Jim N R Dale is the Founder and Senior Sports Meteorologist for British Weather Services. Having worked on a WIDE (weather impact deviation expectation) service, Jim is well aware of how influential weather is in sport. He has now taken the time to write an article explaining why bettors need to take the weather into consideration at the 2018 World Cup.
Let me make the point of this article clear; the World Cup 2018 will be weather sensitive and factoring in the atmospheric elements into your calculations could provide you with a distinct edge. So, for how it may come to be pivotal in the various outcomes of World Cup.
For the 2018 World Cup we have an immense sized country in Russia, with the potential of all kinds of weather, and we have an equally climatically diverse set of competitors.
Weather impact for most of us is a consideration at best and ignored or tolerated at worst. It comes and goes, season after season, year after year. Although the economy is what now most concerns nations and those within them, believe me when I say that weather is still a very strong number two in governing our daily lives.
We dress for the weather, chase down the weather when we want whatever it’s delivering and largely eat and drink according to the weather. Indeed, we rather take the weather for granted and in that we (governments, companies and individuals) kind of lose sight of the many nuances and perhaps more importantly, the potential advantages of mapping the weather and strategically planning for it.
I guess us sporting types might regard cricket, tennis and American football as being the most weather sensitive of sports, though many would argue that sailing, cycling, athletics, Aussie football, horse racing, baseball and the two rugby codes are impacted just as much, maybe even more.
Now, within all those sports and perhaps a few more besides, be honest, do you factor in the weather when it comes to your bets? Some people will, but plenty won’t. In truth, even some bookmakers won’t place as much value on it as they should.
It should be noted that the weather is ever-moving and ever-changing, so it’s even difficult for the likes of us as sports meteorologists to keep tabs on it all of the time. It could be that some bookmakers are too pre-occupied with the data streams they have been fed (absent of weather) and the bets that are being placed to even consider the fact that an all-changing thunderstorm has just entered the arena – this is where bettors can take advantage.
Learning how to adapt to the weather in soccer
Soccer has as many swings and roundabouts as there are clouds in the sky. If we strip out all the complications, the tactics, the copious money and the many emotions, it simply comes down to two teams of eleven trying to kick or head a leather ball into the opponent’s goal (something that involves atmospheric physics).
For the past 20 years or so, I’ve been an English FA Youth coach. While it was hard work and every season I had zero control over the squad that I ended up coaching, I did have one weapon that very few other coaches used, I called it ‘Weather Ball’.
It’s difficult to win the title in England, because of the weatherPep Guardiola
Weather Ball simply meant that I took some of what I knew from my profession onto the pitch and employed tactics to suit the weather of the day, especially if the weather was extreme. It was akin to playing chess, knowing when to move the piece this way or that, depending on what my opponent was looking like.
Some of the edges were small – even minuscule, such as ensuring players arrived with gloves on a freezing cold day (these are children remember so this was more important than you might think), or using a strong favourable wind to aid our pressing game, or even ensuring a waning sun wasn’t going to blind our goalkeeper, so long as we won the toss.
We all know that an edge can count massively no matter how small it is, and I say without fear or favour that my team often achieved results against opponents that were far superior to ourselves. Some of the measures we took might sound simple but you’d be surprised by how much can be gained from how little other people do.
Applying knowledge to professional soccer
My experiences with youth soccer taught me that clearly I had an advantage in the understanding of how weather might affect a game or indeed a season. But in order to move this on from the niceties of youth soccer and fiddling around on the margins with the bookmakers, we (British Weather Services) had to do more; numbers needed to be crunched – lots of numbers.
There was a requirement to prove all types of weather impact on the game, at all times of year, across various leagues and divisions. We started with a few hundred matches across the English Premier League over a single season, which, with some minor adjustments largely confirmed what we kind of knew.
We next moved on to analysing 17,000 matches over the five main European leagues, whilst keeping an eye on what was also going on in Australia, Japan and the US. It’s true to say there were some deviations and surprises, and there were certainly no single game panaceas. However, clear patterns and weighted averages emerged.
In the way it was done at the time and to an overwhelming extent how it is still done today, bookmakers drive soccer match probabilities (namely, win probability, goal, corner, player score and card expectations), via six key areas; Form, head to head, statistics, the referee, the marketplace and maths vs. positional value.
It could be that some bookmakers are too pre-occupied with the data streams they have been fed (absent of weather) and the bets that are being placed to even consider the fact that an all-changing thunderstorm has just entered the arena
It is now possible for us to add a number seven to that list; the weather. Now I’ll be honest with you, this is where I have to limit what I tell you because obviously it’s got value (I make a living from selling it). Not only would bettors and bookmakers find ‘Weather Ball’ very useful, but professional soccer clubs as well.
Although it’s purely a line in the sand and very dependent upon the weather in-action over an entire season and at least partial adoption of our ongoing match advisories, I firmly believe up to eight points per season could be gained by a club in a 24-club league. Now that’s a fair few points, it could be the difference between winning the league (which is why we have gained the interest of both Premier League and English Championship clubs).
Weather creeps up on teams and players alike, both at the physiological and psychological levels. Weather can make the ball move quicker or slower. It can make a game heavy going or easy going. It hands advantage to the informed and a leaded weight to the ignorant. Rain, wind, snow, heat, cold, humidity and a heady mixture of all those elements have all been seen to impact match outcomes.
It won’t be giving any secrets away to suggest light or moderate rain during a game will on average raise goal tallies. That average has been measured countless times and in England and Germany results in almost 75% of matches ending with more than 2.5 goals scored. Such conditions tend to favour fast-paced, quick passing teams, but absolutely drench the pitch and it swings the other way.
All told there a couple of dozen weather-related market and match deviations, affecting everything from the Handicap market and Total Goals, right the way through to Total Cards and even penalty expectations. Indeed, the importance of weather even came from the lips of Manchester City’s coach, Pep Guardiola when he stated “It’s difficult to win the title in England, because of the weather”.
In cup games the same match probabilities exist, this time arguably with an additional dose of luck required in order to prosper through the rounds. Take Chelsea’s 2012 Champions League run and their consequential victory; luck of every kind arrived in spades and was gratefully accepted.
I guess positive weather impacts could be considered a form of luck – for example an opponent being sent off in the snow for a mistimed tackle, or an astonishing wind-assisted shot parachuting over the goalkeeper. But in actual fact the majority of weather-related occurrences can be expected and even planned for – at least to one degree or another.
Will weather win the World Cup?
Is it a mere coincidence that England won their only World Cup in the very temperate and at times rainy World Cup of 1966 – absolutely ideal weather conditions for the gritty England squad at the time? Indeed, Brazil, Argentina, Spain and Germany are the only countries to have ever won World Cups away from their own continents. So, is that all about homely familiarity, climate familiarity, or both?
Weather can make the ball move quicker or slower. It can make a game heavy going or easy going. It hands advantage to the informed and a leaded weight to the ignorant.
For the 2018 World Cup we have an immense sized country in Russia, with the potential of all kinds of weather, and we have an equally climatically diverse set of competitors. Russian weather is generally at its best at this time of year, with a general maximum average temperature range across the 12 venues of 21 to 27 degrees Celsius, with circa 8-10% of the total time experiencing rainfall.
The southern-most venues in Volgograd, Sochi and Rostov-on-Don will be most prone to sudden heat plumes emanating out of Egypt, crossing Turkey and the Black Sea to bring temperatures into the low to mid 30’s, along with uncomfortable humidity values. Although mid-evening kick offs, Brazil vs. Switzerland in Rostov on June 17 and Tunisia vs. England in Volgograd on June 18 will need to be watched very carefully, as I venture Brazil and Tunisia will benefit from any such plume.
Nigeria vs. Iceland with an early evening-kick off on June 22 is made for Nigeria and unlucky Iceland draw the potentially hot straw again in Rostov on June 26 with a mid-evening tie with Croatia. It’s fair to say heat and humidity may come to play a part almost anywhere, especially for the earlier daytime kick offs. At such times, you may want to back the team who are more naturally acclimatised to such conditions
On the other hand, rain, wind and cooler temperatures will tend to suit most of the European contingent and it’s usual that the more northern venues in Moscow, Kaliningrad and Saint Petersburg experience more of a temperate feel than most.
The bottom line here is that if you are playing ‘Weather Ball’, each and every match will need to be assessed 24-36 hour pre the kick off and again around kick off time. Source your weather, and then apply it to the natural status of the teams taking part – along with the various markets on offer. At the most basic level, hostile weather will be more of a leveller; sedate weather will tend to favour defensive teams and a convenient sprinkling of rain will favour possession-centric teams.
One final thing; the weather won’t win the World Cup in 2018 as it might in 2022, but it may well help to create and destroy single match fortunes in equal measure. Watch for the penalty in the rain, watch for the red card hot head and watch for the unexpected wind-blown scrap.