Welcome to my new, (probably) weekly column. I’ve been looking for a way to dump football and stats thoughts into a weekly piece for a while, but didn’t have a name or a particular theme. Everyone who writes for StatsBomb has some reticence about throwing up smaller blog pieces, as there’s a perception it might harm the perceived quality of the work. My thought was that you just need to label these things as blogs/thought dumps/whatever, and you’ll a) definitely end up with more content and b) hopefully end up with more happy readers.

So here we are. Today – and most days in this column – will be a potpourri of stuff I’ve been thinking about, working on, or whatever. They won’t generally be extensive, finalized pieces. Instead expect some written explanation around recent radars I’ve produced, updated thoughts on season or stats storylines, or just random shit I didn’t know where to put.

The Kingmaker
I noticed this past weekend just how many teams currently in “races” of one sort or another Crystal Palace play in the run-in. I dubbed him the kingmaker, and then @Chairlord requested a photoshop of Pulis as Tywin Lannister. I contacted the incredibly talented @BreakfastPercy about the idea, and this was born.

PulisGOT2

Tywin’s titles are fairly long, so I’ve kind of combined and shortened them into calling Pulis “The Lion of Selhurst Park” and for this season in particular: The Kingmaker.

His first act in bending the final positions of Premier League powers to his will came with the defeat of Chelsea at Selhurst Park itself. He followed that by destroying the Welsh in Cardiff and probably sealing their doom.

Next came an even more improbable act than the Chelsea slaying, as the Kingmaker travelled to Goodison Park and rode home with Roberto Martinez’s head on a pike. This took Everton from nearly coinflip odds to finish fourth and pushed them deep into long shot territory.

The only question is where will the conquests stop? Pulis has a chance to swing the odds of three more contenders one way or another before the campaign ends. The first opportunity comes when Manchester City visit Selhurst, looking to recover from their disastrous draw against Sunderland. Next come title favorurites Liverpool, also looking to leave Selhurst with their title hopes and dreams in tact. And finally, on the last day of the season, mighty Palace travel to Craven Cottage, where they could potentially play a huge role in determining the fate of Fulham and their imperious dictator, Felix Magath.

Back at the beginning of January, I looked into the predictive model crystal ball and said there was no way Palace were being relegated. Palace fans who read this were incredulous. I also apologized for all the mean things I might have said about Pulis over the years. I have learned my lesson – Pulis is actually a good manager, capable of bringing defensive stability to even the most disorganized of sides. Since he joined Palace, they have been a top half of the table team, something that even the most ardent of Pulis supporters would not have predicted.

The comparison to the master planner from Game of Thrones above is just a bit of fun, but Crystal Palace are wreaking havoc on a surprising number of fates in the run-in this season.

And almost unbelievably, Tony Pulis is at the heart of all of it.

Scoring Contributions in Europe
Those of you who have been reading my work for a while know that I value goals scored and assists similarly. To me an assist is simply a goal that resulted from a pass. We tend to step back from goals and assists to things like shots, shots on target, and key passes when looking for real predictive work in player analytics, but scoring is still damned interesting.

Scoring Contribution in my radar charts is a combination of non-penalty goals per 90 and assists per 90. I view this as a more complete way of looking at offensive contribution than just taking goals or assists. Obviously there are times when you just want to look at one or the other, but when evaluating overall impact, I like the combo platter. (Note: there’s also something to be said for drawing penalties and counting them as .75 of an assist, but I don’t have that data handy yet, so can’t test its incorporation.)

Anyway, for your viewing pleasure, I have compiled the top 15 players in Scoring Contribution in each of the big 5 leagues below.

Okay, Top 15 except for in France, where I cut it to the top 10. France has lower goalscoring overall, seemingly less talent outside the top two teams, and even has fewer basic actions per game than any other big league around.

Why?

We don’t know. It’s just weird.

Apologies ahead of time – I forgot to round off the figures in Excel before taking the screen caps. Le mew, le sigh.

EPL_SC_Leaders

The EPL listing is pretty cool. You have the expected top 3 who everyone knows have been tearing it up, followed by Theo Walcott, Rooney, PODOLSKI, and Ramsey. Poldi may not run much, but he has a knack of being in the right place in the right time, and when he shoots it unleashes Thor’s Hammer from his boot. Good luck stopping that as a keeper.

Further along, you get more usual suspects like Adebayor, Lukaku, RVP, and the ageless Samuel Eto’o. (Is he 32? 37? The same age as Joseph Minala? Nobody knows.) The tail end of the Top 15 starts to get strange again. Remy is expected, and Eriksen seems to get better and better, but Welbeck and Dzeko are the ones rounding out the top 15. I expected Negredo to be the other City striker to pop up there, and Welbeck appears to be maturing nicely for Manchester United.

Oh yeah, and Carlton Fucking Cole is 16th on the list so uh…

LaLiga_SC_Leaders

Messi is once again first, overcoming his injury issues to put up yet another great season (despite getting bashed in the last couple of weeks for apparently not doing enough). The second place on this list isn’t Ronaldo though… it’s Gareth Bale. And Alexis Sanchez is in third. Damned impressive.

The sixth spot delivers the first non-Barcelona or Madrid player, and surprisingly, it’s not Diego Costa, it’s Jeremy Perbet. Sadly, he’s 29, so not exactly a “hot prospect.” Standing even more prominently in that category is 33-year-old Aritz Aduriz of Bilbao. He’s been great though, and one of the forces driving them back into a Champions League spot.

For teams scouting Spain for scoring prospects, Carlos Vela is probably the best name lower down the list, but all indications from recent transfer windows indicate he has no interest whatsoever in moving away from Spain.

Bundes_SC_Leaders

Ribery, blah blah… wait.

The Hell.

Is Sven Schipplock?

Apparently he’s a 25 year-old German super sub for the nuclear-powered scoring rate of Hoffenheim. There have been 4.3 goals scored per game in Hoffenheim matches this season. That’s insane.

So you have the excellently-named Schipplock getting two different scoring boosts versus a normal player. The first boost comes from the fact that he’s appeared as a sub sixteen times this season, and as Colin Trainor showed a couple of months ago, playing as a sub boosts your scoring rate. Additionally, he’s surrounded by good players like Firmino, Volland, and Salihovic for a team that plays a gung ho style of football.

Even so, that scoring rate is monstrous. Someone might want to take a flier on Sven next season and see what he can do as more than just a sub. Or steal him away and keep him in the same role in the Premier League. Just rename him Ole Gunnar Schipplock, and the fans will know exactly what to expect.

After master Sven, you have Sidney Sam, now aged 26, and currently of Bayer Leverkusen but moving to Schalke this summer as part of a…

wait for it…

2.5M euro deal sealed this winter. The guy with the third best scoring contribution in the Bundesliga was bought for EPL chump change.

After that you have Mandzu and Reus, both of whom are definitely staying put this summer. Reus allegedly has a release clause that activates next season, and can do it all, including having an interesting even scoring split between goals and assists.

Then you get to some intriguing names. The first is Stuttgart’s Maxim, who is only 23 and profiles really well as an attacking midfielder ready to make the leap. You also have Bayern second string player Xherdan Shaqiri, who has bulked up a ton over the last two seasons and is still only 22. Someone in the Premier League should at least check and see if he wants more playing time, especially since Bayern just re-signed Robben and Ribery to new contracts.

Lasogga is on loan to Hamburg (from Hertha Berlin), and is a battering ram type player who is somehow averaging nearly 4.5 shots per90, with 53% accuracy. He’s also only 22, and coming into the last year of his contract. It will be interesting to see where he ends up in the next 12 months. Modeste is another name flying below the radar, and he’s simply an efficient, no fuss forward. He doesn’t dribble much, doesn’t have a lot of key passes, but he never gets his shot blocked and he scored well.

Rounding out the Bundes top 15 are names everybody knows, followed by Brazilian wunderkind Roberto Firmino, and Dortmund’s steal from last summer, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

serieA_SC_Leaders
Um… Destro is destroying that league.  In fact, he has the highest NPG90 rate in Europe.

Yes, even higher than Messi, Suarez, Aguero, Ronaldo, Sturridge… everyone.

He’s also doing it in a league that is notoriously stingy toward goalscorers. He only has about 12 full 90’s played and is probably unlikely to keep up that rate over a more substantial part of the season, but those numbers at age 23 are fantastic.

Next comes Francesco Totti.

Wait, let me start over.

Next comes 37-year-old Francesco Totti, currently second in the whole of Serie A in Scoring Contribution.

Italy seems to be the type of league where older players can excel even well past what leagues like the Premier League generally allow, but let’s not kid ourselves here – Totti is a special case even there. What a master.

After Totti comes the rejuvenated Carlos Tevez, Icardi (21), Immobile (24), and um… Luca Toni?

Toni is 36.

Like I was saying…

ligue1_SC_Leaders

Part of me feels like the less said about Ligue 1, the better, but Arsenal and Newcastle have to shop somewhere, and there are a few interesting names on the list.

If I were scouting for a team, I’d take a very close look at Waris, and Lacazette, while Riviere is a young player who is blossoming at Monaco this year. It will be interesting to see if he continues to get playing time, or gets nudged out of the way by bigger names (and probably a new manager) in the next transfer window.

Let’s be honest, though… at this point in its history, buying players from Ligue 1 is the equivalent of getting most of your clothes from Primark.

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  • Errorr

    There seems to be a huge misconception about the nature of release clauses amongst even the most astute football writers. I think you see this in the confusion in how everyone reacted to the Arsenal buying Suarez controversy and Liverpool “ignoring” the release clause. I haven’t seen anyone try to write about it and have been waiting to find the right place to comment.

    Firstly you have to understand that a release clause is nothing of the sort. A contract for labor is treated the same way throughout the world for the most part and the law of contract is just as valid even if they are sports contracts. This is the point of the Bosman ruling.

    Bowman has a lot of implications but primarily it means that you can’t prevent the right of an EU citizen to live and work wherever they want. A football contract has to be interpreted in light of this.

    Just like any other job a person has a right to quit and walk away. They are then allowed to work/live wherever they want and no club can prevent this.

    However, like any other contract if a party to the contract breaches it (i.e. by quitting) they are allowed to collect damages for the breach of contract. The CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport) have decided (basically) that damages will amount to the remaining value of a contract when a player walks away.

    Now if you think about it the CAS decision means that if a player is severely underpaid it would be in their best interest to walk away whenever they want if they think a new contract will pay them significantly more then the remainder of their current contract. This would allow rich teams to pick off the best players of lesser teams who build and develop players and sign them to contracts before they are good.

    The solution for this problem in most contracts is called a liquidated damages clause. This clause allows the 2 parties to agree beforehand what the actual damages are if the contract is breached. A release clause is functionally like a liquidated damages clause where a team and player have agreed beforehand how much a player owes a club if they decide to walk away from a contract.

    So why do people assume that a release clause is between a new club and an old club and often ignore the player? This is where the FIFA laws come in. The laws state that a new signing club is “joint and severally liable” if they sign a player who has just breached his contract. By law the new club is now on the hook for the damages to the old team.

    Take the Arsenal offer for Suarez. Arsenal may have triggered a release clause by offering a pound over 40 mil. but the American owners didn’t immediately just let Suarez go because they didn’t want to. They let the player decide and forced Suarez to state he was violating his contract and signing with Arsenal and convinced him to stay. So even if they triggered the clause there is nothing in the contract that would FORCE LFC except Suarez himself. Arsenal basically was offering to pay the contractual penalty for Suarez if and only if Suarez decided to transfer.

    Compare this to the Torres move to Chelsea. In that case Liverpool also didn’t want to sell but Torres wanted to move and therefore Chelsea was forced to pay the release clause.

    Of course a team could also offer more than the release clause to entice a team to release the player from any contractual obligations.

    This is a very basic gloss of the issues but I wanted to note them because of the mention of the release clause mentioned in Reus’ contract.

    Note there is also a limit in the FIFA rules on when a player is eligible to walk away from a contract based on age. Technically a player can’t transfer without a parent clubs consent until 3 years beyond their first professional contract. After this a player can Always force a move if they so desire. This provision has never been challenged in court and there would be questions whether it could run afoul of Bosman that would have to be litigated.

    Also, Bowman only applies to EU citizens and teams have preferred to settle cases with non-EU players instead of risking a second Bowman like ruling based upon competition law which could destroy the transfer system as we know it. However, they are certainly playing with fire with Financial Fair Play which is almost certainly a violation of EU law and will need to be amended when FIFA loses in 2015 but that is another thing.

    P.S. I am in no way an expert on EU contract law nor am I even a citizen of the EU. In fact, I am a lowly American Law Student who has access to certain resources that allowed me to research EU law for my own curiosity. All mistakes, ellisions, and oversimplifications are my own.

    Also I apologize for all typos and grammar mistakes but I am on a phone and refuse to edit this lengthy post given the limitations of the interface.