300 k€
Franco Di Santo €0 86.1 85.3
Fin Bartels €0 90.3
Davie Selke €0 66.5 74.1 90.5 94.7

Davie Selke is going to be Werder's best striker soon. He
developed excellent and outperformed expectations so far.
Since then, Werder's attack is a construction site. Many investments have been made that didn't really pay off. Some players were sold again at a loss. Füllkrug, a promising talent from their youth teams, wasn't fully trusted. According to Goalimpact that might be a mistake. He was still young and didn't played constant on a top level, but had a good prognosis (Peak 120). He has a Goalimpact of 97 by now and is soon going to be above 100 also the PeakGI dropped to 110.

Instead Werder placed their hope on Elia whom they bought for 5.5M€. A high price for a player with a Goalimpact of only 98 and not upside (PeakGI 99). Currently, the best striker duo would be Petersen and Selke. The latter is a talent from the own youth and still plays inconsistent, but he has a good prognosis and is expected to peak at 122. In the long-run a second good striker would be needed.


Werder Bremen reduced the team quality on every single tactical position. The formerly strong defense now looks shaky, the midfield is weak and lacks creativity and the striker seem harmless. To make things worse, there is only few talent in the team that would let us expect future improvement.

Regular substantial transfer surpluses lead to a continuous decline in
the average team quality. The Goalimpact reduced every single year and
now is below the minimum level you'd expect for a Bundesliga team.
The decline is the result of a transfer policy that was aimed at extracting value from the team's assets (the players). Selling the good players resulted in a steady inflow of cash, but the replacement players weren't nearly as good and some also overpaid. However, to say Werder did a bad job in their signings isn't justified. It was more there overall strategy to make transfer profits that lead to the deterioration of team quality and not single signings. The signings didn't generate the upside that some signings in the past did, but they didn't destroy value, too as many were bought for low fees or even no fee at all.

Still, in total the Goalimpact reveals a reduction in team quality every single year since the last Champions League qualification and generated a net cash-in of 20M€. We hesitate to call this a profit, as the positive cash-flow was more than offset by the reduction of team market value. The Goalimpact used to be well above 110, the level needed to be a contender for Champions League qualification, down to below 100, the level that makes relegation likely.

Looking forward, it is difficult to see if the new trainer, Viktor Skripnik, can avoid the relegation. Given the weak team it is not obvious that the problems were caused by his predecessor Robin Dutt. It is more likely that the demise was caused by a short-sighted transfer policy and a few bad scoutings prior to Dutt's arrival in Bremen. You don't need a crystal ball to foresee that Werder will relegate unless they make a 180° turn-around in transfer spending. Rather than swapping player quality into cash, they need to build up a new team that has improved quality. The latest scoutings and signings were not promising in this respect. There are rumors that Werder is willing to spend on new players in the Winter break. Winter is not the best time for signings and given the bad start in the season, it may already be to late to turn-around then.

And there is more bad news, with the current team, Werder would also struggle to stay in the 2. Liga, in case they will get relegated. Certainly an immediate re-promotion is very unlikely. So our final advise is to start thinking in long-term. An  advise not easy to follow in times of trouble.

Dienstag, 21. Oktober 2014

A new look at football players

Abstract: We found a strong Relative Age Effect in youth football. Yet many of the players that benefited from their relative age seem to fail to move to senior football because they lack their advantage among grown-ups. Football club could increase the efficiency of their youth programs substantially, by selecting player according to their talent rather than relative age. The minimum Goalimpact a player needs to achieve to have a realistic chance to become professional football player is 80. Yet older players often stay in business slightly below that age to.

Since the introduction of the football aging curve, the Goalimpact is a direct function of age. Therefore, it should come as a surprise if we see a clear relationship between Goalimpact and age in a xy-plot. However, there are still some noteworthy feature to report.

Each dot represents a non-goalkeeping football player. The x-axis is the players
age at the 1st of July 2014 and the y-axis his Goalimpact at the same time.
To make it easier to describe some of the findings, we highlighted some areas in the chart. The underlying picture is the same. Notice that we restricted the y-axis to 20 to 160. There are only few players outside that range and including them would make the rest less visible.
The top orange region contains very few players. Player in this area are needed to
compete for the UEFA Champions League and hence ambitious teams will need
to pay scarcity prices. The blue area contains youth players. These exhibit a strong
Relative Age effect. There are nearly no players in the green area. These play
in uncovered leagues. In the red area players gradually drop out the covered
leagues as they get too old.
As the aging curve, the Goalimpact distribution peaks around the age of 26. Most players are in a narrow band of ca. 20 Goalimpact points, independent of the age. There are more outliers above the band as there are below. We assume, this results from a selection bias. the best players will always play in a covered league and hence are included. In contrast, senior players below a certain quality do not play in covered leagues. We marked the area green which contains very few players, because presumably players in that range below a Goalimpact of 80 didn't make it to become a professional football player, at least not in a covered league. Some youth players would be in that range if they'd follow the aging curve, so apparently a selection takes place in the transition between youth and senior football - which makes entirely sense. This should enable us to create a probability score that a youth players will eventually play senior, but we leave this to another post.

Among the youth players (blue area) we see three thick vertical lines. These are caused by the Relative Age Effect (RAE). Football teams favor players born early in the year, because these are relative old compared to their team mates and opponents. This makes them have a physical advantage. As this advantage will disappear once the players are fully grown, it is a short sighted and ineffective way of player development. Rather than focusing on developing the most talented players, teams seem to focus on winning the current youth competition and play predominantly players that incidentally were born in the early months of the year. They do so, despite the fact that, according to Goalimpact, the players in the later months often are more talented. We didn't investigate it in detail, but from the chart it looks like that it were mostly the youth players that drove with the RAE ticket that didn't make it to the senior football. It makes intuitively sense as their physical play no longer works in adult football.
The Relative Age Effect is strongly visible until the age of 19. Thereafter, however,
it is much less pronounced. We conclude, that many players that were favored by
their relative age in the youth league, don't make it to senior football.
But given that many of the players born in January to June drop out at a later stage, much resources are wasted on players with a bad prognosis to make it to senior football anyway. We therefore propose to select the players by prognosis rather than current physical development, because this will improve the resource allocation. One way of doing so would be selecting players by PeakGI.

Most of the players in the database will never be good enough to really compete for the UEFA Champions League (UCL), A Bundesliga club aiming for UCL qualification will need an average Goalimpact of 110+ in the team. But to pass the round of last 16, this will not be good enough. The top teams will aim for players that are at least 120+. The area with those players is marked orange. Only few players are in that range and hence the clubs can expect to pay scarcity prices. This is especially true for players that are expected to stay in that range for many years, either because they are young (Thomas Müller) or because they are so extremely good that they are expected to stay above the limit for many years to come despite aging (Xabi Alonso).

Even the best players eventually decline in performance due to age. There is no fix limited when a player will stop playing. Besides the playing strength this is influenced by many other factors such as his health, his wish to go on playing, and the need of his current club. What is notable, though, is that players often drop out at a lower Goalimpact level than the marked at the green area. We assume that this is caused by different factors. Partly, this due to a bias in the aging curve. The aging curve treats all non-goalkeepers equal. In many tactical setups, however, defenders are less prone to age-related decline in performance. E.g., if a team doesn't play a high line, the reduction in speed will not influence the quality of a center back as much as striker that needs speed to counter. Hence, some defenders may actually be better than indicated by their Goalimpact. We may distinguish the aging curve for non-goalkeepers into tactical positions at a later stage, but it is not as straight forward as it seems. Some players, like Kevin Großkreutz, play many positions and it is unclear which aging curve to use for them.

Another reason why players linger around with a Goalimpact below the value that teams would accept for young players may be that older player can be still every effective but can't take 90 minutes at full strength anymore. They then might be still be very useful as substitutions or backups (e.g. Claudio Pizarro).

To summarize, a scatter plot of player age vs Goalimpact reveals that players need to have a Goalimpact above 80 to be professional football player. If they are pro already, they may stay in business a bit longer below that level. Below a level of 70, however, many drop out. Even today, youth football is driven strongly by the Relative Age Effect. The data suggests that many players that benefited from their relative old age do not manage to take the step to senior football where this advantage is gone. Football clubs could improve the efficiency of their youth programs substantially by selecting their players according to talent rather than relative age even though it may cause their youth teams to produce less victories.