Why UAE is not underachieving in football

Careful analysis of key indicators show that some nations, including the UAE are performing better than expected
History, media and fans alike have been sharing their opinion for many years now that, UAE has been underachieving in football on an international level, but to everyone’s surprise the stats say otherwise.

UAE as a football nation has always been treated as the black sheep and seen as a rich country with unlimited financial resources, great facilities at their disposal but still under performs and underachieves.

UAE is a very young country, the seven emirates joined forces to become United Arab Emirates only 42 years ago and they started playing football professionally around the 70s. Countries like England have been playing Football for about 200 years.

Lets evaluate UAE’s performances match by match from they first started playing professionally on an international level around the 70s by experience, population and wealth to determine if UAE has been underachieving.

If you analyze the database of UAE’s matches using the technique of multiple regression (which is a mathematical formula identified by Carl Friedrich Gauss in 1801), to find the closest statistical fit between one thing (Success of UAE’s national team) and any other collection of things (here experience, population and income per head), the idea is beautiful and simple.

Multiple Regression is a statistical technique where we predict one variable on the basis of several other variables. Here we look at the success of UAE national football team (which is one variable) on other variables like size of a countries population, income per head and experience as a professional international football team (the three other variables).

For each international match of UAE, when you input the population, income per capita and team experience of both the nations at that date, you will find out on average how UAE is expected to perform against the opponent. We will also take home advantage for each match.

When you run the regression you will discover, first, home advantage alone is worth a lead of about two-thirds of a goal, second, having twice as much international experience as your rival is worth half a goal, in fact experience is much more important than the population of a country in terms of football, and UAE lacks that.

It is for this reason why China and USA perform very well at the Olympics compared to other nations because they select their athletes from a bigger pool of pupils but performs not very well in football because they have less international experience

Al-Ain FC’s head of performance analysis Liam Weeks said, “There are of course other factors, such as what is the local skill. Why does Jamaica keep producing world class sprinters? If you look at the medals from just the athletics competition at London 2012, Jamaica would have finished third”

“Can we now expect to see a rise in the sporting performance of countries such as India?” Liam said

Having twice the population of your rival is worth only about one-tenth of a goal and having twice the gross domestic product (GDP) per head is worth about as little. In other words although being large and rich helps a country win football matches, being experienced helps a lot more.

UAE is one of the less experienced countries in Asia, it played around 416 internationals between 1970 to 2013 compared to almost twice of that played by Japan who have been around since the 30s.

When it comes to our second variable, national income, UAE scores high, UAE is one of the richest countries in the world with a GDP per capita of AED245,890 compared to AED132,743 of Japan, where UAE falls short is population.

What seems to go unnoticed by media and international football fans is that UAE has a population of hardly a million Emirati’s compared to nations like Japan who has a population of 126million.

A country being rich gives them advantage to have better sports facilities, better grass roots development for the youths, and at the same time having a bigger population simply helps produce more talented players.

So in football terms, UAE is an inexperienced, rich but a very small sized competitor compared to Japan who is one of the top Asian football countries.

So when I got Liam Weeks, a professional sports analyst to run the numbers, UAE given its population, income and experience “should” score on average 0.21 goals per game then its opponent. Which is almost no chance for them to win a game on expectancy. To get a feel for how this works, lets consider UAE’s performance at the Bahrain Gulf Cup last month.

UAE played Bahrain in the group stages and Iraq in the finals, from which the game against Bahrain was a home game for Bahrain. Facing Bahrain, UAE had a population of 200,000 less compared to Bahrain, a GDP 3 time’s larger and more or less same number of International experience. That combination gave an expected goal difference of half a goal for Bahrain but in the event, UAE won by 2-1, so did better than expected

Against Iraq in the finals, UAE had a population, which is 31 times less, had GDP per capita 15 times more and almost half as much experience, and since the game was being played at a neutral ground there was no “home field” effect. All this gave Iraq an expected advantage of 1 goal but UAE again over performed and won the finals by 2-1.

The unpredictability of football is what makes it exciting for the world and it means there are many deviations from expectations and the formula of multiple regression does not apply on certain cases.

The conclusion is that UAE performs better than expected when you take into account the 3 variables i.e. experience, wealth and population. UAE started playing football professionally only from the early 70s and is developing to be one of the top Asian football nations.

FIFA have a world ranking system, which is based on a countries performance over the past 4 years, A simple formula of P = M x I x T x C is used.

M= Points for the match result, I= Importance of the match, friendly matches are worth 1, whilst a Confederation or WC qualifier is worth 2.5, confederation finals 3 and world cup finals 4. This is where the UAE lost out, with the Gulf Cup only being award the multiple of a friendly match instead of the deserved confederation points.

T= Strength of opposition. The higher ranked the opposition the more points it is worth. C=Confederation the teams represent. UEFA/Conmebol are worth 1, whilst AFC is only worth 0.86

In theory the higher FIFA ranked nation should win the match. Englands performances in qualification for the last world cup and Euro2012 are the main reason they are ranked so highly, despite mediocre performances in the finals of both competitions.

Bosnia are currently ranked 22 in the World, have a population of circa 3.9million and a GDP per capita of 4,688USD. Another of the Balkland States, Montenegro, with an even smaller population of just 685,000, a GDP of 6966USD are currently 28th in the World, and topping Englands Qualifying Group for Brazil 2014.

Follow Omar on Twitter @Dantani