Give a man a fish and he can eat for a day. Give a football fan a fixture list and a league table, and he will forget all about lunch.
Nothing quite captures the imagination of the football community like the league table. “Position”, “games played”, “goals for”, “goals against”, “wins”, “losses”, “goal difference” are the Lego pieces which fans and media use to form their perceptions of a club over the course of a season.
The vast majority of the football community carries a bias towards a team’s position on the log. During this time of the year, soccer publications are normally littered quotes from club coaches promising fans things such as “a top 8 finish” and to “move 3 places up the log”.
The inherent problem with this “position/ standings” mind-set is that the focus shifts away from the true barometer of performance in a league campaign. Points.
This bias towards position as an indicator for success or failure is also the reason why the PSL Coach of the Season award is just a ceremonial award for the coach of the league winning team.
The true litmus test of coach’s performance is whether they picked up more points this season than last season.
League positions depend on factors outside of a team’s control, such as the performances (good or bad) of the other teams.
An interesting way to address this bias is via the “Cann table”, a variation to the traditional league table format created by the late Jenny Cann, an avid Arsenal supporter.
The aim of her alternative league table was to show the actual points difference between teams by listing them to their points tally.
This simple yet powerful rearrangement of the league table allows the average fan to see exactly how their team is performing in relation to other teams.
A quick glance at a Cann version of the 2013/2014 Absa Premiership log immediately reveals some truths about the performances of several clubs.
Mamelodi Sundowns (1st) and Kaizer Chiefs (2nd) were truly heads and shoulders above the rest of the league, with the only noteworthy mention being Bidvest Wits (3rd).
The almost 20 point difference between Orlando Pirates (4th) and the champions Mamelodi Sundowns suggest that Buccaneers need to shop for a couple of match-winners before this transfer window closes later this month.
Not to pick on Pirates again, but it’s interesting to see that although Orlando Pirates qualified for both the MTN8 and 2015 CAF Confederations Cup, there was actually very little difference between their performance and that of Amazulu (9th).
Although it’s easier to understand, there is little hope that the Cann table will dethrone the traditional league table. The main reason being that it would take up more space on your favourite newspaper than an editor will allow.
Until the perfect solution is found, take solace in this one football truth: “The league table always lies, until the end of the season”.