Newcastle may be desperate for glory, but so are others

AMID all the hullabaloo about Newcastle United’s takeover by the Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth fund, there was an underlying feeling the club’s fans were entitled to celebrate the transaction because they had waited so long for success. It is true that Newcastle have gone 52 years without any form of silverware, but they are not alone in being an underachieving club. Certainly, nobody should be using the phrase, “they deserve this because they want it so much”, a throwaway rolled-out by TV “talent” shows full of weeping wannabes and hyberbole.

For example, in the current Premier League, there are four clubs (Brentford, Brighton, Crystal Palace and Watford) who have never won a single major trophy. Burnley have waited the longest, 61 years since they won the league title. Then there’s West Ham and Wolverhampton Wanderers, who have gone 41 without a trophy on their boardroom table.

In Germany, exactly half of the 18-team Bundesliga have never won a trophy, while poor old Hertha Berlin have gone 90 years without a sniff of silverware. It was 1931 when they were last champions of Germany. Among the owners of barren trophy cabinets are RB Leipzig, who despite being in contention for honours, have yet to break their duck.

Only four clubs from Italy’s Serie A have never won a cup, but there’s a lot who have been waiting for what must seem like an eternity. Udinese (91 years), Genoa (84), Venezia (80) and Atalanta (58) are all among the most patient of clubs.

Nine clubs from La Liga are potless, while Athletic Bilbao have waited the longest among the past winners, some 37 years. Interestingly, seven teams have lifted trophies in the past three seasons from Spain, highlighting their strength in European competition.

France, despite the dominance of Paris Saint-Germain, has only five Ligue 1 teams who have never won a bean. Eleven clubs have won something since 2001. Of those that can look back on past glory, Reims have been waiting longest – 30 years.

The top 10 most patient clubs

Last trophyYears
Hertha Berlin193190
Newcastle Utd196952

Returning to the Premier League, there are three clubs that are most often spoken about when it comes to a lack of tangible success: Newcastle, Tottenham and Everton. The following list provides a chronology of when all three clubs won their major trophies.

  1891 (13)
 1901 (19) 
1905 (13)  
  1906 (15)
1907 (2)  
1909 (2)  
1910 (1)  
  1915 (9)
 1921 (20) 
1924 (14)  
1927 (3)  
  1928 (13)
1932 (5) 1932 (4)
  1933 (1)
  1939 (6)
1951 (19)1951 (30) 
1952 (1)  
1955 (3)  
 1961 (10) 
 1961 (10) 
 1962 (1) 
 1963 (1)1963 (14)
  1966 (3)
 1967 (4) 
1969 (14)  
  1970 (4)
 1971 (4) 
 1972 (1) 
 1973 (1) 
 1981 (8) 
 1982 (1) 
 1984 (2)1984 (14)
  1985 (1)
  1985 (1)
  1987 (2)
 1991 (7) 
  1995 (8)
 1999 (8) 
 2008 (9) 
2021 (52)2021 (13)2021 (26)

Data in football needs context to be useful

WILL football one day be so “real time” that coaches will make in-game decisions based on data compiled during the 90 minutes? Surely this has to be on the agenda in the future as football becomes ever more technical?

Soccerex Connected included a session that included various professionals from the world of data. It has been coming, we were warned many years ago about the rise of “Big data” that everyone thought would just affect banking, trading, consumer experience and salesmen. Then came sport, with all its analytical potential. 

Sometimes, you have to wonder if we will all disappear up our own algorithmic orifices, not really understanding the heat maps, graphs, pie charts and figures at our disposal and guiding our lives. Certainly, while we look at heat maps and nod like wise old sages, do we comprehend and do we really need to? 

Football’s broad, universal appeal (there are probably little green people on Mars kicking a ball around) was its simplicity and accessibility. Now, clubs employ data scientists, analysts and other chin-stroking individuals who bring along corporate speak of the type you might hear in a management consultancy firm. Let’s be clear, using phrases like “user experience”, “configure”, “percolate” and “metrics” is not the language of the terrace or the cheap seats, which is why people like Gary Neville drawing on a screen hits the spot far better with the game’s demographic than any statistic.

So let’s assume this sort of dialogue is really for those that know. Jay Cooney of Major League Soccer club Philadelphia Union hit the nail on the head when he told the Soccerex audience, “all data needs context” and this is where so many people – over fascinated by the data rather than how best to use it – fall down.

Cooney pointed to other factors that affect players and their performance and how this is often ignored. For example, if a game is played in incessant heat or dodging thunder storms (which stop games these days), performance is undoubtedly impacted or compromised.

We have seen how taking the data often guides transfer target decision-making. Since Moneyball, any nerd in a dark room thinks he or she can successfully build a football team through statistical analysis. It can work, but it also fails – remember how Fulham bought a new squad based on data-driven processes and flopped miserably? If it was that easy, we could all make a fortune predicting football results. Fortunately, football depends on human fallibility, gut feelings, suspect temperament, euphoria and other emotional factors.

Human beings have faults, so until Manchester City buy a team of robots (that day may come!), then the game will never be perfect.

We are seeing the day of the data analyst at the moment, but it is a day that has only really just started. It’s still the coach, who has to deal with the raw material, the human resources, that carries the can. Do data specialists get the sack when all the number crunching and heat maps prove ineffective?

Photo: ALAMY