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:
- FIFA is embroiled in a huge scandle, and
- 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.
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’.
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:
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?
- 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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Major League Soccer… What’s Next?
I don’t begin to think I can capture all the issues or even ensure I get it right when it comes to the state of MLS but here’s what I see as being some topics to tease and tantalize the typical fan of MLS as the off-season approaches; others may have a different view?
- Collective Bargaining Agreement
- Two new expansion teams
- Chivas USA going belly up – or down the rabbit hole for two years; pick your pleasure
- Introduction of new USL Pro Sides affialiated with MLS teams
- General Business Operating Conditions
Working from last to first – General Business Operating Conditions:
In a phrase the league operates from an “entitlement-based” system… no penalty for poor management other than bad press.
Even more disappointing is that poor management and leadership skills are rewarded with top draft picks and more money with the allocation process.
Is that like throwing good money on top of bad money or what?
In my opinion the sooner Business Conditions better reward great management and organizational skills the better this league will compete in the World for top class players.
And likewise – the sooner all Referee’s are Professionalized the better.
If you can’t support a top officiating system how can you expect to be first class as a Business?
Especially when every business organization out there knows… you need to have great quality control and great quality assurance to make yourselves better than the competition.
Finally, video replay – not just an MLS issue – but a FIFA issue.
Every major sporting system in this country has been able to find ways of leveraging video replay more effectively in the hopes of minimizing human error in judgment calls. With the continued abuse by players on fake injuries and time wasting can FIFA really be expected to ignore the wholesale advantages of institutionalizing the use of video replay to confirm/deny controversial calls or non-calls?
Wouldn’t it be reasonable to take the lead with FIFA to institutionalize a video replay system that sustains the ‘time integrity’ of the game (treat video replay analysis as added injury time for instance) and take time to make time to ensure the right calls are made in one of the fastest paced and most lucrative games in the World?
It’s simply NOT TOO SOON to institute the opportunity for video replay – the sooner the better. And if there was ever a management tool to mitigate “game throwing” it’s this one!
Introduction of new USL Pro sides:
Introduction of more, new, USL Pro Sides continues to establish a minor league feeder system not unlike Minor League Baseball… geographically developed leagues where the young talent can blossom and get promoted to the Big Team without the headache of College and an NCAA system that beggars common sense.
Just convince me with at least one reasonable statement how on earth the NCAA can continue to reinforce the use of multiple substitutions in a soccer game… if there is anything out there that better represents reinforcing an ‘entitlement based system’ it’s that! Wow…
And with the continued pressure to align US Soccer with FIFA (THE International Governing Body for Soccer) how can an NCAA system, partly responsible for developing future US Soccer players, continue to work outside the lines of eveyone else?
So yes, I see the continued development of USL Pro sides as being a superb idea to do an end-run on the complete bollocks offered up by the NCAA.
And I also see it as being an adjunct to support MLS Teams that simply don’t have the same depth of youth soccer in their geographic area as other Teams…
Chivas USA going belly up or down the rabbit hole for two years – pick your pleasure:
Let’s be clear – an entitlement based system can work but it needs constant baby-sitting when owners and top brass in those clubs simply don’t know how to function.
What’s disappointing is that the MLS is literally weeks away from an Expansion Draft for two new clubs and they don’t even know what they’re going to do with all those excess players who already have contracts with MLS but no place to work next year.
The sooner this embarrasment to MLS gets resolved the better – what remains is how the league will disperse those players or leave them high and dry.
And since MLS owns the team why on earth do they hesitate in not moving that franchise elsewhere?
Just what is the rationale for keeping a team in LA when there are so many other areas of the country that have better facilities or ownership schemes, with better organizational skills, to fully function as a franchise?
The less said here the better…
Two new expansion teams:
Congratulations are due to the owners and supporting staff of Orlando City and New York City!
Strengths – in this case the more the better as the level of competition should increase and therefore the level of intrigue and media attention should increase – with that the level of revenue should increase – all good if your looking to expand the popularity of soccer in the United States.
Weaknesses – More means less.
With more teams there may be less skilled players to continue to build a respectable league that can help the US sustain a high level of standard in feeding the US Mens National Team.
In other words – given the increase in teams, and not the same corresponding increase in skill levels, there is greater risk that the technical ability of the league will move closer to that of College soccer and further from leagues like the English Premier League (the benchmark in my opinion).
And I’d be willing to bet that if you ask any College Coach the ‘what’s up with the technical side of college soccer’?
They’d offer this… we are continuously measured (fired and hired) for our ability to win games with semi-talented players that usually drive us towards a direct attacking style of play, as opposed to a more possession-based, technical passing game, where direct attacking is a (run of play) tactic not an enforced need.
In other words – College soccer, given a poorer/watered down talent pool, usually plays more direct simply because they don’t have the skilled players, in the right areas, to play more technical based soccer.
With the introduction of two new sides, without a substantial increase in the Salary Cap, it is likely we will see an even greater gap in teams that have and teams that don’t have…
Exactly the opposite of what the College Draft and Allocation Money reward system is in place to prevent…
Collective Bargaining Agreement:
Here’s some areas where I think additional clarity/changes are needed to make MLS better: Player salaries, What to do about Chivas USA, Changes in Allocation Money/Salary Caps, Numbers of designated players, MLS Best XI, College Drafts, and Scouting.
Player Salaries – as the volume of money increases through improved media contracts it seems only reasonable that the players will be reaping some additional benefit from that effort.
How that takes shape compared to increased expansion within the MLS and USL Pro is unclear but expect it to be a discussion point that will need to be resolved as part of the CBA.
Chivas USA – as noted earlier – a complete balls-up… how and when and where do the players get sorted, with a two year hiatus, given that Chivas didn’t even own the players to begin with.
Do they go straight into the new sides or is there an additional ‘draft’ of sorts for the leftovers after NYCFC and OCFC take their picks?
And given the overall poor team performance exactly how many of those players are really worthy of competing for a spot in more functionally effective teams?
Whatever happens I imagine it will be sorted out either before or part of the CBA; this may include setting up an organizational process if this event might be expected to happen again.
Allocation Money and Salary Cap – a bit of a mystery there – for the most part the Salary Cap simply has to go up if this league is so sustain a growing level of talented players. And the more teams you have the more talented players you need.
I’d expect the owners will look for a substantial increase in the Salary Cap and may even poo-poo a substantial increase in Allocation Money. Increasing Allocation Money rewards poor management but increasing the Salary Cap doesn’t – it rewards great management more…
Designated Players – if the league is really looking to expand the skill level then it is likely more DP’s will be needed or made available as part of operating costs… And with an increase in teams it is likely this changes; so perhaps more of the burden falls to the individual team than MLS as a whole.
And while not mentioned specfically – the number of foreign players needs to increase as well. Limiting foreign players reinforces MLS teams having to sacrifice ‘foreign’ positions for lower skilled players that are American.
By increasing the amount of foreign players quality goes up – if quality goes up competition to make those teams goes up – that in turn should drive up the standard Americans need to play towards if they are going to compete at the very highest level.
MLS Best XI – I continue to find it highly embarrassing to this league that their Best XI is comprised of just three defenders instead of four defenders. No-one in this league operates a 3-4-3 and only a couple of teams have experimented in this effort. And when running a 3 CB formation (3-5-2) the wideouts, on those formations, are usually fullbacks converted to wingers.
With one of the biggest gaps in technical skills residing in the Fullback position across this league, and on the USMNT, you would have thought MLS would want to showcase the Fullback talent a bit better in this league.
College Drafts – the average age of college students completing 3-4 years of college puts them about 2-3 years behind most of their counterparts in competitive soccer – and in some cases as many as 4-5 years behind.
If college players are to have greater influence then the NCAA needs to fix the college game to match FIFA – get rid of the unlimited substitution rule and run the match according to FIFA – this may also help better develop Referee’s in this country…
Scouting – based upon what I’ve heard the MLS runs ‘scouting combines’ for players to sell their wares to every team all at once. What is that all about? A competitive market should be driven by who’s the best at organizing and excuting scouting themselves… the idea of having an even playing field for scouting players is past. It breeds entitlement.
Plenty of activity this off-season; lots of opinions, thoughts, and postulates… mine are just a few, be them well founded, controversial, or fundamentally flawed they are what they are…
Feel free to pile on with your thoughts, rants, or raves.
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