Is Fergie time over for United?

Posted on May 9th, 2013   

As we wave goodbye to one of the most successful managers in British football it’s also a time to focus on the ways that he has changed the football lexicon, whether it be through terms he coined himself (squeaky bum time) or phrases that were used about him (the hairdryer treatment). Probably the most statistically interesting is “Fergie time” the idea that Alex Ferguson through sheer force of personality gets more added time than other managers would when Man United are down.

How much is this a function of Ferguson or of Manchester United? In order to truly examine this we decided to see if there was a link between which teams were playing and the amount of added time. The problem is that a certain amount of added time is justified due to time wasted during the match due to goals or substitutions etc. We looked at added time from the 2009-2010 season up to and including this season. Built a linear model with different factors for a match that could lead to longer or shorter extra time, then applied stepwise selection to pick out the best model.

Our main question was answered in the stepwise selection of significant variables – individual teams were not found to be particularly favoured, however the strength of a team was found to make a difference. So it’s not that Ferguson is the manager, or that it’s Manchester United, but rather that Manchester United are good. What this means practically for next season is that as long as Manchester United remain a strong team we should continue to see this effect.

The table below shows the effect of different events on added time and the strength of the home and the away team.

Coefficients of the optimised linear model

For example it appears that referees are more aware of events which take place in added time than normal time and add more time for that, like card, goals or substitutions in extra time. A strong team that is losing gets more time added both at home and away.

There is one additional point to mention in reference to Fergie time – although the added time for stronger teams seems to be a function of all teams – what is crucial is what they do with it. As we have previously shown in the Fink Tank (£), Man United out perform at the end of the game. So Moyes may continue to get the extra time, but whether or not Manchester United will use it to score late goals remains to be seen.