The 2011/12 Update to the All-Time Best Managers Versus the m£XIR Model

This past February the TPI posted an analysis of the all-time best managers versus the m£XIR model.  It took an overall look at the then 19 seasons worth of data to determine who had performed the best versus financial expectations set by the team’s starting XI costs in terms of transfer value.  Another Premier League season has been completed, which means it is time to update the overall rankings as well as generate a new “post-Abramovich” view of them to highlight who has over performed in the “financial doping” era.  The always-excellent Graeme Riley has been kind enough to share the match-by-match data, so here is the 2011/12 season’s impact on the m£XIR rankings.

Per the previous post, each manager in the study must have presided over at least 38 matches to be included.  This requirement ensures a large enough sample size is used for each manager before any conclusions are drawn.  The managers have been ranked in decreasing order of their average residual per match (actual points earned – predicted points) versus the m£XIR model.  A projection of the additional or fewer number of points than expected over a 38 match season is also provided. The color-coding associated with the tables of data has changed a bit since the first post.  Green still indicates the top 10% of managers, but the yellow rows represent the middle 70% of managers while the bottom 20% of managers are colored red.  This change was made to provide a better distinction in identifying under performing managers.  The data is normally distributed, so a projection of the manager’s percentile is also provided to communicate what percentage of managers are worse than the specific manager listed (e.g. in the overall rankings Alex Ferguson is better than 99.7% of all managers who have managed or might manage a Premier League club).

The first table of data presented below represents the overall manager rankings from all 20 years of the Premier League.  As the overall ranking was supplied in the earlier post, a comparison to each manager’s performance from the previous ranking (through the 2010/11 season) is also supplied as a part of this table.

First, an accounting of the biggest movers from the 2010/11 rankings.

Roberto Mancini (+6.0 points per 38 matches over his 2010/11 ranking) and Alan Pardew (+4.7 points per 38 matches over 2010/11 ranking) had the biggest gains.  Mancini’s performance was bolstered by City’s 0.60 PPM over performance (22.8 points per 38 matches – PP38) versus the m£XIR model in the 2011/12 season. While Mancini was well armed (Sq£ = £326M, average XI = £178.6M, 3rd most expensive side overall), it is also a testament to his management ability that he delivered on such lofty expectations.  The m£XIR model properly accounts for the randomness of match outcomes given the low scoring levels in soccer, while the longer term TTV model accounts for the mitigation of that randomness via higher levels of spending over multiple seasons.  Thus, continued long-term spending should set high table expectations, but it does far less to assure success in the short-term from match to match.  Last season’s performance by Manchester City moved Mancini from the 10th ranked manager to the 3rd ranked manager in the overall rankings.  It remains to be seen if he can maintain Alex Fergusson and Arsene Wenger levels of performance.

On the other hand, Alan Pardew greatly overachieved on a very limited budget (Sq£ = £70.1M, £XI = £36.2M, 10th most expensive team) and delivered 0.41 PPM more than his expenditures suggested he should have achieved (15.6 PP38).  His performance with Newcastle was good enough to move him from a negative residual (-0.021 PPM/-0.8 PP38) and 39th position last year to a positive residual (0.10 PPM/3.9 PP38) good enough for 19th position.  It will be interesting to see how the manager and club deal with the increased media and opponent focus after a season that saw the club barely miss out on Champions League qualification.

Kenny Dalglish’s record paid perhaps the heaviest price of any of the managers in the 2011/12 campaign.  Going into the season his record was good enough to warrant being in the green zone, with a 0.198 PPM/7.5 PP38 record that translated to ninth place overall.  A disastrous 2011/12 campaign that saw the club finish 8th overall and with a -0.21 PPM/-8.0 PP38/15th position versus the m£XIR model caused Dalglish’s overall record to drop to 0.13 PPM/5.1 PP38 and move him into the yellow zone in 14th place.  He’s still considered a top manager given he’s only five positions into the yellow zone, but he’s not one of the elite nine managers who are better than 90% of all managers in the history of the EPL.  As for Liverpool’s new manager, Brendan Rodgers’ Swansea side largely met expectations (0.05 PPM/1.8 PP38).  This season he’ll be tested in meeting loftier ones given Liverpool’s team was far more expensive than Swansea’s (Sq£ = +£189M, average £XI = +£112M).

Of the other two managers who also crossed the 38 match threshold in 2011/12, one met expectations while one greatly under performed.  Paul Lambert’s first season in the Premier League resulted in Norwich City essentially meeting expectations (0.05 PPM/1.8 PP38).  Meanwhile, Steve Kean’s 59 matches at Blackburn put him 93rd out of 99 managers who have overseen at least 38 Premier League matches.  Kean’s Rovers team had a -0.42 PPM (-15.96 PP38) versus the model in the 2011/12 season, lowering his overall managerial performance to -0.36 PPM (-13.5 PP38).  It could be argued that this record is due more to the Venkys ownership’s incompetency than a lack of skill on Kean’s part, but the model does not take into account such factors when assigning responsibility.

Of the top 15 managers in the overall ranking, only five are actively managing a club in the upcoming Premier League season – Ferguson, Wenger, Mancini, Moyes, and Allardyce.  Mancini is the only manager of the five with less than 300 matches on his Premier Leauge record, so his record versus the m£XIR model will be the most volatile in the coming year.  His overall PPM would rise to 0.42 if he were able to turn in another campaign like 2011/12, keeping him third in the rankings but nipping much closer at Arsene Wenger’s heels.

It is time to turn our attention to the post-Abramovich era now that the overall 20-year rankings are understood.  It’s this ranking from the “financial doping” era of the Premier League where savvy managers really display their unique buying and selling powers to assemble low-cost, high performing teams.  A table ranking the 52 managers who meet the 38 match minimum threshold is shown below.  As there was no such ranking done in the previous post, the table below does not contain a comparison to each manager’s 2010/11 ranking.

Claudio Ranieri’s outstanding final season out of four at Chelsea makes for the anomaly that he’s the top-ranked manager in the post-Abramovich era.  His four-year average of 0.25 PPM (9.3 PP38) puts him 7th all time, but his 0.52 PPM (19.3 PP38) in his final season puts him top of the list for seasons 2003/04 through 2011/12.  It was cruel irony that Ranieri’s chance at a championship was only thwarted by the best performance of any club in Premier League history.  Arsenal’s Invincibles not only ran up a perfect record that year, but they also had the best single season performance versus the m£XIR model (0.96 PPM, 36.5 PP38).  In any other year Ranieri’s Chelsea team would have won the title with such a performance.  Even crueler was the fact that the core of the team that won back-to-back championships the next two seasons – Peter Cech, Arjen Robben, William Gallas, and Frank Lampard – were all purchased during Ranieri’s tenure.  Thus, it’s no surprise that the two longest tenured successors to Ranieri – Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelloti – also show up in the top 20% of managers in the post-Abramovich era.

Outside of Ranieri’s top position, the two most-accomplished EPL managers flip-flop positions when only the seasons since 2003/04 are considered.  Arsene Wenger was able to maintain the previous season’s form (0.37 PPM in 2011/12 versus 0.38 PPM in 2010/11) even with the bad start to the season.  Those two seasons worth of data are a bit down versus his post-Abramovich average (0.48 PPM/18.1 PP38), but the large sample size of 342 matches means that the two latest down years have a minimal impact on his overall rating.  While Arsenal has been content to fall further behind the competition in terms of squad value, Manchester United has responded to the financial challenges presented first by Chelsea and now by Manchester City.  With the rise in Manchester United’s spending there has been a consequent decline in their performance versus the mXIR model.  Alex Fergusson’s post-Abramovich performance (0.42 PPM/16.1 PP38) is 20% lower than his record in the pre-Abramovich era (0.52/19.8 PP38).  This translates to him being “only” better than 97.5% of all Premier League managers since 2003/04.

A number of managers in the yellow zone will be looking to improve their records in the coming years.  Sam Allardyce, the highest ranked active coach in the yellow band at 9th, will be guiding West Ham United’s fortunes next season after earning promotion for the club back to the Premier League a single season after relegation.  Allardyce will be looking to prove his doubters wrong after his inexcusable sacking at Blackburn at the hands of its Venkys owners. Martin O’Neill will try to revive Sunderland’s form closer to what it was right after he took over the club in December of 2011.  He currently sits 10th overall in the post-Abramovich era with a 0.15 PPM/5.8 PP38 that makes him better than 80% of the managers from the era.  Harry Redknapp’s sacking at Tottenham at the end of last season made no sense, especially since his final year at Spurs was the best during his four year tenure there (and was the best of his entire EPL career).  It’s unclear what Spurs expect of his replacement.  Even though Andres Villas-Boas is ineligible for the list given he has not managed 38 matches yet, he would rank 43rd out of what would be 53 managers if he continues his form from Chelsea (-0.23 PPM/-8.6 PP38).  Alan Pardew and Martin Jol will also be able to improve their position within the standings this coming season.  Jol will have to improve significantly over last year’s performance (0.10 PPM/3.8 PP38) to see any positive movement in the table, while Pardew would move up to 10th ahead of Martin O’Neill if he performed similarly to 2011/12 in the upcoming campaign.

The final point to be made is how to judge Kenny Dalglish’s tenure at Liverpool.  As his nearly year and a half stint guiding the club is his only management experience in the post-Abramovich era, his -0.03 PPM/-1.0 PP38 suggests his tenure largely met expectations from the financial outlay.  Masked in this overall result is the gross-over performance in the second half of the 2010/11 season as caretaker that is paired with gross under performance as full time manager in 2011/12.  Liverpool fans will undoubtedly be irritated that the only manager of the post-Abramovich era with a positive average residual to the m£XIR model is Rafael Benitez (+0.33 PPM/12.5 PP38).  Gerard Houllier, Roy Hodgson, and Dalglish all either met expectations (Houllier & Dalglish) or under performed (Hodgson) during their post-Abramovich years at the club.  The Kop faithful must be hoping that Brendan Rodgers can improve their performance versus the m£XIR model.  If he does so, he’ll also substantially increase his standing in the post-Abramovich table given he only has 38 matches on his record.

Zach Slaton is the author of A Beautiful Numbers Game blog, and a contributor at The Tomkins Times, the Transfer Price Index, and Forbes Online. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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