How to Win a Game – a mental exercise

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There are three factors that determine victory in a soccer game. 95% of the time, a team needs to have at least two of these factors going for them to secure victory over its opponents.

  • Strategy
  • Quality
  • Chance/Luck

Let’s get to the definitions.


Strategy is a function of organization. How well do the players know their positions? How well do they understand their roles in the team? How visible are the patterns of play to an untrained eye?

Strategy is not really about formations; it is about identity.  Simeone’s team has an obvious defensive strategy. Setien’s Real Betis are a well drilled modern attacking side.

A good test of strategy is systematization of play and repetition of playing patterns. A team with a solid strategy will score the same type of goal, time and time again. Most of the time, they will commit the same kinds of fouls and defend similar threats in the exact same ways.  Manchester City is a very good example of this. About 80% of their goals look like the following:

  • Snuff out the attacking play of an opposing team with an aggressive press and play a defensive line splitting pass to put an attacker through on goal. 
  •  Fullbacks/Wingers overlap/underlap on the flanks and play a cut back pass towards the center of the box for  a forward or overlapping midfielder to finish.


Quality here refers to how good the players are. It encompasses:

 technical quality – striking a ball cleanly, turning under pressure, dribbling out of danger and so on.

 physical quality – speed, low center of gravity, height, acceleration, endurance and so on.

mental quality – forgetting mistakes, ignoring taunts from opposition fans and players, courage to go into a 50-50 tackle and so on.

At the extremes, quality will always beat strategy. A team of outstanding quality without any strategy will 9 times out of 10 beat a team of superior strategy but without good players.

 Picture in your mind how a game between FC Barcelona (without a coach) and your local Sunday league team (coached by Pep Guardiola) will play out. Give Guardiola 3 years with the same Sunday League team and they still will not beat a completely disorganized and uncoached Barcelona team. Again, quality ALWAYS beats strategy at the extremes.

A quick caveat before we move on to the role of chance in the game of soccer. Like the title states – this is a mental exercise and only interesting enough as a thought experiment. The big assumption here is that you can separate strategy from quality. In real life, it is almost impossible.

Why? Because a coach buys and picks his players so he is in many ways responsible for the overall quality of the team. On the flip side, the players available to a coach at any moment inform and influence the strategy he/she will employ in a particular game. In this article, we separate strategy from quality. In real life, they are almost inseparable.

On to Lady Luck.


The role of chance is often minuscule in soccer games so we will only make passing comments about it.

Chance, in my mind,  refers to anything outside the direct control of the players and the coach. Fans, referees, weather conditions, betting agencies, state of the pitch, politician who’s bought the referee etc . All these factors can be placed into the “Chance” bucket. 

Again, chance plays almost no role except in the minority of soccer games. 

Having defined our terms, we now move on to their implications


On Chance

Chance plays a huge role in games where both teams are evenly matched in strategy and quality. Think about the majority of games in the semis and finals of the Champions League and World Cup. There is a reason these games are given to the biggest names in the referee profession. There is a reason why coaches make side comments about the referees in the build up to big games. There is a reason why you hardly hear the managers of clubs outside of the Champions League pushing for VAR.  

In a game between Manchester City and Liverpool, the cost of a bad referee could be as huge as the Premier League title. In a game between Liverpool and Fulham, the cost of a bad referee will never be more than a single digit goal difference. In uneven games, the gains the underdog makes from favorable referee decisions will eventually be wiped out by the gains from the superior quality/strategy of the opposing team. Another example of this is home advantage, if two teams are almost equally matched in both strategy and quality, you should always bet on the home team to win. Think about why finals  and championship games are played on neutral ground.

On a Coach’s Job

The ultimate job of a coach is to identify, groom, and play quality players. Formations, scouting the opposing team, back breaking training sessions etc are all secondary concerns. People give coaches way too much credit. Maybe it’s our fascination with the idea of the great man. It’s often easier to ascribe the success of a venture to one man rather than a team. Success suddenly feels less glamorous when we find out that a lot of hands helped in stirring the pot. We love the pensive, brooding face of the coach on the bench. He flinches, looks up, says something under his breath, then he writes in his notepad. What will he do next? What formation will he try at half time? Who will he bring on from the bench?

This is all very romantic but has little to do with reality. It’s not hard to see why on average, strategy is usually inferior to quality. Think about the number of steps needed to go from strategy to securing a victory. With the most iron tight strategy in the world, think Guardiola, Cruyff, Mourinho, Bielsa sitting in a room for 3 months devising impeccable attack/defense patterns, formations, weekly training sessions, the bottle neck to winning still remains execution. Regardless of how superior this strategy is in the most objective sense, they would still need quality players to execute it.

From the perspective of “quality”, there is no such bottle neck. A quality player does not need his coach there on the pitch for him/her to execute his quality. All things being equal, a pacy full back will show his speed to beat his opponent in a foot race on the pitch. A striker with a bullet header will show his quality on the pitch. There is no intermediary step. It is always 2 steps from strategy to winning. It is one from quality to winning.

This is a very important point so I will explain it from a different perspective. This is what I like to call the  “visibility – explainability” factor. Trick question – who is easier to stop? The best coach in the world or the best player in the world?  Coach is the answer (in case you were still thinking). The thing about strategy is that it is visible. Very visible. It is also explainable. Even the most esoteric of attacking formations can still be observed and reacted to. Any decent coach can see that the defensive midfielder goes to the far post on every corner. He can easily instruct his own player to go man mark that midfielder on the far post. It is all very visible. Even the average pundit that knows nothing can see a certain strategy and think of a few ways to stop it. But it is one thing to prepare a plan to counter and it is another thing to actually counter such strategy.

The conversion of idea to execution is ultimately the work of quality and quality has an unexplainable vagueness about it. It has this hidden thing about it. This is why asking Eden Hazard  “how he does it” is dumb.

Quality is knowing that Arjen Robben will almost always cut inside with his left foot and take a shot at goal but being completely incapable of stopping him. Quality is why every goalkeeper knows where Lionel Messi’s free kick will go but remain helpless at saving them. Quality is why I will watch “How to play like Ronaldo” videos, follow his diet and workout plan but will never play like Ronaldo.

Strategy is explainable, quality is not. 

Here is my rule:

“The easier it is to explain how you do what you do, the easier it is for you to be stopped or replaced”.

Scrappio Africanus

Conversation for another day but this might be why the very best players often make horrible coaches (Thierry Henry 👀). They literally cannot explain what made them so good because of the implicit vagueness of talent. 

Knowing these things, a coach should spend more time trying to recruit great players/ improve the ones he has and less time on obsessively scouting the opposition and reinventing the 4-4-2. 

Side Note – Careful thinkers will mention that there is an implicit factor of quality in strategy, and they will be right. That is why this is just a mental exercise.

To be continued…

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Premier League Bar Graphs

I got my hands on some Premier League data and I have been exploring some questions.

I will probably do a full scale project sometime when I have more complete data for this season and a bit more free time, but here are a couple questions.

What is the distribution of player nationalities in the Premier League?

No surprise here. Most players in the Premier League are from England.

What is the distribution of English Players across all 20 clubs?

Bournemouth is winning the local talent game.

Interesting that 3 of the top six clubs- Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal – have the lowest percentage of English players.

Insert something here about why England never do well at international competitions.

What is the distribution of First Team English Players across all 20 clubs?

Here is the catch! A club could have 10 local players that do nothing but warm the bench.

It is not enough to have local players if you never play them.

The data I gathered was from Game Week 17. At Game Week 17, 1530 minutes of football has been played in the EPL. I classify a first team player as one that who has played at least 50% of games (around 800 minutes). A very conservative estimate but I chose this to make up for injuries, and reduced minutes for first team players that played in the world cup this year.

Let’s take a look.

Man Utd, Man City, Leicester City, and Burnley are all strong in this regard.

Man City is an interesting case. They have just 5 english players but 3 of them are first teamers – Sterling, Walker, Delph.

Look at West Ham towards the end of the above graph. They have 12 English Players but Mark Noble is the only first teamer.

We don’t even have to talk about Chelsea.

*cries in FC Vitesse*

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Follow the Money


In his book Capitalism, Socialism, and DemocracyJoseph Schumpeter put forth a hypothesis that a capitalist system always attracts the best minds in the world.

To generalize this point a little bit:

any system where there are significant gains (mostly financial) to be made for an individual by freely applying his/her gifts and talents will almost always attract the most talented individuals

Joseph Schumpeter

The man on the street will tell you that the smartest folks are at Harvard/Oxford, Mr Schumpeter would argue that they are either on Wall Street or Silicon Valley.

This is a somewhat evident but highly underrated framework for thinking about systems, businesses, economies, games etc.

The Premier League is the money league

Let’s look at the English Premier League. Last season, 20th placed West Bromwich Albion made about 106 million euros at the end of the season. That’s almost  as much as the 109 million euros that 4th placed Valencia earned in the La Liga. I am sure these differences are even more staggering when you compare them to prize money distributions in the Bundesliga of Germany or the Serie A of Italy.  We don’t even need to look at numbers to contrast player wage bills across various leagues (Alexis Sanchez 👀 🤑). 

Another dimension to compare the finances across various European football leagues is to look at the number of clubs owned by wealthy foreign “investors”. About 13 out of the current 20 Premier League clubs have foreign investors as majority stake holders. In the Serie A, it is 5 out of 20. In Ligue 1, it is 6 out of 20. Since Roman Abramovich purchased Chelsea in the early 2000’s, the Premier League has been attracting and keeping similar foreign folk with deep pockets. 

The point here is that the Premier League is chock full of cash compared to the other big leagues.

The Premier League has the best managers

Now that we have established that the Premier League is richer than other leagues, can we consequently confirm that it has more talent than other leagues?

I think the answer is yes!

If talent was measured by the amount of trophies won, it wouldn’t even be fair to compare the number of trophies won by the current Premier League managers to the mangers in other leagues. When you add Guardiola’s trophies to those of Mourinho, then add Pellegrinis’, then Emerys’, you start to get the picture.  Valverde and Simeone have 18 trophies combined; Mourinho alone has 23. Ancelloti and Allegri have 32 trophies combined. It is 35 combined for Guardiola and Pellegrini.

We could also assess talent by looking at the number of managers that change clubs after a successful season or a series of successful seasons.

When you compare the influx of managers riding on a wave of success  into the Premier League and compare it to that of managers in other leagues, you see the same picture. Post-Porto Mourinho, Post-Valencia Benitez, Post-Sevilla/PSG Emery, Post-Napoli Sarri, Post-Juventus Conte, Post Espanyol Pochettino etc.

 How many relatively unknown managers who achieved sudden success in a different league end up in the La Liga, Serie A or Bundesliga? I don’t know but I can bet it is not as much as the number that come into the Premier League. In fact, if we considered the current set of managers who have achieved some kind of recent success but are currently without jobs – {Conte, Zidane, Jardim} – we could use our “follow the money” hypothesis as a framework to predict that 2/3 of these managers will end up in the Premier League in the next year. Adjust this number appropriately as more managers get fired and join our list. 

A counter argument to this is that the other leagues already have successful managers internally and don’t really care about hiring a hotshot from outside. The truth is that these hotshot managers, riding on a wave of success, often receive competing offers and usually accept the most competitive, which is almost always from a Premier League club. Most non-Premier League clubs cannot afford the salaries of hotshot managers. Success is not cheap!

The Premier League has the best players

I have argued that the Premier League has the best managers. What about players? Are the best players in the Premier League?

I think the answer is yes, as well. I will preface the upcoming points by stating that regardless of the method you use to judge “best”, best players + best manager does not equal best team.

Best players + Best manager does not always equal best team. 

Scrappio Africanus

The Premier League contains more of the best players in the world than any other league. I don’t have any numbers to  show this (future post maybe?) but I can suggest a useful heuristic.

Some people will mention that Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus and Bayern Munich have better players. Yes! Ronaldo and Messi exist and they do not play in the Premier League. Yes! English teams always struggle against Spanish teams. All these are valid points but they are not the point I am trying to make here.  Here is my line of argument:

If there are 10 best players in the world, my point is not that the Premier League will have number 1 and 2 but rather that it will have 5 or more out of the 10 players with the other 5 being distributed amongst the other leagues. La Liga might have number 1 and Serie A, number 2 but the EPL will have a bigger percentage of the 10 best players. 

Here is a fairly straightforward way to think about this. Let’s assume that the best countries in the world at football go to the World Cup. Let us also assume that the best players in every country get selected to play for their countries at the World Cup. These two points mean that the World Cup is literally a show case for the best players in the world. If we looked at the breakdown of the number of players by league represented we see that the Premier League was massively overrepresented in this past world cup. 108 players from the Premier League vs 78 from La Liga vs 62 from the Bundesliga vs 58 from Serie A. These numbers get even crazier when you look at just semi-finalists or quarter-finalists.

Why is there very little representation of Premier League players in the FifPro 11 though? Good question! Because UEFA is corrupt…just kidding. Maybe not kidding. The FifPro 11 is a measure of the number one’s and two’s in the world and not a measure of how many top n players a league contains. That Barcelona and Madrid players dominate these awards simply means that they have the top 2 or 3 players for every position on the pitch. The FifPro 11 tells us nothing about what league has the highest concentration of the best players per position. 

Addendum: League with the best players does not always equal the best league.

Scrappio Africanus

Implications and Predicitions

Having concluded that, in the sufficiently long run, talent converges to where the money is at, we will make some predictions:

All things remaining constant – UEFA remaining stupid and corrupt, financial fair play remaining a joke, steady influx of foreign investors into football, the big clubs don’t create a runaway super league, 

  • Transfer prices and player wages will keep rising in tandem. There will soon be no such thing as a wage structure in a top European club. Keeping talented players will get increasingly difficult for big clubs that have well defined wage structures and retain talent based on just prestige and history. 
  • Because the top Premier League clubs cannot compete for talent based on money alone (other clubs have just as much money), clubs will have to find other ways to be attractive to top talent. Some clubs will try to compete based on prestige, some on an attractive play style, some on an attractive manager, some on superior ethical standards.
  • Because top clubs can’t compete on just money for talent. Things like building houses for parents, paying the tuition of  agent’s kids, flying player’s dogs out to Disneyland, etc will become more common in players’ contracts. Agents and smaller selling clubs will increasingly try to insert themselves into these contracts in order to get a slice of the pie. Hence, player contracts will get increasingly complicated with absurd clauses.  
  • The French Ligue 1, German Bundesliga, and Italian Serie A football fans will increasingly clamor for more foreign investors to try to break up the top clubs’ monopoly on talent. 
  • The role of the referee in the Premier League will continue evolving. When two top clubs become almost inseparable based on amount spent, coaching strength, talented players available, the quality of the referee might become a strong decisive factor in separating said teams. There will be enormous pressure on refs to be perfect, especially in big games. There will be increased calls to automate more of the referees’ decisions. Goal line technology arrived a few years ago. VAR is coming next season. Expect more of these technologies. 

Don’t hold these predictions to heart though. They are probably wrong. Things never remain constant.

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Jose Mourinho and his Heart Problem

© Getty Images

In his post match conference after Manchester United’s goalless draw against Crystal Palace, Mourinho mentioned that his players played without heart.

Of course, heart is important to winning a game, but even more important is skill and talent. More important than heart is the actual ability to play the game. SHOCKER! You will never beat Lebron in a dunk contest regardless of how much heart you have. More heart could help Kevin DeBruyne play better than Luka Modric in a game but all the heart in the world will never turn Mousa Sissoko into Lionel Messi. 

No Talent?

When you consider all the teams in the premier league top 10, you will not find a team with less cohesion than Manchester United. When you have a striker whose first touch is so abysmal that he sometimes trips on it, or a right back who cannot cross to save his life, or a centre back who is literally terrified when it’s time to make a forward pass, or a bunch of midfielders that consistently ignore runs by forwards. All these flaws compound and demanding more heart will never fix them. 

This might look like a support for Mr. Mourinho but it is far from it. The manager says that the player’s are not good enough and the board will not let him get the players that he needs. He complains that the financial game has changed so much that it is impossible to get quality players. All of these complaints are mere excuses. They indict him more than they help his cause.

The players do not select themselves. It is ultimately up to the manager to select the players on the pitch and Mourinho has done a terrible job of doing this. His major flaw has been buying and selecting players based on secondary traits. Traits that are not fundamental to actually playing the game. 

Fellaini is tall and causes problems in the box but the manager ignores his positional awkwardness, lack of dynamism and inability to play a simple through ball.

Ashley Young is vocal and knows what Manchester United is all about but the manager ignores the fact that he has completely lost his basic footballing ability and should be playing in Australia.

Lukaku is very intelligent, speaks 6 languages, plays his heart out and puts in a shift for the team but the manager ignores his inability to control a moving ball, low energy to make runs in behind, and zero sense of proactivity as a forward.

Matic is extremely loyal to the manager and a leader in the dressing room but the manager ignores the fact that he has made only 183 forward passes compared to 291 and 418 made by Fernandinho and Jorginho respectively. Even Etienne Capoue of Watford and Idrissa Gueye of Everton, who play very similar roles, have made more forward passes than Matic.

The Problem with Secondary Traits

…if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid

Albert Einstein

The common thread here is that these are all first names on the team sheet and Mourinho picks them. He picks all these players and complains that they lack heart when they fail to break down the opposition. 

The first measure of a player’s quality shouldn’t be how tall he is, how fast he can run, how passionately he screams, how much blood he would shed for the badge, or how many languages he can speak. 

Can you control a moving ball? Can you hold it up? Can you make a forward pass? Can you do a quick one-two? 

These are better questions and unless the players have satisfied these basic concepts as Pochettino calls them, it is useless to talk about heart, desire, attitude, passion and all the other similar intangible qualities. Intangible qualities have to rest on a foundation of measurable ones.

When you select based on secondary traits, you end up with one dimensional men with  nothing else to offer. You end up with a team that has zero cohesiveness. You end up with fishes trying to climb trees (that’s exactly how Manchester United looked against Man City). You might as well go out to pick the 11 loudest fans from the stands and ask them to play because they have heart.

…if you buy players and pick lineups based on secondary traits, they will look stupid trying to string two passes together and you will look stupid too

Scrappio Africanus

Forgive me, Professor Einstein.

Bereft of ideas?

Maybe Mourinho is all heart now and no ideas. For three consecutive years, the Mourinho of old schooled the Premier League on the art of game management. He went to the La Liga and built a counter attacking machine that scored 121 goals in a season. He even taught the Italians, famous for their Catenaccio, how to defend.

Yes! There were slides down the touchline, eye pokes, taunting of rival fans, loads of fines, and tons of heart but all of these passionate expressions were built on the successful execution of great ideas on the pitch.

Today’s Mourinho is empty. He is lost. Yes! We love the occasional bottle smashing, and ear cupping but that is all there is now. Heart and passion without substance.  He’s hired a young and modern coach in McKenna. He’s played some daring attacking formations at Manchester  United. He’s even had some stellar team performances. But it all looks like clutching at straws. He looks caught in an interstitium between sticking to his old ideas that don’t work as well and embracing modern ideas that he has not completely internalized.

Look at Liverpool to see what running into the half spaces look like. Look at Chelsea to see what verticality looks like. Look at Manchester City to see what overloading the flanks and switching play looks like. Look at Arsenal and Spurs to see what pressing looks like. Look at Liverpool and Manchester City to see what counter pressing looks like. 

Don’t look at Manchester United. Don’t look at Manchester United unless you want to see what confusion looks like. 

Manchester United’s problem is not heart. It is the lack of quality in the players and the lack of ideas in the man that manages them.

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Jose Mourinho’s Psychology

© Getty 

Poets don’t win titles

Mourinho: …there are lots of poets in football but poets’ don’t win many titles…

 Like most of Mourinho’s famous aphorisms, it is sharp, witty, and insightful. Mr Mourinho has such a way with words that it is not surprising he began his career as a translator. It is not surprising that he spoke almost fluent English without ever living in England for an extended period of time until his Chelsea move. It is not surprising that he speaks at least 6 languages fluently.

He knows the power of language and he does not fail to use it to his advantage.  He makes every press conference or post match interview worth paying attention to. His words or lack thereof – when he loses with nussin’ to say – always keep the journalists coming back. If he decides to go that route, Mourinho will have just as great of a punditry career as he has had in management.

If you don’t believe me, check out his World Cup commentary for RT

Sharp tongue + sharp mind

A coach with good command of the spoken word is great but not that uncommon. Maybe not as suave and as fluent as Mourinho, but Guardiola has formidable language skills. Also very smart. Sir Alex Ferguson was also very word-smart and famous for phrases like squeaky bum time and Football Eh? Bloody Hell!.

But combine Mourinho’s linguistic skill with his great understanding of human psychology, and you get a dangerous combination. Referring to his philosophy professor, Manuel Sergio, Mourinho once said 

“A coach must be everything. A tactician, motivator, leader, methodologist, psychologist. A teacher at university told me that a coach that knows only about football is not a top one. Every coach knows about football, the difference is made in the other areas. He was a teacher of philosophy. I got the message.”

Jose Mourinho

 For Mourinho, when you face an equally matched opponent, it is not the football you both know but the psychology your opponent does not know that will give you the upper hand. 

You know who else has these qualities? This combination of linguistic skill and an understanding of human psychology? Preachers, prophets, and politicians. Going back to my previous point, this kind of talent is so dangerous that Mr Mourinho would have been successful in virtually any other field outside of football that involved dealing with people.

The common thread in these people influencers is their ability to create powerful, compelling narratives. 

The power of the narrative

A narrative is an interpretation of the truth with the intention to influence a particular action or reaction.The power of a narrative lies in its incompleteness. The narrative is potent because it is true, but only to a point. It is an inexact interpretation of reality. An imperfect translation of truth. Of course, the once charming, baby faced translator, Mr Mourinho understands this fully. In fact, he completely internalizes it and uses it to devastating effect. 

How do you lower expectations for yourself and your team despite consistently being in the top spenders list? You craft the narrative of the underdog.

How do you create a siege mentality of warriors within your team? You use the narrative of the enemy. You preach that the media has you on a manhunt and that the FA has you on their most wanted list. You accuse rival managers of being voyeurs. You allude that computer generated fixture schedules are biased against your team and other teams have “friends in the right places”.

Does this actually work? Here is an article based on real psychological research that shows how effective creating an invisible enemy is to achieving one’s goals.

What happens when some people do not buy into this mentality? You create factions by constantly praising the loyalists and ostracizing the deviants. Perez vs Casillas. Ivanovic/Matic vs Costa/Hazard. Lukaku vs Shaw. Neville vs Souness. JoseFC vs MartialFC. Same song and dance. 

If you take out the football themes from the above paragraphs, they start to sound awfully religious. Factions, enemies, loyalists, deviants, manhunts, scapegoats, and fines. All too familiar the picture looks. The great man out to revolutionize the status quo.  Many love him; many hate him. His cause is just but the masses are too stupid to get it. He is a misunderstood genius.

Regardless of the specific shape they take, these stories almost always end in the same way. People finally come to their senses. The great man is soon cast away and loses all of his influence. The majority start to ask, “how did we let him deceive us for so long?” while a small minority suffer from from a mild version of Stockholm syndrome.

Narratives at Manchester United

Some common narratives during his time at Manchester United:

  • Anthony Martial is not good enough but his recent upturn in form is a result of his improved defensive game.

  • Luke Shaw is a terrible player with no brains who’s enjoying good form now because he listened to and accepted Mourinho’s criticism.

  • 2nd place achieved last season was his greatest managerial achievement.

  • The Europa League win in his first season was as big as any of the other titles he had previously won.

  • Man United does not have good enough players to challenge for the Premier League.

  • A centre back was the one summer signing that United needed to challenge for the title.


In a future post, I will go through each one of these narratives and show that while they have some truth in them, they remain partial truths. Though convincing, they remain incomplete and hence misleading.

Herein lies the irony, for someone as results focused, as realistic, as pragmatic, as anti-bullshit, as anti-poetry and anti-philosophy a la LVG, as Mourinho is, his greatest feat is his use of narratives to convince a good number of fans, players, and pundits to ignore reality even when it stares them in the face.

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Where did they go?

LONDON – SEPTEMBER 30: Gareth Barry of Aston Villa in action during the Barclays Premiership match between Chelsea and Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge on September 30, 2006 London, England. (Photo by Ben Radford/Getty Images)

A couple of days ago, I was reading a wikipedia summary of the 2004-05 seasons and my eye caught the table of kit sponsors for that season. I saw quite a few unfamiliar names that I decided to investigate how much kit sponsors have changed since 2004.

So I made this bar graph.

Premier League Kit Sponsors since 2004

…patience…will take a few seconds to load…

Interesting Tidbit

After the 2006-07 premier league season, Diadora, Airness, Hummel, Lonsdale, Jako, Joma, JJB all dropped out of the Premier League never to return again (actually Joma returned in 2016 as kit sponsors of Swansea City).

From 14 companies sponsoring 20 premier league teams to 8 sponsoring 20 the next season. Umbro jumped from sponsoring just Everton in the 2006-07 season to sponsoring Everton, Wigan, Blackburn, West Ham, Birmingham City, Sunderland (Sunderland and Birmingham were newly promoted) in the next season.

I wonder if there was a cause for this?

All of these sportswear brands, except the now defunct JJB, are still in existence but have gone on to reinvent themselves, sponsor little teams in smaller divisions, or exited the football market altogether to focus on other sports.

Big money football is all Adidas and Nike now.