When you should change a winning team
If you’re a cautious driver, but happened to be involved in an accident, you probably wouldn’t change the way you drive. Accidents happen, and you were unlucky this time. On the other hand, if you’re a reckless driver, and recently had a few near-misses, you might think it’s time to reevaluate your approach even before the inevitable collision takes place.
So why don’t we think the same way when we’re lucky and unlucky in football?
Football teams are constantly getting results they don’t deserve. A team that creates better chances over the course of 90 minutes can expect to draw or lose 35% of the time. It’s what makes football so compelling.
As key decision makers, it therefore becomes vital to divorce process from outcome. If we’ve done everything right but suffered a bad result, we should be less tempted to make changes than if we’ve stumbled upon a positive result, because even over a short period of time good processes will begin to deliver good outcomes.
Yet this is the opposite of what we see when we look at how football coaches and managers react to results. In the English Championship, managers make 66% more changes after an undeserved defeat than after an undeserved win (as measured by the balance of play based on chances created). In other words, coaches react much more to the result than the process – and over the short term there’s no evidence to suggest that keeping a settled team or making changes has an impact on future results per se.
This type of reactive thinking can disturb what might be a long-term winning formula, and it needn’t be restricted to on-field results. We should consider changes in the context of process across all areas of the club. For example, it’s possible for a head coach hire to turn out badly even with a rigorous recruitment process; you can’t always predict how they might cope in a new environment. Equally, an academy may have a couple of weaker age groups, but the quality of these age groups isn’t necessarily reflective of the club’s coaching and development approaches. In both these cases, while it’s appropriate to review what’s happening, it would be foolish to make wholesale changes to the club’s operations.
In football especially, it’s possible for things to not go our way despite all our best efforts. The smartest clubs ensure that the emotions of this don’t cloud judgement.