Wednesday - July 26, 2017
Home    About    Writers    Links    Contact     RSS

About the Author

Bobby McMahon

Bobby McMahon

You can see me on Soccer Central most Mondays and Thursdays on Rogers Sportsnet in Canada. I write a regular column for and and frequently guest on various podcasts and radio shows.


Statistics Are Not Without Bias

Written by on November 8, 2011 | 15 Comments »
Posted in General

A few weeks ago before we were about to record a Fox Soccer Report, Eoin O’Callaghan and I got into a discussion about the burgeoning number of articles we see popping up on the internet using statistics to support what the authors believe to be unbiased conclusions.

Now I enjoy a good set of statistics as much as anyone but generally I think they have be viewed in a wider context than they often are in various postings.

A week or so ago  I came across an interview with author David McRaney. McRaney’s new book is called “You Are Not So Smart” and primarily deals with our ability for self-delusion.

Part of self-delusion is confirmation bias. We believe that we arrive at our opinions based on objective analysis. And that is not the case, in fact McRaney says that it is not even close.

He points to the time we spend confirming our biases by reading copacetic newspapers and websites for example.

But it was a concept called the “Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy” that really caught my attention and got me thinking of how it seems to describe many of the statistical articles.

There are so many football statistics available compared with even five years ago that it is easy latch on to some and to build an argument that shows that the stats chosen are the really important ones.

McRaney describes the “Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy” as follows. “It comes from the idea of a cowboy shooting at the side of a barn, over and over again. It fills up with bullets. Then, he walks over to the barn and paint’s a bull’s-eye over where the bullet holes clustered.”

Along comes a stranger who can’t be anything but impressed at how great a shooter the cowboy is because he has hit the target so many times.

As seductive as statistics can be the only stats that have always counted and will continue to count are the number of goals scored in a game.

Another one I came across last week courtesy of referred to a study at Murray State University. The study asked the question – “when a kid chooses his or her first sports team, who or what in their life most influences the choice?”

The answer the study came up with is – Dad.

Given the rapid expansion of the game in North America that has implications for the next generation of fans.

If the conclusion of the study is correct then the next generation of fans are going to pick the same teams as their fathers and that is good news for Manchester United and Barcelona especially even if good times can’t continue indefinitely.

You can get updates through RSS (top of the page), follow at Twitter BobbySoccerRep, or on Facebook

You can also find other Soccer Report contributors on Twitter by following this link.

15 responses to “Statistics Are Not Without Bias”

  1. Soccerlogical says:

    From blogs, watching live games at various stadiums in N America and talking to people at sports bars, I got a feeling that Arsenal are the most popular English side among Gen-Xers. Any stats to prove or disprove my “hunch”?

  2. J ROB says:

    With 16 years in the States I’d say it’s Man Utd. My regular port of call hosts anywhere from 10 – 25 Man Utd fans on a regular basis. They still seem to be the best supported team amongst Londoners 🙂 I had a lovely “discussion” with a southern English gent on Saturday insisting that Man City don’t have the experience to win the EPL.

    Re: stats – I know regretfully how misleading they can be. Charlie Adam, Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing were brought to Anfield because of their goal-creating stats. Net result – LFC scoring less goals per game than last season by a good margin 🙁

  3. J Rob – the Liverpool signings and the chances created stats was one example Eoin and I discussed. Arsenal has been another example over the last couple of seasons as well around possession.

  4. Gary says:

    Bobby — Regarding stats: goals scored is obvious stat. However, I belive the best stats are possession and passing accuracy / percent complete. I’m one of those who think stats are largely useless in soccer since it can be looked at as controlled chaos. That is, constant movement, positional interchange, unscripted play (unlike American football or baseball), and so on. In the end, it’s how well a team can possess, move and pass to enable scoring chances.

    Regarding favorite team: the Murray State survey seems like wasted time and money. Dad influences his kid: duh! Regardless, LA Galaxy, Manchester United, Barca, Madird, AC Milan and other well known, established clubs have stranglehold on things. Especially in Europe where TV rights, popular world-class players, and mega-jersey sales help fuel their image. Gravy train!

  5. Russell Berrisford says:

    I think I saw the same interview where McRaney also said that restaurants will often put one very high priced item on the menu to make you think that the other options are reasonably priced.

    Which is pretty similar to how we often judge transfer fees; just because Y didn’t cost as much as X doesn’t necessarily mean that Y was good value.

  6. Carmelo says:

    Very interesting indeed, Bobby.
    It is a normal natural instinct to seek out articles that perhaps might re-affirm your initial instinct, yet it is entirely up to the balanced and fair individual to seek out an equal number of potentially opposing views.

  7. Gus Keri says:

    J ROB:

    “Re: stats – I know regretfully how misleading they can be. Charlie Adam, Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing were brought to Anfield because of their goal-creating stats. Net result – LFC scoring less goals per game than last season by a good margin”

    You can’t blame the use of statistics for this problem.

    Here how the stats helped in this issue:
    1- These players were brought on to help create more chances based on their statistics.
    2- If you have watched all Liveprool games this season, you can see that the team is creating much more chances than last season. Much more.
    3- Statistics were very helpful in resolving this issue.

    Where is the problem, then?
    It’s in scoring. LFC has a problem finishing all these good chances.

    The article confuses us when he said that goal scoring is the only stat that count. Yet, this is the only stat that is very difficult to rely on consistently.
    Suarez and Carroll are known goal scorers and are the ones that are failing LFC nowadays.

    Another example is Torres whose production dried up after his move to Chelsea.

    Statistics are reliable to tell you how technical each player is. the touches, passes and crosses are very telling stats.
    Finishing, on the other hand, has more personal, psychological and situational conditions to it then any other aspect of player’s skills.

    May be it’s the extreme pressure that the strikers find themselves under in these circumstances, and not experienced by other players in other part of the field.

    My conclusion: Stats are definately helpful. But you should always look for other personal factors, like loss of form and psycholgical conditions. When all are equal, stats tell the difference very accurately.

  8. Ed Gomes says:

    I love stats. I admit that I have fallen into the trap of only finding stats that substantiate my argument/thought.
    In football/soccer stats can be very misleading. Unlike the NFL, MLB and even the NBA where stats are king, in football/soccer only scoring titles/records are kept. Everything else is team related and not individual. Yes we keep ball possession and passing accuracy, but they can be very misleading. For example Barca can knock the ball around all day, but if the their opponent scores first and parks the bus it might not matter. All statistics will point to a Barca win except on the scoreboard.
    Did Messi win all those titles, or did Barcelona. Years from now Messi could be known as the greatest ever, but the Silverware/History/Glory will be Barca’s.

    As for favorite teams, “Dad” being the influence isn’t news. We control the remote, hence pick the game and team to root for. Being Portuguese, I was born a Benfica fan because that’s what happened in my house. I have family members that are Sporting and even Porto fans, and it gets ugly. At family functions no football talk is allowed. Crazy, but there’s cousins that won’t even speak with each other.

    Due to today’s technology we can watch a match from anywhere in the world. I know that the MLS has grown, but we an watch any match we want. I’ve always thought that the game was bigger in the US than perceived. Just because people aren’t following the MLS it doesn’t mean they aren’t watching football.

  9. John Bladen says:


    If you check Torres scoring, I think you’ll find his production dried up quite a while before he went to Chelsea.

    For about 12 months he was arguably the most dangerous striker on the planet. Then, just as quickly as the great finishing and run of fantastic form had come, it went away (admittedly, some of that was no doubt down to injuries and ‘rust’ as he returned to play).

    If only LFC hadn’t wasted so much of the cash they got for Torres on Carroll, I’d say they’d played their hand perfectly.

  10. John Bladen says:

    Statistics will tell you shameless lies in any sport. Even “total” goals for and against can be highly misleading.

    Was I the only one who was hoping the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy was going to shed some light on the JFK assassination??

    It’s a very apt concept, however. Humans are prone to certain logic traps… some more than others I’m sure.

  11. Gus Keri says:


    Regarding Torres:

    I am aware of his trouble scoring before he left Liverpool but in the 2010-2011 season alone, he scored 9 goals in 26 games for Liverpool and only 1 goal in 18 games for Chelsea.
    This is what I meant with “drying up”.

    Regarding Carroll:

    I wish people will stop referring to his price.
    This issue was discussed in detail when it happened.
    It was a message from the new owners to the rest of the world that they mean business and to the Liverpool faithfuls that they are behind the club no matter what the adversities.

    And let’s face it, if he produced gaols in the same rate like he was doing for Newcastle, we wouldn’t be having this discussion, would we?

  12. John Bladen says:


    A memo would have been cheaper.

    And Aguero, Dzeko or any number of other players would have been better.

    Is it really your contention that it doesn’t matter how much they spent on Carroll or what they get from him? That the value was in “the message”?

    The value is in the production generated for the money spent. In that respect, both Torres and Carroll have been failures thus far.

  13. Gus Keri says:


    “A memo would have been cheaper.”

    I am very happy to inform you that Liverpool’s owners are not cheap.

  14. Ed Gomes says:

    Gus, in my opinion, even if Carroll maintaing his scoring average from Newcastle the price was still too high.
    I do agree that it sent the message that Liverpool was back in business, but I also think that Liverpool was hoping to cash in merchandise wise. A big Brit with a scoring touch that could excel for England as well.
    I would like to see some “stats” on how many Carroll jerseys they’ve sold. Keep in mind when people go out to buy a jersey, they usually spend more money on additional things. Scarves, banners, hats, etc…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

House Rules

Please refrain from posting comments that;

  • Attempt to demean, intimidate or bully fellow readers
  • Are racist, sexist, homophobic, sexually explicit, intolerant or otherwise abusive
  • Includes language likely to offend or attempts to try and circumvent this request
  • Could be considered spam

The House reserves the right to delete any such comments and to block further participation on the site.

Soccer Report Extra
© copyright 2010. All rights reserved.
Designed and Developed by:
Bills'eye + Underscorefunk Design