World Cup 2018 Inter-Team Network Diagrams

Sorry that these are quite so late. The combo of the number of players, the relatively late date that the final squads were announced and a busy time at work meant that I couldn’t get the diagram anything like finished until the 12th, and I then went to Sweden for a week for work.


And then I wanted to tinker with the colours and force separation a little because part of the diagram was so overlapped.

Having now had the chance to tinker, please see the 2018 World Cup team interaction network diagram, with the players being attached to the team they last played for, with a cut off date of the 26th of May. The teams are as accurate as Wikipedia can make them. (You’re all lucky you missed the great “Inter” vs “Internazionale” revert fest.)


network vizualisation

As you can see, the top of the diagram is basically one giant smush, showing the international flavour of club football nowadays.

England are the only team where all of their players play in their home league, while Sweden and Senegal are the only teams where no-one plays in their home league. (A very simple bar chart pending on this topic some time soon.)

Iran, Panama and Peru are the least connected teams, while several others are so interconnected it’s hard to see them, and almost impossible to prevent them overlapping (looking at you, Croatia and Portugal).

This is one of the situations where the community view helps:


network diagram in community view


Using the community view makes it easier to see the team names. It also makes it easier to see which teams are tightly related to each other due to players either playing in each others leagues or players from both teams playing for teams from a third country.

There is a giant community of Croatia, France, Germany and Spain followed by a slightly smaller one of Brazil, Belgium, England (due to Manchester City). Then there are four two team groupings; Senegal and Poland, Australia and Saudi Arabia, Argentina and Colombia and Egypt and Tunisia. Everyone else is their own community.

It’ll be interesting to see how the inter-relations develop as teams are knocked out.


2018 World Cup Predictions

I’ve made my World Cup predictions. I used the Manchester Evening News Predictor. I suspect it’s the same one that all the local newspaper websites are using but it’s the only one that didn’t crash my laptop with its video.

Using some serious guesswork as to the scores, I have the follow teams qualifying from the group stages. The first-named team is the team I think will be top of the group.

Group A – Uruguay and Egypt
B – Spain and Portugal
C – France and Denmark
D – Argentina and Croatia
E – Brazil and Serbia
F – Germany and Mexico
G – Belgium and England
H – Colombia and Japan

Which leads to the following matches in the first knock out round:

Uruguay vs Portugal – Portugal. After possibly the worst game of football you will ever see.
France vs Croatia – France
Spain vs Egypt – Spain
Argentina vs Denmark – Argentina
Brazil vs Mexico – Brazil, although P will be annoyed at me for saying that.
Belgium vs Japan – I’ve gone with Belgium winning, but I am by no means sure. If someone unexpected is going to go out here, it may be Belgium.
Germany vs Serbia – Germany
Colombia vs England – England, just

If I am right, the quarterfinals will be:

Portugal vs France – France
Brazil vs Belgium – Brazil (but it will be closer than people think)
Spain vs Argentina – Argentina
Germany vs England – Germany (I get complaints from friend L. Because he thinks England can beat Germany because England have *potential* and Germany lost to Austria. England always have potential!)


France vs Brazil – France, I have a feeling about them. I will be upset when I am wrong but I have a feeling.
Argentina vs Germany – Argentina (because Germany did lose to Austria after all.)

So I think the final will be:

France vs Argentina – France! because I have a feeling.

Apologise to Hodgson

As you might be able to tell by my misuse of that Tiziano Crudeli image, this may be less calm and reasoned than most of my posts.

Now that Crystal Palace are safe, and were safe with more than one game to go, becoming the first team to stay in the top division of English football despite losing their first 7 games since 1899, I want every single journalist who was so rude to and about Roy Hodgson when he was appointed to write an apology. A full-on mea massima culpa if possible.

I would prefer a handwritten one, delivered on bended knee, but I accept typewritten and published in a national newspaper. I am being good and not suggesting it needs to be written on vellum, just in case any of them are vegetarians.

Why am I being quite so *so* about this?

I don’t have any especial fondness for Hodgson. I think he’s a gentleman in a sport where that’s rare and unrewarded (see also Chris Hughton and his many trials and tribulations). Hodgson’s never managed any team I support, and he’s managed two teams I regard as sworn enemies (Inter Milan and Switzerland).

There’s no place in my heart for Crystal Palace. I like the eagle, but that’s about it.

No, my objection to the criticism of Hodgson when he took over was that very few of the criticisms were football-related. Most of them were personal and unnecessarily mean.

It’s unnecessary meanness I object to.

Criticise the formations the man chooses, the style of play of his teams or the players he picks, don’t bash the man. An ad hominem isn’t any better just because you’re a professional writer.

Especially when the criticisms turn out to be bunkum.

I think the comments about Hodgson’s age have more to do with English journalists’s peculiar obsession with youth than any truth about what age a manager is at his best at.

Complaints that Hodgson didn’t have the fire needed to keep a team up seem to be based on 3 misconceptions:

1 – Fire is the required thing for a coach in this situation.

I get the idea. In the fix Palace found themselves in, you need a manager who can get players to play beyond their capabilities.

But is fire the way to do it?

I have no idea how you’d quantify fireyness to judge. I do know that I have seen two footballing miracles that covered more than one match (Greece 2004 and Leicester 2015-2016). Neither them was for someone I’d call firey.

It’s noticeable that none of the great rugby union or rugby league managers are what you’d call firey either.

I think the English football press have been seduced by Mourinho, Klopp and Simeone. That’s understandable – let he who has not been seduced by one of those three cast the first stone – but their way is not the only way.

2 – Hodgson in front of the press is Hodgson in the dressing room. I’ve got no knowledge as to whether that’s true or not, and I doubt most football journalists have either. We all know that presumptions in the absence of evidence are a bad thing. Someone might want to tell the press!

3 – England’s failure in Euro 2016, as exemplified by the loss to Iceland, was all Hodgson’s fault. That seems to ignore England have been inexplicably bad since 1996. Yes, I’ll grant that they’ve been unlucky (South Africa 2010 and the goal that wasn’t) or had penalty shoot-outs (which are a coin toss at the best of times) but at this point, I doubt the combined spirits of Paisley, Shankly and Busby could make an England team play to their potential. Note, I am not even saying win, just play well.

An argument could be made that Hodgson’s Liverpool didn’t play well either. And that’s probably true, but every fan of every team can think of at least one occasion where a manager and a team combination didn’t work out despite both manager and team being good separately.

I think a manager like Hodgson is what was needed in Crystal Palace’s situation. Someone who can analyse what talent he has at his disposal, the experience to know how to use that talent to its best effect against other teams, the knowledge that there will be setbacks and the ability to get the team back on track after them.

That journalists didn’t see that, didn’t think Hodgson had these qualities, that is much of a muchness. That they chose not to attack his football but the man himself, with spite and vitriol, that’s what they need to apologise for.

Black Panther

Black Panther follows the traditional superhero formula for films where there’s already been an origin. For filmverse Black Panther, Captain America 3 was basically his origin film. This pattern is – see the hero’s strength, see the villain’s strength, the villain rises, it appears that all is lost for the forces of good and then the hero wins.

In films like that, the important is the specific details, the character bits, the frills. And Black Panther is very good at those.

Spoilers Underneath

Chadwick Boseman has the most difficult job. Because playing good is difficult and he knocks it out of the park. Heroic good in films tends to be reactive, and given very little to actively do. It’s a hard balancing act, of being awesome and good without being too preachy.

I am taking the time to say this mostly because the rest of this is all about how awesome everyone else in the film is but T’Challa is the base of all of that.

The most important detail is that Michael B Jordan will break your heart. I mean, actually break it. With a significant assist by Sterling K. Brown. It’s that moment where you realise that the opening narration isn’t T’Challa’s father to T’Challa, it’s N’Jobu to Erik. It’s an exiled prince telling the son he fears will never get to see his homeland all about it, and that breaks me because he knows he’s about to do something that will get him exiled for ever but is going to do it anyway because it’s the right thing do. Or at least he thinks it is the right thing to, and he might be right and Marvel are doing that thing again. The whole film is full of situations like that, see also T’Challa’s father is not a bad man, he might not be a good man, but he’s not bad, but he did a terrible thing, again, because he thought it was the least worst possible option, even though he was probably wrong. Did I mention, Marvel are doing the thing!

Then there’s the “I’m not crying” tears and how vulnerable and deadly Erik is at the same time, and the contrast between that and the equivalent scene of T’Challa and his father.

And then the ending, where Erik’s ready to be let down by Wakanda, the way he has been by everything else, and he isn’t, because it is every bit as beautiful as his father promised, and he’d still rather die than be imprisoned because he knows he’s right. That was the bit that made me cry.

Killmonger is very much one particular type of Marvel villain, he is the bad man with a righteous cause. He is Magneto, down to the name, it’s just that this time the cause is that much more real.

One of the reasons why the film works is that Killmonger isn’t the only one who believes that Wakanda shouldn’t be isolationist, Ntiri does too, it’s just Killmonger’s methods that are … too extreme. Too often in films like this, anyone who disagrees with the hero is wrong, and either misguided or evil. Black Panther makes sure that that doesn’t happen. The film is very careful that Ntiri is always good, and kind, and just, and agrees with most of what Killmonger is saying. Which is tricky to pull off, and it helps when you have Lupita Nyong’o to play the role.

A lot of thought has gone into this film. I mean, more than usual. T’Challa can get away with going “no, vengence is bad” to W’Kabi because he did forgive his father’s killer. T’Challa he knows that you have to forgive to avoid a cycle of violence (the end of which, last time, was the Sokovia mess). It means that, while you might disagree with his not killing Klaue, he’s not a hypocrite when he tells W’Kabi that it was better to take Klaue in alive. They must have had at least the vague outline of this plotted out when they were writing Captain America 3 to make sure it worked. I like it when Marvel plan and have joined up thinking.

Talking about awesome, let us now speak of Okoya. Partly, she’s a stock character I like done well, it’s someone who is loyal to the kingdom, not necessarily who is on the throne. But normally, they’re crusty old men with beards (hello Colonel Zapt in “Prisoner of Zenda”) and Okoya isn’t.

She never breaks. She sticks to her word. She serves Killmonger until he, and W’Kabi, break the rules. No matter how much it hurts her, her word is her bond, and her honour upholds the throne. Yes, she might be glad that they give her the opportunity to rebel, but until they do, she sticks with her duty. Charging a rhino at her was never going to work. (I do love that W’Kabi doesn’t even try to do anything else when his rhino stops. There’s a certain sort of “no go” when a rhino doesn’t want to do something.)

I love the fighting style of the Dora Milaje. Which I love. Because it looks so effective, and they actually train to be a person down, which makes so much sense. All hail fight tactics in films making sense.

The way the right of challenge was phrased made it quite clear that T’Challa wasn’t going to be dead, I mean, beyond it being his film and him turning up in the Infinity War trailer beforehand. You only phrase things that way when you need a get out clause.

All hail M’Baku, the noblest man in the kingdom. Because he could have taken the last of the heart-shaped herb and challenged Killmonger. No-one would have known that T’Challa wasn’t dead. I do like that the Jabari’s thing seems to be “we are awkward and we enjoy it” (even if I am deeply confused by Hanuman having followers that far west. I mean, I totally support Hanuman having worshippers wherever they are but …). I was so worried that he was going to be the film’s heroic sacrifice.

The heart-shaped herb as a whole sets up some interesting things for the future. Ignoring any spiritual-mystic stuff, the idea of a plant that both gives and takes away power is interesting, as is Killmonger destroying the remaining plants. I think he does it, not just to stop any immediate challengers to the throne but because I’m not entirely sure he expects to live long enough to have children. I think that’s supposed to be one of the contrasts to his father, T’Chaka and T’Challa. I also wonder how the burning of all the heart-shaped herb affects any future Panthers, because if it’s vital then there’s a problem, but if it’s not, then they’ve got other problems.

I feel bad for leaving Shuri this late in my write-up (and her bit being so short) because I love her so. Because she’s geek girl done accurately, adorable and a genius, all the way down to the terrible sneaker jokes. (Also, really T’Challa, what did you expect to happen when she said that the new gear used hits to it to produce force? She warned you!)

It was only reading the stuff around Black Panther that told me that Everett Ross in Captain America 3 was supposed to be an annoyance rather than a budding Trask/Gyrich-esque villain. Note to self – you and Hollywood have different concepts of annoyance and villainy. I do think that he was written deliberately less irksome/villainous in this one, when he’s being irksome in the interrogation of Klaue but immediately tries to save Ntiri from a bullet. It’s only writing this post that’s made me realise why they had to have someone get badly injured for the ending to work properly. Killmonger’s choice to die rather than be imprisoned only works if we know that Wakandan technology can save him.

I refuse to accept Angela Bassett is old enough to have a grown son, never mind a son who is old enough to be king.

The casting directors deserve so much credit for how well they cast the young T’Chaka and the young Zuri. I mean, yes, they cast the actor’s son for T’Chaka, and while they swear Denzel Whitaker is no relation, I think that’s just to hide how advanced their cloning programme is, because he moves like Forrest Whittaker, but only when Zuri’s revealed to be Zuri. All joking about cloning aside, it’s a clever little bit of physical acting.

Andy Serkis knew he was playing the weak villain who gets killed to make either the good guy or the villain look strong and played the role with gleeful aplomb. On the otherhand, I’d like to know how you get Klaw out of Klaue, as, AFAIK and Afrikaans isn’t one of my languages, Afrikaans is a say what you see language. I can maybe just about get Klow-eh out of that, but not Klaw.

Which brings me to the only thing that was a little off with the film. I understand the filmmakers were aiming for “there is more to Africa than you see in the news” but they do it by making Wakanda a melange of so many cultures. I think some of it is from the comics (Black Panther was never one of my comics, I only know characters that crossed over with the X-Men), because that’s who I am blaming for Hanuman being a God anywhere in Africa. Or Bast being a goddess that far south of Egypt.

In the words of one friend, “why are they speaking Xhosa so far north.” I know why they chose Xhosa, it’s immediately recognisable but … It’s noticeable.

That does seem a picky thing to comment on when the film was so bright and vibrant and good. Which it was, and I recommend everyone go watch it.

Yearly Book Location Data Viz

The yearly update on where the books I have read are set.


pie chart


There’s been a slight increase in non-UK set books, but in total, still more than half are set in the UK.

For UK-based books:


another pie chart


Still completely dominated by England. Theoretically, there should be one set in Scotland but I have had forgotten to write down the name of the book so it is not counting (until I can find it again).

Just Say No To Phil Neville

Having been exposed to his inanity on Match of the Day, I’d say that as a general statement, but on this particular occasion, I mean “Just Say No To Phil Neville as England Manager”.

My objection to Phil Neville being England manager has nothing to do with his tweets. Admittedly, you’d think that, given that the last England Women’s manager was sacked for improprieties*, the FA would try to make sure the next one was squeaky clean but I can live with an idiot as manager.

What I object to is his complete lack of coaching experience.

A summary of Phil Neville’s coaching experience:

1 game, assistant coach, England U21s.
3 games, assistant coach, England U21s at the 2013 Euros. At the 2013 Euros, England finished bottom of a group containing Italy, Norway and Israel, scoring only 1 goal.
~ 18 games, assistant manager at Valencia. During this period, Valencia had their lowest win percentage ever.

You’ll notice the complete absence of head coach/manager experience.

In many way, the question to ask is not “is he the right choice for the England Women’s team?” but “is he the right choice for any England job?”

Would the people saying he’s fine for the Women’s job be okay with him managing the Men’s team? Probably not. Same for the U21s and possibly the U19s. At best, he’s acceptable for the male U17s and maybe U19s.

So, for some unknown reason, the FA have decided that the Women’s team can have a manager that they’d never appoint to most of the other national jobs.

The FA’s defence is that everyone else they’ve asked has turned them down. The BBC article I’ve linked mentions 3 other people.

Lets give the FA the benefit of the doubt. Lets presume they asked every manager in the two Women’s divisions in England, and all the managers of Women’s teams in Europe and North America who might be available before asking Phil Neville. What does it say about the situation that no one with experience wanted the role?

I doubt it’s because it’s a job in Women’s football. There are already female managers, and male managers of women’s football teams (and also a few managers that used to coach men’s teams that have switched).

I doubt it’s the players. They don’t seem to be bad, you know, 3rd at the last World Cup, semi-finals at the last Euros, haven’t lost horribly to Iceland. The Men’s team wishes it did that well.

So what is it?

Could it be that no one involved in Women’s football wants the England job because they know that they’re always going to be an afterthought and that the manager is going to be in an invidious position where, if they win stuff, it’s “only women’s football” and if they lose, it’s “why are we giving them money”?

The Lionesses are doing well despite the FA, and with another World Cup coming up, I worry that this choice of manager is going to derail the chances of them winning it.


* the FA were very unclear as to precisely what kind of “inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour” Mark Sampson committed at Bristol Academy, so I have just gone with impropriety.

FIFA World Cup 2018 Draw

As I am prone to doing, I’ve done a redraw of the 2018 FIFA World Cup based purely on the rankings. The rankings used are FIFA’s October ones, as that was the latest available ranking when the draw itself took place.

The result of the real draw can be seen here.

Group A Group B Group C Group D Group E Group F Group G Group H
Germany Brazil Portugal Argentina Belgium Poland Switzerland France
Denmark Croatia Uruguay England Mexico Peru Spain Colombia
Costa Rica Iceland Sweden Tunisia Egypt Senegal Iran Serbia
Saudi Arabia South Korea Panama Russia Japan Australia Morocco Nigeria

I abided by the FIFA rules that each team could have no more than 1 team from each Confederation (or no more than 2 from UEFA). To comply with this I had to swap Iceland and Costa Rica to stop there being too many UEFA teams in Group A and I had to move Australia and Japan along one to prevent there being two Asian Football Association teams in group G. (Yes, Australia is in the Asian Football Confederation, not the Oceania one.)

Panama, South Korea and Saudi Arabia have all been moved up one, again to prevent there being too many UEFA teams in group A. I had to move that many because if I’d just swapped Saudi Arabia, there’d be too many UEFA teams in B, and if just Saudi Arabia and South Korea then there would have been too many in Group C. Mostly this shows how many more European teams are put in the World Cup draw.

Groups A, D and H have 1 out of 4 of the same teams as the random draw, while groups B, C, E, F and G are completely different. I suspect Portugal and Spain might prefer mine, while in my draw, groups B and H are a bit group of deathy.

FIFA, however, also have a tradition whereby the host country is always the first team in group A (so that they get to have the opening match). If I apply this rule to a draw from the rankings, you get these pools.

Group A Group B Group C Group D Group E Group F Group G Group H
Russia Germany Brazil Portugal Argentina Belgium Poland Switzerland
Croatia Uruguay England Peru Mexico Spain Colombia France
Costa Rica Denmark Iceland Sweden Tunisia Egypt Senegal Iran
Saudi Arabia South Korea Panama Morocco Japan Australia Serbia Nigeria

For version 2 I had to swap Peru and Mexico to stop there being two South American teams in group E, Denmark and Costa Rica to stop there being too many European teams in group A and Serbia and Nigeria to stop there being too many European teams in group H. Finally, I also had to swap Japan and Morocco to prevent there being two African teams in group E.

Group A now has 2/4 teams the same as the real drawn while the remaining groups are completely different. I suspect England are glad this wasn’t the real draw, as they would face the mighty Iceland (and some team called Brazil), and groups E and F look tasty.

There was a big to-do-age about how easy Russia’s real draw was, but I think it’s more of an artefact of putting the hosts in Group A. Because Russia’s ranking is lower than everyone else’s, there were always going to be two weak teams in A, and, because Russia are in UEFA, the weak team weren’t going to be the weakest of the European teams, who might, or might not, be better than Saudi Arabia, who they did get.

And, even with this allegedly suspiciously easy group (I am deeply, deeply dubious of the stats, factoids and logic used to define group A as an easy group, from a Russian perspective), Russia still aren’t going to qualify.

I know this, you know this, they know this. The terribleness of the Russian national football team is known factor.

It is inexplicable.

I have no idea if it’s because the shape of the Russian football season is so different to others, or if it’s that the huge amounts of money floating about the Russian league have lead to a lack of players for the national team, or if my curse on Fabio Capello had some unfortunate knock-on effects. Maybe all the really athletically ept Russians do other sports. Whatever the cause, there is something rotten with Russian football and they haven’t been able to fix it before this World Cup. That means that the atmosphere for the later stages might be lacking. That FIFA know this, and might try to fix it, might be why people were suspicious of the draw, although I think it was within the bounds of probable draws due to Russia being picked first.