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Opinion

Independent Newcastle United Managers Rankings – How Steve Bruce compares to previous bosses

4 months ago
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The website clubelo.com uses the Elo rating system to calculate the relative performance of teams and managers. I compared Newcastle United managers.

The Elo rating system calculates expected results and compares them with actual results to award (or take away) points based on the extent to which expectations were exceeded or not.

Created to rank chess players on results, the system is now used as the official ranking method by FIFA in women’s football as well as in an unofficial capacity for tennis, rugby, MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL.

I compared Newcastle United managers in the Premier League era.

Many will immediately note how much better Rafa Benitez is rated than any of Mike Ashley’s other managers for his time at the club.

Given that he’s the current manager, they will especially lament how much worse Steve Bruce has been for the club than Benitez, but this is not unexpected. Bruce’s few ardent supporters have had little tangible to back up their support.

That said, Bruce has outperformed the expectations of most of us, if we’re honest. Many feared a complete failure with relegation a real prospect.

However, while Bruce has performed above (very low) expectations it is very alarming to see that not only is he ranked lower than Alan Shearer, who was unable to keep Newcastle up in his few games in charge, but that he’s almost as poorly rated as Steve McClaren for his tenure.

It doesn’t bode well for 20/21.

(Our thanks to NUFC Substack)

The Elo rankings system explained:

The Elo system is used to try and rank all kinds of sports, both teams and individuals.

‘Arpad Elo was born in Hungary in 1903.  Aged 10 he moved to the United States with his parents and later became a professor of physics at Marquette University in Milwaukee. He was also a prodigious Chess talent, the strongest in Milwaukee, he won the Wisconsin State Championship eight times.

Elo, is famous for combining his two loves. As a brilliant physicist, in 1960 he applied his mathematical skills to create the Elo rating system. It allowed Chess players to be rated more effectively than any previous system. By 1970 the World Chess Federation had adopted his method as their official ranking system.

Simplistically, how it works is that each competitor is assigned a rating based on their previous games. Points are added and removed from the Elo rating of a player depending on the outcome of games.  If a player with a low rating beats a player with a high rating, they gain a high number of points but if a player with a high rating beats a player with a low rating they get a lower number of points, because that’s the expected result.  Thrashings earn more points than close wins too.  And draws enhance the rating of the lower ranked player more.

Of course this elegant system didn’t apply only in chess, it could be used in any 2 player game.  Or any 2 team game. The formulas can be adjusted to suit games with different scoring systems and there are now elo rankings available online for most major sports.

FIFA’s thinking on Elo seems mixed up.  In the women’s game it is used as the official ranking system, however in the men’s game it is not.  That’s despite a 2009 study of 8 ranking methods showing that elo had the highest predictive capability for football matches, while the men’s FIFA ranking method performed poorly.  We’ve all seen minnows in the top 10 FIFA rankings and wondered what that was all about.

The Elo measure can be applied to managers as well as teams.  They can be graded on how they performed at single clubs or throughout their careers, and it provides an excellent insight into just how well a coach performed.  It accounts for the level the club/country found themselves when a manager arrived and where he left them when he departed.  It’s a far more detailed portrayal of a manager’s success than the basic count of games won, drawn or lost we’re used to seeing whenever a manager is sacked.’

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