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The Darke Side: Stat Attack

Ian Darke on football's obsession with statistics

23 July 2020

Leicester City

Football is in danger of being buried under a mountain of statistics when there is only one that really matters – the score.

Once upon a time we just knew about the goals, what minute they were scored in and which players topped the scoring charts.

Now we have a torrent of information on possession, completed passes, saves, conversion rates, corners, chances created and don’t forget assists.

We even know about distances covered by individual players – not to mention sprints, tackles, blocks and interceptions. The list is seemingly endless.

Worryingly, some managers are swayed by these stats rather than trusting their own judgement.

I heard a story of a player who made a habit of rushing over to take corners to boost his sprint stats.

Then there was the midfielder who was dropped because his ‘completed passes’ figure was a staggering 98 per cent.

"Possession? It is what you do with it that matters. Leicester averaged only 42 per cent in the year they shocked the world to win the Premier League title."

Ian Darke

His manager told him: “I pay you to create and play penetrative passes. If you’re completing 98 per cent, then you are not risking enough to open up the opposition.”

And here is another question – what exactly qualifies as an ‘assist’?

Fair enough if it is a defence-splitting pass to set up a goal. But if Player A just plays the ball five yards to Player B, who hits a 30-yard screamer into the roof of the net, it’s not quite the same, is it?

Study the ‘completed passes’ stats and you will see they are dominated by central defenders – mostly for just knocking the ball around at the back among themselves.

Possession? It is what you do with it that matters. Leicester averaged only 42 per cent in the year they shocked the world to win the Premier League title.

Alright, some stats can be revealing. But most, I suggest, should be taken with a cellar full of salt.

This column first appeared in this season's Pompey v Shrewsbury matchday magazine.


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