The World Cup ended just a few days ago in thrilling fashion and now order has been restored in my life. No more mid-afternoon matches on TV, no more lazing in front of the screen on the evenings and – most importantly of all – no more honking cars full of Germany supporters on the streets celebrating their team’s victory. Okay, the last one stopped before the World Cup was oficially over. But with the competition over I want to turn my attention to what became apparent during the coverage of the World Cup on German television and that is the use of statistics in football. German TV always pointed their viewers to a website on which yu could follow the statistics to a match. Well, here’s my point: over all statistics are of no use in football. I will try and break this down to a few specific statistics in different blog posts, but I will start with an introduction. Statistics are a wonderful thing. They seem to put an order to things someone might otherwise not be able to understand. And, above all, they can help to make predictions about a certain situation that might occur some time in the future based on what happened in a similar situation some time in the past. But, and that’s what I always find annoying when it comes to statistics in football, in order to do that you need a situation which will always be the same so you can compare it to other, similar situations.
The reason why I am writing this is that just recently I picked up two boks which rely heavily on statistics. The first one is the by now famous book about baseball “Moneyball”, the other one its football counterpart “Soccernomics”. In fact both books are intertwined as “Soccernomics” references “Moneyball” quite a lot. But where the use of statistics in “Moneyball” makes perfect sense to me, the way those statistics are presented in “Soccernomics” is kind of hard to understand.
My main point is: football isn’t as static as baseball. In baseball the offset is clear right from the start. The pitcher always has the ball and puts it in play. He has two options:
- 1) Throw it to the catcher at homeplate
- 2) Try to pick off a runner on base.
Because of this it is a lot easier to grasp what will happen during a game. The general statistics such as batting average, on-base percentage, ERA and so on can be compiled by just calculating the numbers. If a batter gets a hit in one at-bat his batting average will be 1.000. If he gets a hit in two at-bats t will be 0.500, and so on. By looking at batting average one might be able to evaluate a player. Same with on-base percentage. But there is no such thing in football. Counting the total number of goals a striker scores might give you an impression how good a striker is. But then again a striker depends on the feeds he gets from his teammates. So there is no way you can say evaluate a striker by just the number of goals he scores in one season.
There’s only one situation in football which comes close to the at-bat in baseball and that’s a penalty. Because it is a static one-on-one situation. Again, there is only a limited number of possibilities.
- The penalty taker shoots the ball on goal
- The goalkeeper reacts
This, in all of football, might be the only situation in which statistics can really be applied properly. All the rest – tackles, shots on goal, saves, running, fouls – cannot, in my opinion, be described by applying statistics. What you can count is hard facts like throw-ins, corner kicks, goals or cards. But those don’t tell you anything about the value of players at all.
I will try to go into detail in further postings. As for now I hope my limited english vocabulary will enable me to express what I want to say. Please bare wth me. Stay tuned.