Football, Quants and Black Swans

I’ve been reading Nicholas Nassim Talleb’s (the ever-effervescent NNT) Black Swan for the 2nd time recently, and the timing couldn’t be better with FIFA 2010 in full swing.

For those unfortunates yet to be enlightened by the unknowledge of NNT, a ‘black swan’ is an ‘unknown unknown’ with potentially enormous effect on the future course of events. The very nature of human cognition and memory makes us especially prone to forgetting the existence of Black Swans. I lack the requisite articulation to teach you more than that, so go read the book. It’s brilliant. Completely.

If I may be so bold as to attempt to apply his ideas to sport, I would say that football generates multiple black swans a minute, bearing more similarity to a barbarian melee than to a sport in the sheer dynamism and complex nature of the interactions of 22 wiry-muscled athletes, a sphere and very complicated physics.

Every single one of us ‘armchair pundits’ have been made comprehensive fools of as we sit and claim (and declaim) attempts to ‘call the game’. Based on esoteric and eclectic ‘factors’ like home form, away form, lack of (any) form, altitude, attitude, fans, bans, formations, deformations, and various other informations, we pundits fire an aural barrage of soapbox operas in favor of massive-marketing and marchandising-induced favoritisms.


We know stuff!!

And now, within TV-remote reach is the biggest, most orgiastic, hyped, hammered, and watched spectacle since Maximum Decidus Meridus proclaimed his claim to vengeance on the sands of the coliseum. The FIFA World Cup 2010 in South Africa.

Events like the World Cup and Euro are even more black swan prone than seasonal club football. Take an environment thats pure extremistan, and move it to really-extremistan, and you have the War of 32, as I like to call it. The entire planet is still smarting from the wild-miss that was every prediction in Euro 2004 when Greece sneaked away a tournament win , (Considering the Olympics and the current economy, there may be a case for labeling Greece itself a Black Swan) just as South Korea is (probably) smarting over not winning the 2002 World Cup after cancelling their domestic season and attempting to game the tournament in their favor (probably bell-curved Brazil and Senegal right out of their calculations).

And then we come to FIFA 2010. The World Champions are out. After being held by New Zealand. For the first time in history, their challengers in the final of the previous edition are also out in the group stage (well, not really a surprise). The top seeds have been beaten by the Swiss. The host continent has flattered to deceive. The refereeing has been mostly good. Maradona seems to have put together an effective side.

Punditry anyone? Or shall we resist the narrative fallacy and just watch good football?


Bell Curve? What Bell Curve?


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