By Tony Attwood
This week I heard someone interviewing two guests on TV. They disagreed over some point or other and the interviewer said, “That’s what we like about football – everyone can have an opinion.”
And yes of course in a moderately open democratic society everyone can have an opinion. That opinion might be that crocodiles make rather nice pets or that local councils charge homeowners for refuse collection when in fact the rubbish is taken away by angels fluttering from on high, which suggests that not all opinions are equally valid, but yes we can all hold the opinions we like.
The big problem is that although with some opinions we can work out straight away whether they might be true, there are others where the reasoning needs to be prodded a bit before we can see exactly what is what here.
For example Mr Wenger threatened to walk out of a press conference because… well why? The implication or outright statement in a lot of papers and on broadcast media was that he threatened that because he didn’t like the questions about Ospina at the Champions League game. But read the transcript and it turns out it was the repeated questions about Mourinho that made Wenger suggest it was time to finish.
So now we can have an opinion as to whether Mr Wenger was right or not to make that threat, and we can do this with a better knowledge of the facts. Although at the end of it all, it is still an opinion.
Let’s try and unravel a particular issue that is exercising the media today: Liverpool under Rodgers. Was Rodgers a bad manager? Are Liverpool a club made up of a bunch of drongos that should be first up against the wall when the revolution comes?
We know that the Liverpool manager not only lied about the Suarez contract having a £40m buy out clause, but that he then boasted about his lies at a conference. So that indicates Liverpool at the highest lacks a certain level of judgement. Now the Telegraph is running this story…
“Exclusive: Brendan Rodgers could have contract paid up in full, as no provision for early sacking in his last contract extension.” If that is true, then the Liverpool board is once again looking rather silly, as it did over the lies it told in the Suarez affair. It’s not full-blown evidence, but it is indicative.
The Telegraph’s headline “Superb Walcott makes Rooney look ponderous” however remains a matter of opinion. Here I agree with the opinion, but it is still an opinion.
As is “Arsenal best placed to challenge Man City” – which is a complete turn about from what the paper was saying after the Olympiakos game.
A piece by Jeremy Wilson headed Five things we learned and relating to the Arsenal Man U games says, “Arsenal should provide most lasting domestic threat to City in title race, United are paying for disjointed recruitment” reveals of level of schizophrenia within the paper strong enough to warrant a Dr Billy the Dog investigation. We don’t learn any facts, and so all is supposition.
And even the statistics and data when used are used can be misleading as with “Rodgers has spent £291 million on new players since moving to Anfield and had very limited success with the vast majority of those signings. Granted, his job has been made more difficult by losing his best player two summers running – Luis Suarez in 2014 and then Raheem Sterling this year – but the lack of direction at the club is still highly concerning.”
Yes, Rodgers has spent a fortune, but he also recouped a fortune. That might not be an excuse but it is a pertinent fact. (With the next league table I run, we’ll look at the net spend per club averaged over the past five years – which should indicate the success or otherwise of purchasing).
All in all I think the press are not learning much about evidence based football reporting. Consider this about Liverpool…
“Their possession share is down at 52.2 per cent – by far their lowest under Rodgers – as they attempted to change to a more direct brand of football with Christian Benteke up front.”
But on the other hand I seem to remember that when Arsenal beat Man U away in the FA Cup away our possession rate was just 42%. And we’ve already debated the fact that our shot to goal ratio this season has been very low. The press, without examining why, have suggested that is a major failing on Arsenal’s part. My view was that it was not ideal but it was hard to get a team to up the number of shots but much easier to get the shot conversion rate up.
So the statement “Liverpool had 49.2 per cent of the ball and had 13 shots but their goal came from a set-piece and was rather more the result of poor defending than their own ingenuity,” is a mix of opinion and fact. “They barely out-witted Everton all afternoon,” is pure opinion.
And when we get to
“The time has come for Liverpool to try and rediscover their identity, and Rodgers was patently not the man for the job,” we have moved over into philosophy, which is ok, but when facts and stats are available, let’s have some.
What we need as the basis of football commentary are things that can be measured. So, for example, we can measure the number of players Rodgers bought, and see how many of them turned into top players. Here I have taken the ratings from whoscored.com who perform very detailed analyses of each player’s performance in each game played to get a rating out of ten for each player. In this table they give the players’ ages and their position.
So what we can see is that only two of the Liverpool top ten players would get into the Arsenal top ten. It is not a definitive statement, but a good indicator of what is what.
Of course these numbers could be challenged by someone else doing the analysis, but at least they are a serious attempt across all clubs to get an analysis into how well players are playing.
31 players were signed by Rodgers during his tenure with Liverpool. You might have expected more of them to be rating at significant levels given the fortuitous amount they got from an utterly desperate Barcelona who knew they were about to be stopped from signing anyone for a year.
My point therefore is that evidence is much needed in football. Walter has introduced it to the issue of refereeing, replacing the silly mantra of “it all evens out in the end” with a proper set of statistics that we can analyse and draw conclusions from.
But it would be misleading to think all statistics are helpful – for those which can be explained in different ways can themselves be a cause of debate. The much discussed shot to goal ratio is one such. Helpful, but not an absolute.
Likewise possession, likewise aerial duels won. we need a broad range of figures and then we can start forming opinions on top of them.
- 5 October 1925: The new WM plus zonal marking high speed counter attack system played for the first time in a 4-0 victory over West Ham. It was gradually refined as players were found who could exactly meet the demands of the new system
- 5 October 1929: Cliff Bastin league debut for Arsenal in a 1-1 away draw against Everton. He went on to play 21 games in his first season, scoring seven.