December 24, 2004
When 'just about ok' is better than genius
It is the British football fan's greatest puzzle this season: why are Everton, a hitherto unheralded side, doing so well (currently third in the Premiership and ahead of Manchester United and Liverpool FC)?
Of course, most fans supporting clubs without a shout for the title (excepting Liverpool fans) are hoping for an upset come May. All the more so because Everton sold wonderboy Wayne Rooney to Manchester United in the summer. 'Haha! Ja-boo sucks to you!' This is British sporting schadenfreude at its most appealing.
The question, though, that interested me more, and should be of interest to non-sporting fans, is whether there is a link between offloading a supremely talented player and doing better in the league. According to Danny Finkelstein in a Times article from last month, there is:
When Everton had Rooney in the side they were much less effective at nicking the points than when they did not. In the games since the start of the 2002-03 season that Rooney started, Everton scored an average 1.21 goals and conceded 1.21 goals. You would expect them to pick up an average 1.35 points per game. They picked up only an average of 1.06 points.
Now look at the games he did not start. Everton scored an average 1.22 goals and conceded 1.05 goals. You would expect an average 1.45 points per game, instead it was 1.78 points per game. It’s official. Everton are better off, far better off, without Wayne Rooney.
So there you have it: because of his sheer abundance of sporting ability, young Wayne was tipping the team off balance. Everton manager, David Moyes, seems to understand what has happened and, though he has £25 million to spend in the Christmas transfer market from the sale of Rooney, he is thought not to want to buy anyone. Why? His team is balanced and, as Finkelstein says, 'better, far better off' as a result.
September 21, 2004
Our Garcia, our Langer
One of the finest outcomes of this week's glorious European triumph in Detroit against the USA in the Ryder Cup has been a subtle – if very temporary shift – in the British attitude to Europeans.
Fine performances from a Spaniard, Irishmen, a Frenchman and a German have been taken to the British sporting heart: Sergio Garcia, Padraig Harrington, Thomas Levet and Bernhard Langer have each become 'one of us' or to put it another way – we have become patriotic Europeans. There is, after all, nothing like a common enemy (i.e. the US) to bring Europeans together and for once the UK can join the party.
It does make me wonder whether we couldn't engineer some more European teams so that us British could get used to this kind of thing. Of course it is merely an extension of that curiously English tendency to bemoan Scottish golfer Colin Montgomery and celebrate his British counterpart – you are only one of us so long as you're winning. A bit childish, but true, nevertheless.
Perhaps a more significant lesson for Europe, politically, is in the nature of the two teams playing in Detroit. The US team was no more than a collection of individuals with poor leadership - not unlike the countries of the EU. Individually they may seem like leaders in their fields, but collectively they punch beneath their weight (to borrow a boxing expression). The European team meanwhile were less lauded, almost certainly less individually talented, yet well led and able to work as a team, punching above their weight. By comparison with European states, the United (yet still individual) States of America are the embodiment of this.
So then, perhaps Europe's politicians could learn from their golfers. Bernhard Langer for president of the EU anyone?
Update: I have noticed, since posting this, David Aaronovich making a similar point: Suddenly, we like being European