Looking for a new football metric allows us to forget the big issue



There is a fairly long piece in the Athletic which has the title, “Why progressive actions are football’s most important metrics.”

Progressive actions is one of a series of measurements of football which have been picked up by the media of late, as journalists now generally support the notion that football needs more statistics.  

And indeed of late we have been getting dollops of more statistics.  Possession levels are now quoted all the time.

But the assumption that, “we don’t have enough stats” leads to the belief that “we need more” irrespective of how the stats relate to position in the league table, and thus we can’t evaluate it.

However this must warm the hearts of PGMO since the “more statistics about players” issue is a brilliant way of ignoring the point that there is a huge gap in the statistics we have about referees, something which journalists won’t touch with a barge pole.

So we have “Progressive actions” now introduced, which the Athletic claims “are fundamental to how the game works and can give you a pretty good idea of which teams and players are good at it.”

Yet there is not debate as to how far progressive passing relates to success on the pitch.   How many progressive passers does a good team need?  Have some defences worked out how to counteract progressive passing?   

Or to put it succinctly, does a team need several progressive passing maestros to get to the top of the league?

Well, perhaps not, because in the top 15 progressive pass players not one of them is an Arsenal player.  And here I am reminded of the fact that through much of this season, we have been told that Arsenal needs to buy a centre forward and that the club is in trouble because Arteta wasted all that money on buying Havertz from Chelsea.  (Still haven’t seen any apologies from the publications that ran such stories).

Now to be fair, the article does list “Premier League progressive pass leaders by zone” and in the forward line Arsenal do have Martinelli and Saka listed – but they are the only two out of the 30 players listed.  So that’s not much of a key to explaining Arsenal’s success.

Yet the theory is then taken further as we then get “progressive reception leaders”.  Here Arsenal have two players in the top 15 – Havertz and Saka.  But again it doesn’t really say anything about how this metric affects a club’s league position.

The analysis goes on and on – it moves on next to “progressive action leaders”.  And undoubtedly this sort of analysis is helpful to managers when looking at a prospective purchase.  However introducing this sort of detail in analysis really is bizarre when supporters were continuing at least up until the middle of last month to criticise the purchase of Havertz, and blame Arteta for not rotating.

So why are new statistics suddenly being introduced now after years of them being ignored?

It would be good if the answer could be one that helped put down the people who say that Arsenal urgently need a striker, but I don’t think that’s the point.  It is more likely, to my mind, to be a way to divert attention from a) the shortage of statistics we have on referee performance and b) the horrors that the statistics we do have on referees, now reveal.

For example: Referee Simon Hooper gives 52% more yellow cards to away players than to home players.  John Brooks however gives 35% more yellow cards to home players than away players.

We would of course expect some variation but these are two of the five most used referees in the Premier League this season (Hooper with 23 PL games, Brooks with 21) and there is a 90% combined variation in whether they give cards to home or away players.

This issue of the inconsistency between referees (of which this is just one example) is screaming out for investigation, but is studiously ignored by the media that in many cases ignores all stats, or alternatively finds starts that really don’t tell us anything (in as much as Arsenal are excelling without players with the attributes journalists are now defining as key.)

Really, there seems to be no other reason for introducing all these new statistics other than keeping us away from the stats that  obviously need to be considered: the variance of refereeing performances.

Maybe someone could produce the statistics on how few column inches are devoted to referee inconsistency compared with transfers that never happen..

4 Replies to “Looking for a new football metric allows us to forget the big issue”

  1. Great article, but on the subject of officials.

    Let’s get this straight, The goal keeper missed the ball and he obstructed the direct path of the attacker (Havertz) and contact was made. According to the letter of the law that is all that is needed for a penalty. VAR knows this and could not over turn the refs decision. It was a penalty, do doubt. Contact made and path obstructed.

    The second incident regarding their disallowed goal was also correct because the player grabbed his arm although for a brief second and also moved him away from the ball. Definitely a foul on the goal keeper.VAR had to agree. You can sometimes get away with obstructing the goalkeeper, but not by grabbing his arm or moving him. Definitely a foul correct decision on both accounts by the ref and VAR according to the rules of the game.

    Third, the high studs on Saka that also drew blood, should have been reported to the ref to relook at the reply on the TV and it was a red card incident. The player should have been sent of as his boot was no where near the ball and his studs were high and he drew blood and injured the player. Definitely a red card offence. The VAR got that one incident wrong.

    Bournemouth was lucky not to loose by 10 goals, with the amount of chances Arsenal missed, and definitely lucky not to be down to 10 men.
    The VAR should have spotted the Saka foul, it is no wonder why he is the most fould player in the league that goes unpunished.

  2. @daveg,

    if I remember right what they were looking at for the Havertz incident – and was showing, as well as commented – was some possible offside in the build up. Still, one just had the impression they’d be damned if they did not find a reason as small as it may be to deny Arsenal.

    As for Saka… I just don’t get it. He is a pillar of the 3 Lions and they are unable to protect him, yet kept Kane always untouchable all these years. One just wonder at the reason of such a difference in treatment. I have 2 conclusions that come to mind, but will keep them to myself.

  3. When will the day come when we get some razor sharp pictures to determine all these weird offside decisions with something better than a 1930’s
    Loch Ness monster sighting .

  4. Seeing that most clubs have foreign owners , managers , coaching staffs and foreign players , should not we consider having foreign referee administers ?
    That they may not be influenced by local politics and other shenanigans , should we not consider them for high office . Apparently promoting from within is not going anywhere forward !
    And @ Les Martin – I like to believe that such razor sharp cameras do exist , but are being used for the wrong purposes – spying into dictators bedrooms and boardrooms !

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