Betting Fallacy 1
FALLACY ONE - THEY NEED TO WIN, SO THEY ARE MORE LIKELY TO
It isn't true. It sounds plausible - perfectly plausible - but it isn't true. The reason why it isn't true I will hazard a guess at in a moment.
We hear the 'need to win' argument every year in the final few weeks of a season, when teams who have everything to play for come up against opponents who have nothing to play for. We are talking here about teams going for a championship, promotion, the play-offs or an escape from relegation in games against opponents who are safely ensconced in mid-table.
The bookmakers' odds on these games are completely different from what they would be at any other time, because the bookmakers know that nearly all of the money bet on these games will go on the team with the greater need of the three points.
Yet there is no evidence that they are more likely to get them.
In actual fact, if anything, promotion-hunting teams did worse in May, when they played their last few games, than they did in any other month of the season.
Why should we expect, say, a relegation-threatened team to play better this Saturday than they did last Saturday? The belief that they will presupposes two things. That they weren't trying last Saturday, when they also needed to win. And that they could play better if they did try.
Let's think about this in a different way. Because, actually, there may be a good reason why, overall, teams who need to win perform no better than usual and teams who don't need to win perform no worse than usual.
Why does someone become a professional footballer? Among other things, it's because they like playing football.
Top coaches will tell you that there are lots of players who can impress in training but not in matches. And lots of others who can impress in ordinary matches but not in important ones.
Sven-Goran Eriksson says: "I have had players in training put away 99 per cent of their penalties, but in matches could only make 60 per cent of them. Others are active, attacking and constantly winning the ball -but only in training."
His excellent book Eriksson On Football is really an extended discussion of the ways in which coaches can try to help players perform without feeling pressure. Because pressure can wreak havoc on performance.
In a vital end-of-season fixture, you might have one team playing under greater pressure than they have experienced before in their lives and another suddenly released from all pressure, playing only for the joy of doing so, just like they do every day on the training ground.
Do you still want to back the team who need to win?