The first game of the new 2009-2010 Premier League season hit the 90 minute mark with Chelsea 1 – 1 Hull City. Enter the 4th official who was instructed by referee Alan Wiley to play a minimum of 6 minutes of injury time. Didier Drogba scores the winner and everyone goes home happy. Everyone except Phil Brown that is! Micheal Owen tipped me over the edge yesterday.
Watching the Chelsea Hull game it appeared that 6 minutes of additional time was very generous for the home side. It made me think of the time when asked why his Wimbledon team lost at Old Trafford, Joe Kinnear was rumoured to have said that Manchester United had not only the best players but also the best referees! I decided to investigate the 2008/9 season additional time data to see if Joe is right. And you know what, he just might be.
Last season, excluding games where they played each other, the “Big Four” never played less than four minutes of injury time when losing. No other club in the league was afforded this additional time when behind after ninety minutes. Coincidence I hear you say? Maybe.
When drawing a match the “Big Four” never played less than three minutes of additional time. Excluding games between themselves the only instances where the “Big Four” played two or less minutes of additional time was when they were winning. None of the other sixteen Premier League clubs were afforded this luxury and played two minutes of additional time sometimes when winning, sometimes when drawing, sometimes when losing. Another coincidence?
Eight of the twenty premiership teams got the ideal structure of additional time. That is they got the most additional time when they were losing, followed by the medium amount when they were drawing, and the least when they were ahead. Joe Kinnear would not be surprised to learn that these eight teams included the “Big Four”! Surely not another coincidence!?
For instance, last season Manchester United and Chelsea played less than three minutes of additional time on average when winning, roughly three and a half minutes when drawing and four minutes when losing. Only twice did Arsenal have to play five or more minutes of additional time when winning. Odd I hear you say? Not when you consider who they were playing; Liverpool and Man United. Liverpool were behind twice after ninety minutes last season and played four and five minutes of additional time in each game. The highest average in the league.
Suggestions were made last season that the “Big Four” are often seen to favour from marginal refereeing decisions, penalty claims, even fixture listings. Whether this actually happens is open to debate and very hard to prove, however a crawl through the additional time data (which was harder to find than expected) threw up these very interesting results. One would have hoped that the allocated time at the end of each game would reflect the time lost through injuries, substitutions and the like. However, this may not be the case.
So what does that all mean? Well this possible advantage the “Big Four” get should help them collect more points and aid their monopoly of the Champions League places. This leads to ever growing income streams from increased gate receipts, merchandising and television payments, subsequently allowing them to race ahead of the chasing pack, cementing their place at the top of English football. Exactly what has happened!
Critics of this investigation may say that such observations are nonsense. Maybe they are right. Maybe the “Big Four” just make more substitutions when they are losing. Maybe “Big Four” players are more injury prone when losing and more so again when away from home. Maybe players with the other twenty Premier League clubs are just as likely to require treatment whether winning, drawing or losing. Maybe these players pick up more injuries when winning against the “Big Four” therefore more additional time is required.
What about the alternative? Maybe the “Big Four” have so much influence over referees, that officials feel pressurised into playing more time when the “Big Four” are losing. Here’s one to think about. Man United beat Everton 1 – 0 at Old Trafford last season. Two minutes of injury time were played at the end of ninety minutes. Three substitutes were made. The same amount as were made when they beat Aston Villa 3 – 2 with the game tied at 2 – 2 entering time added on. Five minutes were played against Villa.
With the ever increasing divide between the revenue and expenditure of the “Big Four” and most other Premier League clubs it is hard enough for teams to compete with them as it is. After stumbling over this surprising coincidence it appears things might be even harder than they look. No wonder!
Robbie Butler & David Butler
University College Cork.