Wednesday 18 November 2015

Jon Walters, International Football's Best Penalty Taker.

Judging players on what they do rather than applying a more probabilistic approach often leads to misleading conclusions.

On Monday night, Jon Walters' brace of goals sent the Republic of Ireland to Euro 2016.

The opening goal was from the penalty spot and came just over a year since Walters was branded by The Daily Telegraph as one of the worst penalty takers in the Premier League             

So if you disregard the random variation that exists in a small number of penalties taken by any perfectly capable professional footballer and instead go with the Telegraph's confident headline, it appears a brave call by Ireland to entrust such an important kick to such a wretched performer from 12 yards.

Perhaps Martin O'Neill includes probabilistic thinking in his list of skills and knew that even at his lowest conversion rate, Walters was still likely to be a perfectly adequate 78% penalty taker who had merely been unlucky in a small sample of spot kicks.

Or perhaps he'd taken into account Walters' perfect spot kick record since the Telegraph branded him useless at penalties and concluded that Walters had been putting in hours on the training pitch.

With the Euro's just around the corner perhaps the Telegraph would care to run a piece on the best penalty takers currently in international football.

If they assume all kickers have broadly a 78% chance of converting a spot kick and look at the expected variation in actual spot kick successes from the inevitably small sample they will have collected, they will have great difficulty in drawing up a list.

But if they just look at international conversion rates, as they did when selecting the worst penalty takers in the Premier League, they'll have no trouble coming up with a list of the best penalty takers who are going to Euro 2016.

Jonathan Walters. It was the best of times and the worst of times.

And that list is probably going to include Jonathan Walters.


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