The Role of Chance in Football


  • an occasion that allows something to be done
  • the level of possibility that something will happen
  • a possibility that something negative will happen
  • the force that causes things to happen without any known cause or reason for doing so

As the EUROS gets well underway what is the role of chance in scoring a goal in professional football? Is everything down to the skills of the footballer and gameplay or is there an element of luck?

Prof. Dr. Daniel Memmert, Executive Head of the Institute of Exercise Training and Sports Informatics at the German Sport University Cologne and his team have analysed a total of 7,263 goals scored in the English Premier League in the 2012/13 to 2018/19 seasons.

In order to be able to quantify randomness in football by identifying chance and its influence in the goal-scoring process they looked at variables including:

  • goals following a rebound
  • long-range shots
  • deflected shots
  • goals created by defensive errors like, for instance, own goals.
  • season
  • matchday
  • match location
  • match situation
  • goal number
  • team strength.

The 7,263 goals were then evaluated for the presence of the variables mentioned.

 In almost every second goal scored (46%), some form of random influence has been identified.

Sport scientist Fabian Wunderlich, explained:

“The results clearly highlight the essential role of chance in football, as almost every second goal benefits from random influence.

“Another interesting finding is that the proportion of chance goals has dropped from 50% to 44% over the seven seasons. This might be caused by the fact that match preparation is becoming increasingly professional and data-based driven, or that players are becoming better trained technically as well as tactically.”

Prof. Dr. Memmert, commented:

 “A single random goal can therefore be enough to significantly change the outcome of a match. Thus, chance is not only highly relevant in the case of that particular goal. Chance also plays a significant role in deciding the final score of the match.”

The research team is convinced that a better understanding of random influences in football can have important implications for research and practice. Coaches and match analysts should bring chance into the equation as a decisive factor while taking much greater cognizance of the difference between performance and success.

Memmert suggests:

“Coaches could even consider deliberately creating uncontrollable situations to provoke random influences in the goal-scoring process”.

Categories: Science

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