Long Balls Are More Effective Than Short Passes – Apparently

Interesting piece here from The Times on Saturday, from the ever-entertaining Fink Tank column. It seems that long balls are more effective for scoring goals than short passing. I have my doubts about this, because I don’t think it’s comparing things properly, despite their efforts to only include passes intended to make progress towards a goal, and discount short passes near the corner flag for time wasting.

In my head the problem here is that teams often do a lot of short passes and may make some progress towards the opposition goal, but then run out of space and end up hoofing it. The better teams tend to run out of space less, and so hoof it less. That explains why the better teams don’t play so many long balls, though they’ll still go for the odd Hoddle-esque forty-yarder (be fair now, credit where it’s due!). The hoof may or may not be successful, but it stands to reason that in every ten attacks that feature a hoof that’s likely only one hoof per attack, so if three goals are scored then that’s a 30 per cent success rate (goals from three hoofs in every ten). But in ten attacks of short passes there might be 20 passes per attack, with four goals scored, so that’s four goals per 200 passes, or two per cent success. Thus hoofing appears a better option. That’s my reading of it anyway.

I accept that Daniel Finkelstein may mean that attacks that feature a long ball are more likely to end in a goal than attacks that only feature short passes, but that surely can’t be true – can it?

Either way, it tends to be the more successful teams that do a smaller proportion of hoofing, with our friends Stoke at the top of the hoofing list – who’d have guessed? Arsenal are of course among the best short passers, but it’s Swansea who do the fewest long balls, which suggests that Brendan Rogers had the passing game sorted out, but not necessarily the ‘putting the ball in the net’ part of the game quite so well (or else he was rubbish at defence, I haven’t checked Swansea’s goals against column). It will be interesting to see whether Liverpool now move to the top of the short pass league with Swansea going in the other direction, and whether Liverpool move up the table as a result. Having seen them play, I’m guessing ‘no’ to the last question.

Mr Finkelstein concludes by suggesting that the top teams might become even more successful if they played more long balls. Somehow I doubt that, because I’m fairly sure that to score you need to retain possession, and hoofing it often turns possession into a bit of a lottery. I can’t see Arsène changing his methods anytime soon.

I tweeted Danny the Fink, to ask him to read this post. He did, and replied (reading from the bottom up):

Twitter: @AngryOfN5

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11 thoughts on “Long Balls Are More Effective Than Short Passes – Apparently

  1. My god this is exactly what f***ed up English football in the 1960s and still has to this day.

    Charles Hughes should have been shot when he came up with figures like this. What he did was watched Brazil play and deduced that when they scored, on average, they did so within 4 passes. As the FA’s director of coaching he implemented a system whereby kids were taught to try and score within 4 passes. This developed into the final ball being hoofed onto the head of the biggest kid who was playing at centre-forward.

    In the 1980s Graham Taylor and Dave Bassett further developed this into POMO whereby passes 2 and 3 were usually overlooked.

    • Yes, I’m not sure whether Danny F is distinguishing between the POMO ball into the box and a proper long pass forward to a team mate. Either way, a long ball is still more likely than a short ball to end up with an opponent, which is precisely why good teams do them less. That’s why I’m struggling with the article’s conclusion.

  2. To be fair to the man, he never advocated hoofing the ball. And if his precepts were practised to the letter by a top team today, who can be sure that they would not sweep all before them. Certainly they would seem to offer the best chance of success against, say, Barca, whom nobody can out-pass. But you would need players who could follow them well – say, a team of Glen Hoddles and Ian Wrights. The real point, though, is that there is fashion in football just as in everything else. Someone starts a trend which everybody follows – until someone starts a new trend. Bring on Big Sam.

  3. Jack Charlton now theres a man who used the long ball game to great effect. During his tenure as Ireland manager he came within a whisker of getting us to a euro semi in1988 and a world cup semi in 1990. This despite the fact that he had some great ball players like Brady, Sheedy, Townsend and others. The point is that the long ball game can be very effective especially if everyone knows their job. I watched Ireland win games they had no right to by putting better technically capable sides “under pressure” Another point worth mentioning is that when your team starts getting results and qualifying for major tournaments fans don’t particularly mind what kind of football your outfit is playing. The fact is that while every football fan would love to see their team win with style thats just not possible. Very few clubs can now afford the few top quality players that are around . Huge salaries and unrealistic transfer fees being sought for average players urged on by” spivs” (agents) and small club chairmen getting excited by the mention of man city or chelsea and other so called “wealthy” clubs coming “in” for one of their players has totally distorted the market . The knock on affect of this is that managers have to make the best of what they have and if they don’t have good ball players well, the fewer passes the fewer mistakes. Sad but true.

    • Noel, I like you, you know that. But I don’t like Jack Charlton. Didn’t like him as a player for Dirty Leeds many years ago, still don’t like the miserable Geordie git in his retirement. So try not to mention him again.

  4. Won’t mention him again Phil ! Nor that shower of “White Shites” as I used to call them. But thats another storey. The main problem still persists however and won’t be solved until FIFA deal with it head on. Club football has been hijacked at every level . The premier league is littered with money launderers, Spivs, chancers and those who will find it difficult to explain their undue and undeserved “wealth” , (and it will happen all in the fullness of time.) At the moment the premier league is where every form of Turd wants to be. Over the last few years premier league clubs have accepted jersey sponsorship from the ,the Drinks industry the Gambling industry and even the Porn industry I can understand why . MONEY, no one in football gives a damn anymore I am a liberal minded , live and let live person , but why let your child advertise the carefully worded and colourful strips that are sold to peddle their crap. I find the whole business unedifying and a far cry from the game I used o get excited about And what says you, has that to do with the long ball game ? I don’t really know, but as I said earlier without the little guy the big guy can’t exist without little leagues big leagues can’t be supplied with promising young talent…….lets ask the the owners of the premier league clubs and Sky Sports ………god help us .

    • Noel, don’t sit here in Galway or wherever you are ranting away incoherently on comments. Sort yerself out, organise your thoughts into a fully coherent rant and then I can post it as a proper blog post.

  5. Pingback: Going Long is for losers – Sideway is the winning way | soccerlogic

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