Cognitive biases are everywhere - in stock markets, boardrooms (pdf), politics and even songs.It should, then, be no surprise that they also affect football punditry.
I'm thinking here of four biases:
1.Misperceiving randomness. There's always a chance that a team will suffer from bad luck: its opponents' finishing will be unusually brilliant; refs and linesmen will make bad decisions* against it; or usually good players will make bad errors. These random events will sometimes bunch together - that's the nature of randomness. If they come in one game, the team will get a hiding. If they come over a few successive games, it could suffer a losing streak.
But the pundits won't appreciate this. Instead, we'll hear about the club losing form, or being in crisis or decline. But in fact, what might have happened is just an "accident."
2. Hindsight bias. Results colour our attitude to teams' performance. If a team wins, we naturally think it played well and this can distract us from its shortcomings. For example, Manyoo's victory over Chelsea covered up the fact that they conceded 20 shots. Had things gone a little differently - better finishing by Chelsea or two of United's goals being ruled offside, this would have led the pundits to question the quality of their young defenders.As it is, they escape scrutiny from the media (though not, I suspect, Sir Alex).
3. The availability effect. Some aspects of the game are more noticeable, mentally available, than others, and so they attract an attention disproportionate to their importance.
The stupidest example of this is when retards criticise managers for not being more passionate on the touchline. But this is just the 2% of a managers' working week that is the most salient.
A more subtle form is that set pieces are more salient than many aspects of open play, such as the transition from possession to non-possession. This means that if a team is poor at defending set pieces, it'll get a reputation for bad defending even if its overall defence is good.You'd never guess from all the howling that,last season, Arsenal had the fourth-best defensive record in the league despite: having no goalkeeper for half the season; missing their best defender for most of it; not parking the bus in front of the goal;and being the victim of some appalling officiating.
4. Confirmation bias. Once people have an idea, they find evidence to corroborate it.So, having gotten the idea that Arsenal can't defend, they overweight evidence for this, an underweight evidence to the contrary. This is all the more likely to happen if it combines with point 1.
The counterpart of this bias is that people don't admit they were wrong.12 months ago, everyone said Arsenal needed to buy a new keeper. Wenger thought differently. And when Szczesny made that save against Udinese, did Wenger's critics recant and say that, maybe, they are wrong on other things as well? No.
Now, although fans and pundits commit these errors, coaches rarely do. As Arsene says, "We must not completely believe what people say when it goes well or badly." This isn't because they are better educated in statistics than their critics - though Arsene is - but rather because rationality often arises from practice, so those better practiced in football make fewer intellectual errors about it.This means that coaches don't over-react to good or bad streaks. They "take positives" from a defeat not (just) out of the self-serving bias but because there often are such positives. And they sometimes - though rarely in public - describe a winning performance as "disgraceful."
And yet, despite all this, fans and journalists continue to criticize coaches who have vastly more knowledge and expertise than they do. Which is, surely, an example of the Dunning-Kruger effect.
* I'm assuming refs' bad decisions are random. This is not obvious.