How last-minute goals can affect our FPL transfer decisions |

There is arguably no better feeling as a Fantasy Premier League manager than when one of your players scores in the final minutes of a match, particularly if you’ve spent the previous 90 minutes ruing your decision to own them in the first place and vowing to transfer them out at the first opportunity. 

Similarly, among the worst things to experience as an FPL manager is when your defender loses his clean sheet by conceding a goal in the dying embers of stoppage time.

If we were all purely rational, however, scoring or conceding in the final minute shouldn’t feel any different to scoring or conceding in the first minute, or the 17th minute and so on. So why do we feel differently about these last-minute glories and heartbreaks? And do they change the way we look at players, from an FPL perspective?

The Peak-End Rule

Psychologists have discovered that humans tend to assess the positivity or utility of an experience based disproportionately on its ‘peaks’ (their most intense point) or its ‘end’. 

This phenomenon is known as the ‘Peak-End Rule’ and its basis is a form of memory bias. We tend to remember the most significant aspect of an experience or its most recent part which, of course, is the end. This bias is an evolutionary characteristic among humans designed to help us prioritise the massive amount of information we process each day and it is the ‘end’ aspect of this phenomenon that we are most interested in here.

One of the more notorious studies into the Peak-End Rule concerned the subject of colonoscopies (a procedure which, itself, has some metaphorical parallels to the average experience of being an FPL manager). 

In this study, scientists found that, at the end of the colonoscopy, if the instrument was removed carefully, the patient reported a more positive experience and greater likelihood to book another one in the future. If the instrument was, erm, yanked out, causing discomfort to the patient, the experience was considered much more negative and thus their likelihood to have another decreased.

So, as we can see, how things end can not only influence how we perceive an event but, also, influence our decision-making in the future. It stands to reason, therefore, that we might overvalue a player who scores a late goal and undervalue a player who concedes a late goal. 

With respect to the former, I can personally attest to more than a few occasions over the years where I’ve watched, frustrated, finger hovering over the transfer-out button, as my seemingly inept player blanks for 90 minutes, only for that execution to be stayed as a result of a last-minute goal. 

This means I can watch a player perform at Ali Dia levels for the significant majority of a match and then, just because he eventually somehow scores, throw out all that inculpatory evidence and base my future decisions on just a tiny fraction of their performance.

Conceding late goals can create similarly illusory effects. For example, Wolves have conceded the second-highest number of late goals this season which, for owners, might cause them to consider their Wolves defenders as frustrating to own and, maybe, increase their likelihood of transferring them out. 

The less-invested non-owners however (or, indeed, FPL managers who do not watch Wolves matches), might look at Wolves’ stats and see that they’ve conceded fewer goals than Liverpool this season and have four clean sheets (the highest amount of any team at the time of writing is five). From this, perhaps more objective perspective, a Wolves defender actually looks like a pretty decent prospect.

So how can managers avoid being negatively influenced by the Peak-End Rule? Step one would be to be aware of its existence and potential to affect us. Once we know about it, we can intervene to stop it negatively affecting our decisions. That is more easily said than done, given how deeply rooted in us this psychological phenomenon tends to be.

Alternatively, managers could stop watching football but, I think we’ll all agree, this is a stupid idea. A better option might be to first avoid making any sudden moves after watching football. Don’t knee-jerk a player in or hold on to a player just because they’ve scored late on without at least considering whether their overall performance merited it. Equally, don’t knee-jerk out a defender because they conceded a late goal if other evidence suggests that they’re actually worth keeping.

As is so often the case, stats may show events in a more objective light and, therefore, it’s always worth taking a look at the underlying numbers to give more context to what your eyes might just have seen. Another reason why it’s a combination of the ‘eye-test’ and stats, rather than either individually, that often yields the best results.

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