By Tony Attwood
Listen to a football phone in, or a debate among football “experts” (I use the word lightly) on radio or TV and you will get a variety of opinions. Indeed you may well then hear the moderator of the discussion say, “That’s what we love about football – everyone’s got an opinion.”
I can see the attraction of that notion, since it makes for radio programmes virtually without cost, but ultimately it wears a bit thin. If everyone has an opinion and no one changes their opinion, then, what’s the point of debate?
I’m reminded of that ludicrous piece of nonsense from the Daily Mail that we highlighted the other day which proclaimed that at last Mr Wenger was now taking the Daily Mail’s advice. Worse, there is a fair chance that Adrian Durham, the writer of the piece (who gave no serious evidence, contemporary or historic, to back up his scribbling), actually believes what he wrote, and believes that there is no need to give real evidence when pontificating in this way.
Indeed it is interesting that on its Arsenal page the Mail has a link to a few Arsenal blogs – of which the first is Le G….. whose motto is “where you can have an opinion not get one”.
In fact I think we have reached the stage where all we have in football is opinion, even from media outlets which have the finance to do something better. What we really need is far better analysis. (This is the reason why I was so pleased when I read a while back that Arsenal had set up its own analysis company StatDNA.)
And this I suppose is the indictment of both newspapers and radio and TV stations: their eternal dumbing down of their own football “analysis” (I use the word very loosely) and absolute failure to give us real insight. The fact that they can’t even tell us now that Arsenal had 60% of possession without giving us a graphic in case we don’t understand what 60% means, says a lot.
Let me try and give some examples of what I would love to read….
1: A transfer analysis
Imagine an report in which a club’s transfer policy is analysed according to its success and failure of its transfers.
Well, you might say, we get that each season by seeing who has won the league, and that’s true, but I would like this to go further by considering a deeper analysis that works like this:
We should be able to say, Arsenal, or any other club, spent £x on transfers in, of players who became part of the “25” and gained £y on sales and reduced salary expenditure of such players as left the club. Their salary bill went up or down by £z. x – y + z and this is their Transfer Related Expenditure.
Given the data and someone with the time to do all the sums we’d have a comparative analysis of the expenditure of each club. Then at the end of the year we could do the simple analysis which showed…
- Amount expended on transfers and salaries of new players against the rise or fall in the number of points gained in the league.
Now what happens when this sort of analysis is proposed is that someone says, “that wouldn’t work because you’d also have to take into account injuries and how long a new player was out for,” and yes, that is true – up to a point.
Indeed there are numerous such issues that could be taken into account and each would make the analysis more sophisticaated. But because it can always be pointed out that the research needs something else to be complete, that does not mean the whole notion of such research is to be ditched.
This is a great shame for what really ought to happen is that the research is done (and if a reader pops up and says, “oh you mean like this research” to prove the research I am seeking has already been done, I shall be delighted), so at least it gives us a clue as to what is going on, and encourages the next person to do the research a bit better.
The point of this is to enhance our understanding of the effectiveness of a strategy, rather than just having a vague impression. It would inform all the frantic debate about “buy this player”, “we need a new defensive midfielder in case of Coquelin’s injury” and so forth.
2: The injury analysis
Having done such an analysis one could go further by building in an analysis of how much the injuries each season cost each team. It is all very well saying that Arsenal lost 100 player days through injury in a season, or whatever it was, but not all players are equal. Gnabry being out for last season was a tragedy for the young man, but not a disaster for the club. If Alexis had been out for a long spell that would have been more of a disaster for the club.
Of course it is up to the club to have cover, and we expect them to do this, but cover isn’t my concern with this analysis – I would like to know just how much each club loses on injury taking into account the importance to the team of each player.
We know from history that in certain seasons, such as 1970/1 – the first Double season – Arsenal used a very, very small squad, and from this can say that sometimes being lucky with injuries helps. But it would be good to go further.
3: Players coming through the youth system
The next analysis would be one of how many players come through the ranks to become first team players among the top clubs. Of course I have a clear idea of the answer to that for Arsenal, but I’d love to have a clear comparison over the past ten years with Chelsea, Man C, Man U, Liverpool, Tottenham and Southampton.
Now to do this some agreed parameters would be necessary. What does “coming through the ranks” mean? One might say, spending two years at the club without playing for the first team, before the age of 18, for example – or perhaps some variant on this.
Until one had the figures across various clubs one can’t say what the exact basis would be, but it must be possible to find a meaningful base level from which enough young players enter the analysis, and their progress could be compared.
4: Fouls and injuries
I would really love to know how many times individual players are fouled, and how many days the players lose from playing as a result of these fouls.
We do have injury stats, but they are simplistic – just related to days lost. It would be great if a mathematical modeller could relate that to the importance of the player in the team, perhaps by taking the number of days the player played out of the number of games he could have played, when fit.
So I don’t want to know that we have five players out, but rather that out Injured Player Ratio (which takes into account the liklihood of the player playing if he were fit) is x, as comapred to Chelsea whose Ratio based of the same analysis is y.
There are many other analyses that would be good to see, and which the media could give us, if it stopped treating football supporters like little children who need to be patted on the head and told “there there it will all be all right”.
But sadly the dumbing down of the football debate continues remourcelessly, day after day. Where will it end? Presumably with wall to wall opinion and a total lack of any meaningful factual insights.
Although actually I think that is what we already have.
- 1 July 1968: William Naismith “Billy” Blyth died. After leaving Arsenal he had a role in the movie “The Great Game” filmed in 1930, the first movie (as opposed to a film of a game) which involved an Arsenal player, and pre-dated the Arsenal Stadium Mystery by nine years.
- The Untold Banner to be delivered to the Emirates Stadium this week