Matt's Football Musings: Part IV

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matt
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Matt's Football Musings: Part IV

Post by matt » 22 Feb 2011, 20:32

Yesterday afternoon I had the unexpected pleasure of being told by one of my geekier team-mates that our 6-a-side team (for which we have a squad of 10 players) was statistically more likely to win a game, and score more goals, with myself on the pitch than off it. This was despite the fact that thus far this season I have mustered a solitary goal in our surge towards the summit of the table. He told me that like many football statisticians, he hadn't been counting the assists or the number of goals in which I had been involved in the build-up.

Which made me wonder, if you'll forgive the above ego-trip, about how much numbers really tell us about the contribution a player makes to his team's chances of winning. Not only that, but how much to statistics really tell us about a player's legacy?

Take goals-per-games ratios. If we look at, say, the recently retired Brazilian phenomenon Ronaldo, the statistics show us that despite three or four seasons missed due to injury he scored 352 club goals in only 515 appearances, for seven different teams - a ratio of a goal every 1.4 games. Undeniably impressive. In fact 'impressive' doesn't do it justice. It is an astonishing record. Outstanding. Astounding. Confounding.

However, given his slightly nomadic playing career, how deeply would Ronaldo's memory be etched into the histories of the clubs he graced with his talents? After all, his legendary status in the game was assured by the time he turned 22, having already won his first Ballon d'Or. He is more likely to be remembered at, say, AC Milan, for honouring the club and fans just by being there at all.

I am not suggesting that all Ronaldo offered was goals. But if we look at, for example, Franceso Totti, Alessandro Del Piero or Dennis Bergkamp, the statistics tell you that despite a lower goals-to-games ratio than Ronaldo, each of those players being on the pitch is/was more likely to result in a victory for Roma, Juventus and Arsenal respectively. Furthermore the fans of those clubs would tell you about the importance of those players to the team's fortunes with far more conviction and enthusiasm than anyone could ever really say about Ronaldo. Other examples might be Eric Cantona, Rivaldo and Gianfranco Zola.

Of course I know that so far my argument hasn't taken into account the differences in style and position between Ronaldo and the three players I picked above for comparison. But what they all have in common is exceptional attacking talents and a tendency to play in 'the final third', so I do think they are comparable.

When we look at midfielders the plot thickens. Goalscoring midfielders are heralded as a luxury, and to some they are an essential part of a modern team with ambitions of trophies at the end of the season. But if we were to select a fantasy team of midfielders with high goals-to-game ratios, how would it really fare against a team that the statistics were less kind to? If we picked out of a pool of attacking or creative players, would a team of, say, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Kaka, and, er, Johann Cruyff do well against Xavi, Scholes, Mesut Ozil and Zidane (one legend per team :P) ? Or would they merely be lucky to get on the ball at all? There are other statistic angles we could approach this from - pass completion percentages, for example, which would probably go in favour of the second group.

These are of course arbitrary and meaningless hypotheticals. My point is that I know which of the two midfields I would rather have; a player should not be defined by statistics alone. Genius, after all, cannot be measured.*

Well done for getting to the end.





*On a side note, I am not suggesting that I myself am a footballing genius of unquantifiable quality. It just seemed like a nice lead into this post. 8)
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Wanderer
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Post by Wanderer » 23 Feb 2011, 07:03

Well statistically..Liverpool have scored, and are unbeaten in all the matches Suarez has played in..

Bet even messi can't beat that.

ratherton
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Post by ratherton » 23 Feb 2011, 18:17

Good post Matt.

The only statistic that matters in a game is the score. Far too much over analysis goes on nowadays which ultimately doesn't mean anything.
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klc123
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Post by klc123 » 27 Feb 2011, 23:02

The problem lies in the fact that most people that watch football rarely go and watch it live, and they rarely know very much about the game from a tactical point of view at all.

A few years back when United won the league, I went to a league match at old trafford. This was the season United won the European cup, and the team was really ticking fantastically.

One of the big criticisms floating about at the time was that although Ronaldo was scoring lots of goals, he didn't do enough else to help the team, as say compared to Rooney, who you frequently see chasing the ball down like a sunday league kid. This assumption is fairly easy to come to if you watch all your football on tv, in a limited frame that shows only a tiny portion of the action. Ball watching is something that too many football fans do, never mind the players.

While watching the game, one of the things that surprised me was how much Ronaldo would make aggressive runs when united had the ball. This you wouldn't see 9 out of ten times if you were watching it on TV. The consistent top speed sprints he was making between defenders while yelling for the ball not only gave his team mates a chance to put him in on goal to score, but every time he made these runs he pulled the defenders out of position, and generated space for other players.

The value of this is so underestimated in the football world, and many don't appreciate the need for these "garbage runs." (http://expertfootball.com/training/finishing_runs.php) But one of Uniteds goals in this particular league match came from Rooney, who utilised the space which Ronaldo made by using a garbage run to split the defence to great effect.

It is things like this which contribute to the team overall, and it is things like this that are often unseen by the majority unfortunately. People really should reflect on how much more likely a team is to win with a particular player, than just focusing on how many goals he scores.

Just as a side note, an interesting fact I saw on zonalmarking a while ago stated that Messi was 65% more likely to score when Xavi was playing with him in La Liga last season. Things like this shouldn't go unrecognised.

scottS4
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Post by scottS4 » 27 Feb 2011, 23:44

klc123 wrote:The problem lies in the fact that most people that watch football rarely go and watch it live, and they rarely know very much about the game from a tactical point of view at all.

A few years back when United won the league, I went to a league match at old trafford. This was the season United won the European cup, and the team was really ticking fantastically.

One of the big criticisms floating about at the time was that although Ronaldo was scoring lots of goals, he didn't do enough else to help the team, as say compared to Rooney, who you frequently see chasing the ball down like a sunday league kid. This assumption is fairly easy to come to if you watch all your football on tv, in a limited frame that shows only a tiny portion of the action. Ball watching is something that too many football fans do, never mind the players.

While watching the game, one of the things that surprised me was how much Ronaldo would make aggressive runs when united had the ball. This you wouldn't see 9 out of ten times if you were watching it on TV. The consistent top speed sprints he was making between defenders while yelling for the ball not only gave his team mates a chance to put him in on goal to score, but every time he made these runs he pulled the defenders out of position, and generated space for other players.

The value of this is so underestimated in the football world, and many don't appreciate the need for these "garbage runs." (http://expertfootball.com/training/finishing_runs.php) But one of Uniteds goals in this particular league match came from Rooney, who utilised the space which Ronaldo made by using a garbage run to split the defence to great effect.

It is things like this which contribute to the team overall, and it is things like this that are often unseen by the majority unfortunately. People really should reflect on how much more likely a team is to win with a particular player, than just focusing on how many goals he scores.

Just as a side note, an interesting fact I saw on zonalmarking a while ago stated that Messi was 65% more likely to score when Xavi was playing with him in La Liga last season. Things like this shouldn't go unrecognised.
Yeah I saw the same thing from Raul when I watched Real Madrid live. So many times throughout the game he'd check in or make a short bursting run to bring a defender with him while someone else took advantage of the space he'd created.

klc123
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Post by klc123 » 28 Feb 2011, 17:33

Henry scored nearly 50 goals for Barca by using space created by the likes of Messi going on winding runs to suck defenders out of position.

ratherton
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Post by ratherton » 28 Feb 2011, 18:16

Its a good point about watching games live too. The first time I saw Beckham play at Old Trafford, I couldn't believe how much running he did. It never really came across on TV.

Wanderer: When Ian Rush played for Liverpool (the first time), they never lost a game when he scored until a League Cup Final against Arsenal. By this time, he'd scored well over 100 goals for Liverpool.
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