Forecasting: revisiting my Premier League outlook


At the turn of the year I wrote about the challenge of forecasting, an art that we are faced with in all walks of life. What makes it particularly difficult in the world of economics and financial markets is that we are all part of the very system we try to forecast on, where our decisions have an impact on the end outcome.

My other main interest, football, poses its own challenges when it comes to forecasting. While there are much less variables at play, predicting football results on a Saturday is notoriously difficult. How many accumulators have gone awry because of a last minute equaliser or that ‘surprise result’? I know I’ve had a few!

Still, one might expect that predicting the winner of the Premier League over a 38 game season would be much more predictable. As well, given that only five different teams have won the Premier League since it began in 1992 – Manchester United, Blackburn Rovers, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City – one of which is no longer in the division, Blackburn Rovers, the likelihood of a new champion is small.

Of course, being a Liverpool fan, living a perpetual state of hope, probability goes out the window and the heart clouds the mind. For that reason, I am another €100 poorer as my annual bet for them to win the league failed to materialise, again.

Leaving aside my Liverpool bias, as I reflect on my own predictions from August for the season that is now behind us – see blog: The drought is over, English premier league returns! – I am reasonably pleased with the thesis behind my views on each club, why I wrote Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United off to win the Premier League.

Arsenal, my objective forecast for Premier League Champions, could only manage a second place finish, but in truth they were never real contenders. To the dismay of Gunners everywhere, Roy Keane was proved right with his view on why Arsenal would not win the league, ‘there’s too many Arsenal players interested in selfies and six-packs’. While the posers of Arsenal talked up their chances, the so-called ‘journeymen’ of Leicester City defied all logic. They broke the forecasting model!

Like almost everyone else, Leicester City were not even on my radar, but at 5000-1 odds to win the league at the start of the season it is fair to see that they were the statistical outlier. Tottenham FC did almost make me look stupid, who at 100/1, I said “would need divine intervention to stand any chance of winning the league”. While Spurs put up an admirable fight, in the end they caught the bug from their North London rivals, the main symptom being capitulation.

I have huge respect for Arsene Wenger and the way he has built the club, a true legend of the game. If Arsenal were an investment fund I would buy them every time, an unrivalled consistency of top quintile performance over the last twenty years, qualifying for the Champions League every year.

However, this is sport and as the legendary Bill Shankly said “If you are first you are first. If you are second you are nothing”.

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