Are Statistics Taking Something Away From Football Instinct?

By Paul Dargan. We continue to take a look at the beautiful game being portrayed as ‘A Beautiful Mind’, following on from Sunday's piece, and ask: Is the game of football being undervalued through stats and ‘metrics’?

If a manager can identify where he can improve a team just by bringing in one or two individuals, this is also based on statistics and attributes. People seem to forget that a goalscoring record is a statistic. It is a record of what a player has done PREVIOUSLY. It is never a guarantee that he will do this for his next club.

Why is that the case, you ask? Well, there are many different reasons why a player doesn’t perform to the same ability he has demonstrated.

£8.5 million signing Ricky van Wolfswinkel has scored just one goal for Norwich City this season

£8.5 million signing Ricky van Wolfswinkel has scored just one goal for Norwich City this season

He could be less confident, under pressure, carrying an injury, have problems outside of football, not get on with someone inside the club, only performing for his previous club to get a better deal/better marketing or branding opportunity/more exposure. He could just have been in good form, he could be a player who peaks early, the team may not play to his strengths, he may not be as good as the scouts/manager/media have built him up to be, he may just not feel like performing.

There a loads more reasons why any particular individual just doesn’t get to the level expected and this is why you have players who are labelled as bad-buys or ‘flops’. Shouldn’t clubs and individuals who are paid a lot of money to make the right decisions in this way, be held more accountable for bad choices?

I refer the honourable ladies and gentlemen reading this piece to my point in the first part of this article. No-one is perfect; certain people just make fewer mistakes. Take Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, they do not score with every chance that is either presented to them or they create for themselves. Why is that? For some of the reasons previously mentioned in the ‘performing to ability’ paragraph.

Even the

Even the best players in the world can miss the easiest of chances

Human error is prevalent in all of us; it’s just less noticeable or memorable in particular people.

When I tweeted that I was to write this piece, I got a couple of reactionary replies to say that stats don’t matter, only the result does. To which my riposte was that there would be more to the article than meets the eye. Another told me that stats in preparation are meaningless when the game is underway, due to the intuitive nature of football.

My response to that is simple: Humans are intuitive by their own nature. Practice and training is supposed to prepare us for events ahead; everything is a learning process for an ever-changing landscape and environment. If the same result was always going to occur, the game would quickly lose its appeal, just like when one certain team has a monopoly on the trophies.

Another reason why I like the phrase: “You make your own luck.” That, for me, is a sibling of: “Practice makes perfect,” because if you can focus on the things you do wrong or less perfect than other areas of a particular activity, you will lessen the chance that it will happen again. But in a pursuit such as sport and a competitive team one such as football, the percentages should theoretically be 50/50 on paper.

Ed Chamberlain and Gary Neville taking advantage of recent statistical and technological advances on Sky Sports

Ed Chamberlain and Gary Neville taking advantage of recent statistical and technological advances on Sky Sports

Why are they not? Because some teams have garnered more natural or practised ability than others. Some have better resources by which to acquire better individuals, some have better pre-set actions or strategies (tactics and formations) a better foundation or fundamental fall-back (style of play, i.e. short passing/possession game or Route One to suit their taller, stronger, fitter individuals).

This is another reason why smaller clubs can beat their much-more affluent rivals in one-off games, such as cup matches, but the longevity or consistency of these tactics falls short over the course of a whole season of fixtures. Throw into this, the trust in the manager and the said strategies of the boss by the players asked to carry out the instructions, the amount of resources in terms of players, the belief in their own abilities, the strength of mind and character when things aren’t going their way, weather conditions, media attention.

Basically, emotions are brought into any activity or task when a human being is asked to undertake something. They either like it, tolerate it or hate it. Either way, you have to prepare those individuals to do what you want them to do, in the best way and with little chance of upsetting them or the ‘applecart’.

Rafael Benitez is renown for his use of stats and data in his choice of team selection and tactics

Rafael Benitez is renown for his use of stats and data in his choice of team selection and tactics

If, by using statistics/number-crunching/data (call it what you will) you can achieve your goals, then do it. Nothing is perfect or an exact science, except for science itself. If you can call upon science to help you attain what you are aiming for, then do it.

If your players have less ability than their opponents for one game or a whole season, find out a way to overcome those odds and if statistics assist you in this, then do it.

All-in-all, there is no right way of going about something and to use the quote which was given to me in reply to writing this piece: Stats don’t matter, results do.

But you can use the stats to get the results…

Follow @Dejonefc

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