One of the most frequent statistics in football which is being cited quite regularly in recent times is the number of passes attempted and passes completed. I believe it is meant to show the importance a player has for his own team and how well he sets up his teammates. Players like Xavi or Andres Inieasta always have incredibly high numbers in this department.
To break this down one first has to define what a pass in football actually is. Again, I don’t know of any official description, so I assume it is when one player safely plays the ball to a teammate and the teammate recieves it safely and proceeds from there on. But what do we make of balls hammered out of the own half into the opponents penalty box which by chance reach a teammate? Is that considered a pass? Even if it was pure coincidence?
When dealing with this statistic another problem arises. As impressive as Barcelona‘s numbers in that department are, they are simply inherent to their style of playing. So when Xavi and Inieasta have huge numbers of passes attempted and completed (and the ratio being something around 95%) it is because they play for a Barcelona side which uses 2 meter passes all the time. Those passes, without taking anything away from them, are really safe passes. I know that teams apply pressure and nowadays it is very difficult to set up a gameplan, but with all those small passes and teammates who give the ball back to those two players, it is no wonder the accumulate such large numbers. After this year’s Champions League final people were raving about the passes completed, but to be honest, when compared to Manchester United wasn’t that to be expected? Manchester United doesn’t play this “small-ball” game which lulls the opponent to sleep. So as dominant as Barcelona was in that final, I don’t think a statistic as passes completed describes the game itself.
Let’s go back to Passes attempted. This again, as with so many other statistics in football, is not adequately explained and is left to the person he keeps score during a match. When someone attempts a pass he tries to find a teammate. What about crosses from the wing into the box? Clearly the player is looking for a teammate, but does he really try to find him? Isn’t he more likely to put the ball into the box and hope that his teammate knows where the ball might end up? Another example would be a simple misunderstanding while trying to pass the ball. The player wants to play it, his teammate has a different read and runs somewhere else, so the ball ends up with the opposing team. How is this scored? Failed pass attempt? Who can be held responsible? The passer or the reciever?
While passes attempted/completed can give an insight to how the match actually played out, there still are too many flaws in it and I don’t think it can be used to actually put any sort of value on a player.