Invalid Interpretation of Passing Sequence Data to Assess Team Performance in Football: Repairing the Tarnished Legacy of Charles Reep

Richard Pollard*
Statistics Department, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, CA-93407, USA

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Creative Commons License
© 2019 Richard Pollard

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/legalcode. This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the Statistics Department, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, CA 93407, USA; Tel: +1 310 396 6715; E-mail: richwpollard@yahoo.com



The relative effectiveness of different styles of play at football has long been the source of heated controversy. The use of passing sequence data has recently been exploited as definitive proof that possession football is more efficient than direct play at producing goals. This has resulted in a number of high profile books, papers and websites claiming that the conclusions of Charles Reep, the founder of football performance analysis and a strong advocate of a direct style, were flawed.


The first objective is to explain why passing sequence data cannot be used to give information about the relative merits of direct and possession play and hence why the recent harsh criticisms being made about Reep, his methodology and his conclusions are themselves flawed. The second objective is to review more logical and valid methods of analysis which can be used to assess the effectiveness of different tactics, strategies and playing styles. The third objective is to outline how this methodology has been put to practical and successful use for many years by a handful of performance analysts, but largely ignored by the academic community


A short passing sequence cannot be used as a proxy for direct play. The uncritical way in which flawed conclusions based on this false assumption have multiplied has unjustly tarnished the legacy of Charles Reep. Other methods exist to examine the relative merits of different playing styles. These should be revisited, especially at a time when more and more performance data is becoming available.

Keywords : Football, Playing styles, Reep, Passing sequences, Tactics, Strategies.