Football: Gascoigne wins computer vote

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The Independent Online
COMPUTER analysis of English football has found it to be a 'clodhopping, long-ball, kick-and-rush game' that does not meet up to the sophistication of the Continental teams, according to the latest psychological research.

Steven Muncer, who presented his findings to the annual conference of the British Psychological Society in Blackpool, said the exception was Liverpool - or it had been until this season.

Applying standard psychological techniques to a series of football games the researchers established passing patterns between the players which prove the importance of individuals like Paul Gascoigne and can predict success.

Analysis of the 1992 England v Turkey World Cup game identified seven players who had been involved in eight or more passes which also involved Gascoigne and showed him to be the pivotal player. The same exercise applied to the 1966 World Cup showed the impact of Bobby Moore and Geoff Hurst

The process is called network analysis and has been used to discover how young girls find out about abortions or how friendships are formed in small towns. It is a system for tracking the movement of information - but applied to football, 'information' becomes the ball.

Muncer, of the Centre for Applied Psychology, University of Teesside, said that this type of structured analysis which is clearly shown on a chart could dictate how clubs bought and sold their players.

'You can see what type of player a footballer is and decide how he will fit into the team and how he will relate to other key players,' he said.

'You can never be certain who will win because much will always depend on chance but how attractive a game is to watch depends very much on how complex the patterns of play are. The more complex, the more attractive the game is.'

Muncer said their charting of play patterns showed how Liverpool's transfer of Ray Houghton was a mistake and it was no coincidence that Aston Villa, who signed Houghton, were doing better this year. He predicted Sheffield Wednesday will win today's semi-final. 'They should. They have got a very nice pattern of play,' he said.