The Myth of Game Management

It’s hard not to cringe ever so slightly when the term ‘game management’ is wheeled out by pundits who use this extraordinarily vague term in the guise of cutting-edge analysis.

It was a few seasons ago that this highly ambiguous term found its way into mainstream usage and, whilst it’s a nice, fluffy term for low-key press conferences and also used as a somewhat unnecessary euphemism for time-wasting, its relevance in football analysis is highly debatable.

Now I have never played football to any reputable standard so perhaps it is foolish to wade in so forthrightly on this, but if a coach was hollering about game-management from the sidelines, surely it would be nothing more than whitenoise? After all, it provides no information or instruction in terms of what they are wanting from their players.

How ‘game management’ found its way into the lexicon is mystifying as it doesn’t seem to have any specific meaning whatsoever. When these pundits, both of the professional and armchair variety, use this term it’s not at all clear what discernable difference there is from ‘good game management’ to ‘bad game management’.

This criticism is not an attempt to sythe into the new terms that enter the glossary of punditry as the ever-evolving lexicon of football is one of the many endearing quirks of the game. For example, the meaning of ‘expected goals’ (xG) is as much of a mystery to me as the disappearance of Lord Lucan, but it is clearly crucial data that the likes of Opta spend many hours crunching.

In fact, despite arriving on the football scene around the same time, xG appears to represent the opposite of what game-management does; specific, data-driven analysis that delves into the minutiae of football. Statistics such as xG facilitates a deeper tactical study into the game by those who are au fait with number-crunching.

Game management, by contrast, is an absurdly hollow concept that prevents a more comprehensive discussion on key decisions individual players make that lead to a certain result such as if and when they made tactical fouls, whether or not they timed tackles correctly, when they chose to shoot when a pass was on and vice versa, and many more variable factors that dictate the narrative of a game.

Despite these protestations, the term is here to stay and become an inevitability of the modern game much like goal music and half-and-half scarves, but surely its overuse will turn increasing numbers of people away from mainstream punditry?

Follow Henry on Twitter @Fleetontoast