While to me it’s pretty easy to despise something like “shots on goal” it’s a lot harder to get to the bottom of “ball possession”. This actually can tell you something about the flow of the match and the dominace a team might have over its opponent. Still, with this one as well, there are some things I don’t understand at all.
“Ball possession” should describe the amount of time a team has the ball while the other team has not. The numbers always add up to 100%. So far, so good. But when does the clock start ticking for the other side, i.e. when is one team considered to possess the ball and the other one is not.
It’s fairly easy to say that a team which passes the ball aroound in its own defense has possession of the ball thus taking time of the clock which records the possession during a match. But when does it lose the clock? The moment an opposing player steps in and deflects the ball somewhere else? What happens when the team instantly recovers the ball, say through a throw-in? Will the time the ball was in possession of neither team be ruled “stopped”? What about bouncing balls and players fighting to get control? Who is credited with possession that time?
See, my main problem with all those statistics is that there is absolutely no definition of what that statistic actually is. You can tell from the name, but what it actually stands for remains unknown. You also don’t know who compiles those statistics. Where in Major League Baseball you have official scorekeepers that matter in football is left to private companies whoch can do whatever they want, I presume.
Another problem with this statistic is that the numbers don’t tell you what actually happened and can in fact be slightly decieving. Say, we look at FC Barcelona and their dogma of ball possession. When they play an overmatched opponent the ratio for ball possession is usually somewhere around 65:35. There were even times, I guess when it was 80:20. Now last season Bayern Munich of Germany under former Barca coach Louis van Gaal created their own version of ball possession. But compared to the catalan style in which the team switches from horizontal to vertical in an instant the Bayern version did not pay off at all. They had matches in which they dominated their opponent, only by the numbers. In reality they were passing, passing and passing the ball without moving an inch forward.
So does this statistic tell me anything about the quality of a team? Sometimes, but not all the time. Also, a 50:50 game could be very one-sided if one team only pushes the ball around in their defense while the other side attacks and scores. It’s a nice gimmick, but nothing that explains the game of football.