FIFA World Rankings – time for a change?

Although this article was written about 18 months ago – I still think it retains relevance; for two reasons:

  1. FIFA is embroiled in a huge scandle, and
  2. People seem to keep reading it almost 2 years after the fact.

As such here’s a redux on the primary headline with some added juice about the corrupt behavior of the organization, to date, and how the rankings REALLY do need  a re-look in how they are calculated!

I don’t claim that my suggested new way is THE way, but I do think it represents a considerably more open and objective ranking approach then how it’s currently done.

Finally, as with my latest on Moneyball 2 – I highly recommend you get a cup or pint of your favorite beverage before digging in.

To begin – here’s what I offered previously; later on I’ll add some additional thoughts not touched on in the original article; thanks in advance for your patience:

In order to offer up my comments/questions for consideration it’s appropriate for me to include the FIFA World Rankings as of 20 months ago and then the link on how it’s determined.

First the link and the diagram below showing the Top 30 as of June, 2014.

June 2014 FIFA Rankings - Coca-Cola Sponsored
June 2014 FIFA Rankings – Coca-Cola Sponsored

Now, here’s how it’s calculated

What follows is a direct lift from the link provided above:  FIFA explanations are offered in “bold” while my questions/comments will be offered in ‘italics’.

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The basic logic of these calculations is simple: any team that does well in world football wins points which enable it to climb the world ranking. 

Well I’m not so sure it’s simple but it does provide what it says it does – a listing from best to worst organized by ‘points earned’.

A team’s total number of points over a four-year period is determined by adding: 

The average number of points gained from matches during the past 12 months; and the average number of points gained from matches older than 12 months (depreciates yearly).

  • Maybe it’s just me but I don’t see the relevance of using four years worth of history in ranking current teams.
  • My own personal view is that the last two years (which ensures including the lead up to the World Cup) has more relevance given the nature of players that appear and disappear, from year to year, on National Soccer teams.
  • I wonder what the bi-yearly turnover rate in player personnel is compared to the quad-yearly (is that a word?) turnover rate in player personnel?
  • And what about changes in Head Coaches; shouldn’t that impact a National Team Ranking? 
  • Most, I think, would agree that a change in Head Coach will not only drive a change in player selection it will also drive a change in how the team strategically and tactically attacks and defends.
  • When that change occurs is it really the same team?
  • In considering the four year life-span of the points I’m not sure I see the relevance of how a team performed three years ago, with perhaps a 50% change in player personnel, has any bearing on how a team might perform in the current year.
  • The same can be said for a team coached by someone else 3-4 years ago versus in the last year or so…
  • Perhaps? a team should be ‘reduxed’ when a new Head Coach arrives on scene?   Might using just two years worth of data help ‘quantify’ that redux?
  • Or, in other words previous performance is excluded and a new clean sheet is started?
  • Perhaps? a team should be ‘reduxed’ when over 50% of the player personnel change? 
  • In other words previous performance with a team that has over 50% of new players means a new clean sheet is started?
  • Maybe this keeps the FIFA World Cup rankings more up to the ‘now’ as opposed to the ‘then’?

Calculation of points for a single match:

The number of points that can be won in a match depends on the following factors:

Was the match won or drawn? (M)

How important was the match (ranging from a friendly match to a FIFA World Cup™ match)? (I)

How strong was the opposing team in terms of ranking position and the confederation to which they belong? (T and C)

  • Results are qualitative based not quantitative based; if the FIFA Rankings are intended to be used to “quantify”/”deem” which teams are better or worse, in overall performance, relative to placement in future tournaments, is it better to rank those teams using a quantitative or qualitative analyses?  
  • I’d offer it’s better to use a quantitative analytical approach.
  • Friendlies have absolutely no bearing on whether or not a team is good or bad – why? 
  • Because they are experiments that Head Coaches use to evaluate players for when it really matters; to attach a value to a friendly, that exceeds the ‘intent’ of the Friendly, and (brutal facts) violates all the common sense logic of a statistical based ranking system.
  • How is the strength of one Confederation compared to another? 
  • The percentages are provided further below but no additional explanation is offered to go with that…
  • If teams only meet in the World Cup, outside of Friendlies, from different Confederations, what is the value of one FIFA World Ranking System; isn’t it simply more relevant to create a FIFA World Ranking after all the Confederations have completed their elimination tournaments?
  • And then, perhaps, that listing is leveraged when the seeded teams from each Confederation are matched up to the other Confederations for the World Cup?
  • If a quantitative statistical approach were used it would be easier as you’d be comparing ‘apples to apples’…
  • And if Friendlies are not included in the analyses, then the only time the real Rank has value is right before and right after the World Cup.
  • And after the World Cup it could be used to seed teams for Confederation tournaments; or is that devolving the FIFA World Ranking of too much influence?
  • Will the hog butcher itself?

These factors are brought together in the following formula to ascertain the total number of points (P).

(P = M x I x T x C)    The following criteria apply to the calculation of points:

M: Points for match result

  • Teams gain 3 points for a victory, 1 point for a draw and 0 points for a defeat. In a penalty shoot-out, the winning team gains 2 points and the losing team gains 1 point.
    • Again, when in a Friendly, this places a value of ‘worth’ in winning, when in fact there is no value in winning a Friendly.
    • The intent of a Friendly is for the Head Coaches to see how their players perform and the players get a feel for what it’s like to work in that coaches system with other teammates.
    • If FIFA has the approach of awarding Ranking Points for teams who win in Penalty Shoot-outs than why have draws as a part of the game at all?
    • In a knock-out competition draws can’t happen; so why can they happen in regular competition?
    • Why not just have every game that ends in a Draw result in a Penalty Shoot-out where the winner gets 2 points in the League Table and the loser gets one point in the League Table?
    • Might this approach also help players better train for crucial PK competitions in the World Cup?
    • Put another way; is the “consistency of purpose” missing when it comes to FIFA and how games are ended?

I: Importance of match

  • Friendly match (including small competitions): I = 1.0
  • FIFA World Cup™ qualifier or confederation-level qualifier: I = 2.5
  • Confederation-level final competition or FIFA Confederations Cup: I = 3.0
  • FIFA World Cup™ final competition: I = 4.0
    • What is a “small competition”?
    • Why is the value of a FIFA World Cup match any different than the value of any other specific competition that is not a Friendly?
    • All of those other competition types (excluding Friendlies) can and do see players rotating in and out of National Team squads; so the teams are not the same teams all the time.
    • In addition, there are numerous changes in Head Coaches between World Cup events; therefore does it seem reasonable that all the Competition levels have different values/levels of importance?

T: Strength of opposing team

  • The strength of the opponents is based on the formula: 200 – the ranking position of the opponents.
    As an exception to this formula, the team at the top of the ranking is always assigned the value 200 and the teams ranked 150th and below are assigned a minimum value of 50. The ranking position is taken from the opponents’ ranking in the most recently published FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking.

    • Given that the method for ranking teams is more qualitative than quantitative this statistical calculation is highly suspect and open to significant interpretation/influence outside the bounds of objectivity.
    • And we’ve already seen how objectivity can be manipulated with the selection of Qatar hosting the 2022 World Cup.
    • If no values are attached to Friendlies then this strength of Opponent has no relevance until the World Cup; the only time teams meet in a competition that actually has real value…

C: Strength of confederation

When calculating matches between teams from different confederations, the mean value of the confederations to which the two competing teams belong is used. The strength of a confederation is calculated on the basis of the number of victories by that confederation at the last three FIFA World Cup™ competitions (see following page). Their values are as follows:

  • UEFA/CONMEBOL 1.00
  • CONCACAF 0.88
  • AFC/CAF 0.86
  • OFC 0.85
    • How were these percentages developed and when, and how often, are they updated?
    • Again, to be redundant here, because I think it’s important to minimize internal/external influence in judging the effective performance of a team, this category, in the calculation gives the impression of adding a ‘fudge-factor’.
    • A more quantitative approach would eliminate the need for this “strength of Confederation”…
    • The less subjective influence FIFA has on the Confederation and World Ranking systems the better…

Final thoughts on the current FIFA approach:

  • As much as there are ‘numbers’ involved, this approach really is tainted with subjectivity.

Moving on to my Possession with Purpose Index – specifically the one resulting from the 2014 World Cup:

CPWP INDEX JULY 9TH 2014 WORLD CUP

There are considerable differences, even without the final two games being played…

  • The most glaring difference between the two Indices/Rankings is the inclusion of Ukraine, Denmark, Slovenia, Scotland, Romania, and Serbia in the FIFA Top 30, while Nigeria, Korea, Ghana, Cameroon, Iran and Australia are excluded.
  • Note, since the date of the FIFA Rankings is June 2014 there was plenty of time for FIFA to ask themselves why teams that made the World Cup did not make the Top 30 and teams that didn’t make the World Cup made the Top 30.
  • Is it really a relevant Ranking system if there are teams in the top 30 who didn’t make the World Cup and teams outside the top 30 that did make the World Cup?
  • If a team is strong enough to qualify, from within their Confederation, then shouldn’t they, by rights, be in Top 30 of the FIFA World Rankings?
  • Is there supposed to be a ‘good feeling’ for a Nation to have a team in the Top 30 that didn’t make the World Cup?
  • What is the intent of the FIFA World Rankings anyway?  If it’s strictly for “seeding purposes” wouldn’t it be reasonable that the teams competing in the tournament are the only teams to appear in the Top 30/32?
  • And why a Top 30; why not a top 32?
  • If you exclude Friendlies from the calculation what does the FIFA World Ranking Index look like?

I wonder how quickly the table adjusts from month to month?

  • If the FIFA World Ranking system does not react quickly to changes in new Head Coaches, or major shifts in player personnel, how effective is it in dropping or raising teams based upon the World Cup?
  • I think, in this day and age, the ability to adjust the ranking of teams should be quicker and have less influence based upon past performance and more influence based upon current form; especially with changes in formations, styles, players and Head Coaches.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning again, if FIFA can appear to be ‘bought’ (that’s no longer “an appearance” – it’s FACT) when selecting Qatar for the World Cup in 2022 how reliable (really reliable) is their Index as calculated today?

  • Based on a win/draw (qualitative analyses),
  • Influenced by games that mean nothing (Friendlies), and
  • Influenced by games played four years ago where neither the team nor the Head Coach might be the same?

In Closing:

  • There’s no question that corruption existed, and probably still does, in some fashion or another – when that type of environment exists EVERY path forward should be reviewed to cleanse and objectify rankings for the future.
  • My approach has been published – it is reasonable – accurate – (in some cases extremely accurate) and the rankings in my Indices can show movement up and down the ladder when head coaching changes are made.
  • How a team did three years ago, under one coach, says absolutely nothing about how a team will do under another head coach, three years later.
  • If a national team changes their head coach the team ranking should be scrubbed and reviewed with a new start point somewhere outside the top 30-40… at least that’s an idea…
  • My Index is quantitative – there is no qualitative measurement (judgment) involved – therefore the politics of FIFA will never-ever influence a teams ranking.

If you think it’s time for a change in how FIFA calculates world rankings retweet this article – I’m not saying it’s THE answer but there are more ways (objective ways) to rank teams that completely ignore the almighty dollar bill.

Best, Chris  @chrisgluckpwp

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