Top critical review
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on 26 September 2009
This is a book listing statistics which may, or may not, be of use to you depending on your own style of betting.
Chapter 1 begins with a general introduction to odds and value, stating that to be profitable over the long-term one needs to be able to identify "wrong prices". Chapter 19 (4 pages) concludes the book with a summary of a few skills which makes a bettor successful (such as questioning selections to see if any important information has been overlooked, maintaining patience through tough spells). Every chapter in between briefly analyses some form of betting market (example: who will win, who will score, how many goals, corners, cards), showing statistics on European football for the past 10 years, thus explaining why bookmaker offered prices are set as they are.
If you are new to football betting some of the information may come as a surprise: for instance, a team which is losing by 0-1 is 6% more likely to score the next goal than the winning team (if there is a next goal). Other information is more obvious: for instance, teams promoted to the Premier League fair less well than teams promoted from Division One to the Championship. Pullein provides the statics as proof.
Pullein clearly "knows his onions". But is this guide useful? I cannot imagine ever using the information in the book to formulate my own market prices. To do so I would want first hand access to the data so that I could run my own analyses; this book does not give access to that data (how could it?). So instead it identifies that data which may be relevant to making a tissue.
In short, this book averages historical data and presents it as proof that football follows statistics. And that's what statistics generally do - average the past to predict the future. By doing so, Pullein hopes to identify bookmaker (or Exchange) prices which are incorrect and profit from them in the long term.
What does this mean for the bettor? If you want to use statistics to predict the future you need a database full of historical data; then you can trial ideas and back test. This book gives a rough idea as to what stats can do. By itself it cannot help with your (my) betting.
What is not covered in this book? Betting in circumstances where data does not exist (like in-play betting: Team A down to ten men losing 0-2 in a must win cup game with 33 minutes left on the clock, awful weather conditions, playing against a weakened opposition who've score two lucky goals).
The question of using statistics to predict the future is probably outside the scope of this comment. But for me, statistics simplify the game too much and can therefore miss glaring opportunities. As an example Pullein says: "I make myself aware of a team's results over the last 6, 12, 18 and 24 games, as well as the last 32. The last six, on their own, I would almost always ignore, no matter what they were". I find the last 6 games to be the most important, giving a clear indication to how well a team is really playing and what can be expected in the future. By the time the average stats have caught up that detailed knowledge has long since changed. And this is a weakness with statistics: projections need a lot of data before they become meaningful, and then one must ask if results from 36 matches ago really have any significance today? Paradoxically, Pullein believes they do. Averaging football data results in average projections, a method which misses crucial short-lived data.
As an aside, statistics can also lead us to draw completely wrong conclusions. For example, Pullein states of Steven Gerrard: "Liverpool have won 58 per cent of the Premier League games in which Gerard started and 56 per cent of the games in which he played no part - a difference of just two per cent... even the best players, on their own, contribute less to a team than you might imagine." There may be dozens of separate or combined factors which explain that analysis (like strength of opposition, partnerships within the team, need to win/draw) all of which are not examined. Instead Pullein jumps straight into a far-fetched conclusion. "Lies, damn lies, and statistics."
A more appropriate name for the book would be: The Definitive Guide to Averaging Football.
Recommendation: Read as an introduction to how bookmakers set prices for various football markets.