Player stats how useful are they?

If you want to start an argument between Arsenal fans, then talking about the stats of this player or that. Our observations and opinions of players vary enormously. On this blog, we have had endless arguments about the relative merits of certain players like Adebayor and Denilson. The arguments always seem to come down to the same statistics being presented from different perspectives. As the 19th century British prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli once said “There are three kinds of lies, lies, damn lies and statistics.” Yet modern football tactical planning has come down to the images of coaches frantically scribbling in note books during play, witness Rafa Benitez on the Liverpool bench as a good example. The substitutes coming on often have glossy diagrams waved at them, and the tactical graphics are clear to see. But the player is often staring blankly into space.
One sweeping unfair generalisation made about footballers is that they are not very well endowed in the IQ department and it is best to let them play naturally. Take our Phillipe Senderos for instance, he is a scholar who can speak several languages. Having a high IQ does not necessarily make for a better set of playing skills. But increasingly matches are now presented by the media broadcasters as a battle of tactics between managers, and the ability or inability to change formation or strategy during a game is often put down to the better coach. In the post game debrief, players are presented with stats of their performance and hopefully they will learn from their mistakes. But football is a team game and how much emphasis should be placed upon the statistics of an individual player within this team environment? Well the experts have decided to sell you that information anyway.
The FIFA Castrol Football Index is an intriguing instrument. It is an index which allocates a positive or negative score to a series of outcomes based on the activities of players in various areas of the football field. It deals with movement, passing and outcomes and Arsene Wenger is one of the Experts who helped to develop this management tool. There are other players/managers associated with Castrol in this endeavour which is going to be widely quoted at next year’s World Cup in South Africa. The perfect score is 10. the presentation video can be viewed here
The Confederations Cup currently being played in South Africa gives Castrol and FIFA a dry run opportunity to see how the index will benefit teams and fans. The index is the result of amassing a wealth of data collected by cameras. The full ranking for the players in the Confederations Tournament can be viewed here .
It is interesting to see that 10 defenders are present in the top twenty with only six forwards, yet the leading ranked player is David Villa with a Castrol Index of 9.03 closely followed by Fernando Torres with 8.91. However the ranking in the 2010 World Cup qualifiers gave Torres a ranking of 6.97 based upon the games played. So it would seem that absences through lack of selection, injuries or substitutions would appear to affect the index.
Does the index tell you how good a player is? Well mostly as for example Thierry Henry has a score of 8.34. However the index throws up some mystifying outcomes. Looking at Goalkeepers for instance, The Faroe Island keeper Jakup Mikkelsen has a Castrol Index score of 9.34 whereas Gianluigi Buffon, probably the highest valued keeper in the world can only manage a paltry 7.94.  I could not find a score for several players in the African domain, so it seems likely that they will get a Castrol Index score in the new year.
The player has to have played for their country for 225 minutes in order to be given a Castrol index rating during the 2010 qualifiers. I thought that it would be interesting to look at the scores of Arsenal players and compare them to others of our rival teams in the “top four”.  I have also included our new signing Thomas Vermaelen and included our “hopeful prospect” Felipe Melo. Quite how useful a tool this index will be in the overall assessment of players remains to be seen.

Rank*PlayerCountryPositionCastrol Index
Francesc FabregasSPAINMIDFIELDER6.10

*Rank is based within the players Country squad
Here are the Castrol Index scores for some of our opponents

Irish Guy Predicts GW14 Premier League Results


One of the statistical Indexes used in the Premier league is the Actim index which is a similar type of statistical analysis Its creators from the University Of Salford describe it as

Actim Stats are a collection of team, player and match statistics. They are derived from all the actions that take place during a match, including goals, shots on target, corners, fouls, offsides, passes, tackles, blocks and clearances. The raw data can be used to generate a wide range of tables and statistics such as player profiles, team and player head-to-heads and form guides.  The data is gathered by two methods – real-time match analysis and the study of video footage. The real-time analysis is conducted by ex-professional footballers that report on action at the grounds as it happens. Further, more detailed analysis is obtained by studying videos of the matches.

The move to video technology was propelled abroad where a company called Match Analysis provided a comprehensive video based analytical system which is used in the MLS in the United States.
It’s website describes the way in which it’s data video disk can be used, as every single movement by every single player is captured on a network of cameras around the field

“Want to see every time a particular player touched the ball, or just every time he lost the ball on the dribble, or even every time he played the ball to the right back? Instantly, you’ll have the video you want.”

This system is also available to fans, and the Tango online software is being heavily marketed.

 Your team took 11 shots last game? Click on the “11” and see all eleven instantly. Your favorite player has been fouled 24 times this season? One click and you can watch all 24 bone-shattering tackles. If a Tango chart says that the keeper made four saves, you just click on the chart, and you’ll be watching the saves. That easy. That exciting. That much fun.

In the Premier league several clubs have invested in the UK version of this video analysis. At the Emirates eight cameras provided by ProZone detail every event of the players which enables Arsene Wenger to watch the outcomes and behaviour of every single player during a game. The system has been developed to include positive and negative outcomes similar to the Castrol index, but the benefit of seeing the circumstances of how these events occurred provides a greate r understanding to the coach concerned. The reports provide weighted analyses for 650 performance variables which should be more than enough for any statistical anorak.
In Europe, the German National team use Match Analysis from the USA and Real Madrid have recently become clients of ProZone. With ProZone there is even a player scout product which will enable clubs to see their prospective targets in action if the games concerned take place at ProZone installed grounds. Unlike MatchAnalysis, there does not appear to be a fans module which would enable Bloggers to provide detailed observations of players. Media broadcasters are signed up to Opta sportsdata which use the TV footage and in match analyses, so there is a range of competing products for the discerning potential customer. In the end the trick is to know what to do with all of these statistics.
The question that I ask is how useful is all this data to the player. The Coach can clearly make plans based upon all of this information. But I believe that Information overload can paralyse a young player and reduce confidence. Clearly some coaching aspects of playing formations can help the player understand his role in the team, but the application of such detailed analyses must be carefully placed in the correct context. In the end, some outcomes are due to the experience, individual brilliance and skill of a player based upon playing instincts rather than coached strategy. The number of times that I have heard Thierry Henry state that he does not know what he is about to do when faced with a goal scoring chance, he just does what he feels is best at the time. That didn’t do him any harm did it?
A final word following the demise of Setanta yesterday evening. ESPN appear to have got the live packages of Saturday teatimes and monday Nights, but rather than having to battle with Virgin, it seems that they may be inclined to use the Virgin media platform to provide these products. So that would be one in the eye for Sky. I wonder when the Arsenal official site will inform it’s subscribers about the new arrangements? Lets give them a couple of days shall we, after all we have only been expecting this news for a month…

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