Executioner’s Bong Interview

Ok, that’s not his actual name, and obviously we haven’t literally interviewed his website, because that’s just electricity and bits of internet. We have though, spoken to Nic Davies, the big football brain responsible for the Executioner’s Bong site, which as you will already know, is here. And if you didn’t, what on earth is wrong with you? Check that mother out, it’s great, as his is his monthly piece in When Skies Are Grey.

You produce an increasingly popular website, the Executioner’s Bong, analysing Everton games using the latest statistics and visual aids: what gave you the idea in the first place?

The idea was taken from the Zonal Marking website which for anyone who hasn’t been on it basically does what the Executioner’s Bong does but to a wide football audience. Football statistics sites that tell you what’s happened are ten a penny but sites like this explain why things happen, and that’s what I am interested in.

Also I thought there was a lack of unbiased, agenda free Everton internet coverage out there particularly after When Skies Are Grey called it a day on their website.

What’s the process for putting together an analysis piece for the Executioner’s Bong site?

When I get back from the match I’ll usually download the full game to watch it again online, usually the day after, although it depends on the result usually!

I’ll look for any common themes, specific tactics, etc. on the video and I’ll have a look through some of the statistical details. Whoscored.com is a pretty decent and reliable source for data on player performance, etc. Then I’ll do some screen shots / diagrams of pieces of action that back up some of the points I’m trying to get across and upload them to the site with some wording to wrap around

It usually takes an hour to watch a re-run of the game, speeding through the insignificant bits, and then another hour to do the write-up.

Do you feel you have been able to challenge any attitudes about Everton or dispel any myths using statistical evidence?

Good question! I’d certainly like to think so. One of the stock phrases that you hear at the match that pisses me off is the ‘dithering Davie’ one. Last season I tried to challenge this by pointing to the fact that Moyes’ Everton recovered more points from losing situations via goals/assists from  his substitutes than any other side in the league.

I don’t have blind faith in him, but if someone’s saying something that is completely bollocks it needs to be put right.

The perennial ‘4-5-1 at home’ debate is another recurring theme which can be debunked by showing that often the fifth midfielder, e.g. Tim Cahill, spends more time advanced than the striker and Leighton Baines occupies a higher position up the pitch than the entire midfield. Formations elicit a much longer debate than they should when what is more crucial is exploiting space with movement. I’m not saying for one minute that I’m right and everyone else is wrong, statistics are subjective after all, but it is important to challenge media opinions that are often completely unsubstantiated and tied up with a specific agenda.

What are the limitations of what the statistics presently available can tell us? Are some, like possession – the be all and end all to ‘Pep’ Rodgers, it would seem – overrated?

Absolutely. The stats are just information and ultimately you can spin them as much as you like.

There is an overload of stats now – on Twitter especially – often by people who don’t understand the game. They only tell you what’s happened, not why. For example, last season King Brenny’s old mob, Swansea, had 70 odd % possession against us in both games, yet never scored and hardly had a shot on target.

Players like Joe Allen and Leon Britton hit close to 100% pass completion but 70%+ were sideways or backwards as opponents invariably had 11 men in their own half. This can be spun in such a way that it looks as if we can’t pass and they can and that we got battered. In reality, Moyes was happy to play on the counter-attack, let them have ball and then win it back and exploit the space.

That’s why I think stats without the analysis are useless.

Another example was in our game against Arsenal at Goodison last season when Bacary Sagna won about 90% of his headers. He was lauded by their fans for his aerial ability but the question ‘why’ wasn’t asked. Why did he contest more headers then the rest of the players on the pitch combined?

For me this was down to a specific tactic used to counter the pressure Arsenal puts side under upfield. Rather than play out of defence we hit long diagonals towards Sagna, allowed him win the headers, albeit under some pressure from Cahill or Maroaune Fellaini, and then hoover up the second balls and throws.

In short, the stats only told half the story.

I would guess that you have read Moneyball. It’s a pet peeve of mine how it is misrepresented in terms of relating it to football. Do you think it’s possible to translate any of the techniques or principles used by the Oakland Athletics to ‘soccer’?

Yeah, I think we have seen over the park when Liverpool brought in Charlie Adam and Jordan Henderson that instantly they were meant to adopting a Moneyball approach by bringing players in whose stats show they create a high amount of chances. Supposedly it was Damien Comolli’s shared admiration of Moneyball that endeared him to the FSG Group in the first place.

This was clearly a massive success!

I’m not sure whether this approach is easily transferable to the Premier League though. There’s a decent book called SoccerNomics which details how Brian Clough and Peter Taylor were early adopters of the Moneyball strategy to bring in players unwanted at other clubs due to various issues, build them up and then sell them on for a profit.

Moyes’ policy is also to sell on for a profit, but he targets youth who are malleable rather than older players suffering with ailments such as alcoholism and gambling dependencies as Clough did. I think that there are ways you can utilise the transfer market to your advantage, but whether this is strictly Moneyball I’m not so sure.

Do you have any long term plans for the ‘Executioners Bong’?

Not really. The whole thing was set up as a laugh, hence the stupid name. I honestly didn’t for a minute think anyone would be interested in reading it.

Over the summer I indulged my inner nerd by doing the ProZone course so I’m now as clever as fat Sam Allardyce!

I’m always looking to improve the content and provide as much insight as possible. Maybe I’ll improve the site layout/server as it’s a bit of a dog’s dinner in comparison to other sites, and I’d like to add a video feature rather than the screen shots of games too. I think that would be a step forward.

As long as people are interesting in reading the stuff though, I’m happy to carry on, as 99 % of the feedback is very positive, which is great.