The above quotation by the great American writer and philosopher Mark Twain is nearly 100 years old. He observed that the great politicians and newspapers of the day would manipulate and obfuscate the data available to them to mislead the public. Rather than reveal the honest truth they used the figures to lie and pretend. A century later, the more things change, the more they remain the same.
Take the PGMOL, for example. Despite the pleading of EPL fans, locally and worldwide, that VAR be implemented post haste, they seem to think they are currently doing a perfect job if we are to go by the figures they provided Sky Sports as recent as March earlier this year.
According to the PGMO (Professional Game Match Officials) Premier League referee makes around 245 decisions per game, three times more than an average player touches the ball over 90 minutes. That’s one decision every 22 seconds.
Approximately 45 of these decisions are technical – whether goal-kicks, corners or throw-ins – leaving around 200 decisions to judging physical contact and disciplinary actions.
Of those 200, around 35 are visible decisions where an action is taken (fouls, restarts), and 165 are non-visible, where play is allowed to continue.
In total, refs make around five errors per game, meaning they are right 98 per cent of the time.
Ninety Eight percent (98%) accuracy! Damn. That is almost perfection. Not even FIFA was willing to make such a grand claim about their referees prior to VAR; they estimated the best referees in the world at their disposal had a modest at 95% accuracy without the benefit of technology.
The PGMOL Is Far From Perfect
As I recently published in my last blog, The Disappearing Red Card, this same group of perfectionists have progressively declined to award 2nd cautions (red card) for dangerous play despite FIFA rules demanding that such fouls be punished. Over 17 years of PL data, red cards averaged 5.3% of yellow cards. But in the 16/17 and 17/18 season the rate of red cards fell to a fantastic 2.9% and 3.4% respectively. Conclusion from the data: either the EPL has become the cleanest league in the world in the past two years or the PGMOL refs have simply refused to make the critical, game-changing decision.
The data provides a clear answer to whether the league is cleaner. According to the PGMOL themselves, based on yellow cards they issued, the league is no cleaner relative to current refereeing standards. Significantly, in 16/17 when the referees only dished out 2.9% in red cards, there was a higher than average number of yellows, i.e. 1,392 vs 1,191. Similarly in 17/18, while yellows, at 1,164, was slightly below the mean, they were well within the standard deviation of 84. Rather than the league getting any cleaner in terms of yellow cards, the data is suggesting, very clearly, that the PGMOL is reluctant to issue 2nd cautions, despite their claim of 98% perfection.
Dirty Chelsea and Arsenal
What is even more interesting, based on the number of cautions (red cards), the PGMOL have adjudged Chelsea and Arsenal to be the dirtiest of the Top-7 clubs. The data covers 13 years since 04/05, a period when all 7 clubs have remained constant in the top-flight. In the table below, Man City, United and Chelsea are by far the leaders in incurring yellow-cards. Hands down.
The table below records the total number of red cards over the 13 year period. For any believer in fair play and even-handed refereeing for all clubs in the EPL, the table below is most alarming. Arsenal, in particular, which is ranked 6th in least yellow cards accumulated is adjudged 2nd worst in red cards both in raw numbers and on a percentage basis. Chelsea fans also have reason to be concerned by the data. While they were 3rd worst in yellow cards, their main companion at the top, Man Utd, who had the 2nd largest number of yellow cards were the 3rd least penalized team for red cards, with a total of 36.
As the EPL data, assembled above, clearly demonstrate, the issuing of red cards by the PGMOL, particularly that 2nd caution, is uneven and disproportionate. Even more concerning, this is happening at the same time as the PGMOL is throwing up data suggesting they are close to being perfect with their decisions. This clearly suggests they see no critical need for VAR. If they are perfect, despite evidence to the contrary, why will they press to implement a robust, transparent, effective VAR that will periodically over-ride their decisions?
If Arsenal and Chelsea fans, for starters, do not become active in campaigning for the type of VAR we saw at the last World Cup, I, for one, am not very optimistic about the VAR now being secretly implemented by Messers Riley and company.