As Jamie Redknapp and Graeme Souness basked in Tottenham’s 1-0 win over AC Milan in last week’s Champions League last 16 tie, the pair were asked about the potential for an Italian victory in the second leg. Redknapp, who had been busy lauding the Spurs performance, blurted out; “Milan can’t be that bad again- they were shocking!” Souness, taken aback by Redknapp’s negativity, bristled. ”I don’t know Jamie, I thought Spurs didn’t allow Milan to play well.”
The post-match sound bite of a losing manager, slating his players but claiming that such criticism takes nothing away from the winning side has long been the standard, however the attitude has had a knock on effect on the way the media paint a picture for fans through the medium of player ‘ratings’ which so flood websites and newspapers.
You will hear, more often than not, that the winning team played well and losers poorly, regardless of the context of the game. This is thus reflected in the ratings given players by major newspapers and media outlets in the wake of big games.
You might remember that the BBC used to run a player rating system where there was a chance to mark players during the course of the game. This seemed, in principal, an excellent way of gauging player performance until it dawned that for the users of the website to be viewing many of the games they would either have to be watching illegal streams, or making up the ratings as they went along- possibly explaining why Emile Heskey averaged under 3.9 every week. The scheme was quietly shelved.
My big issue with these ratings, particularly when dealing with two well matched teams, is when one springs a possibly unexpected result. The key protagonists on each side will be given wildly different marks despite a relatively close score line. I accept this can sometimes be accurate, but surely we are doing good performances a disservice by rating the losing side so poorly when they don’t deserve it.
In reality, if two top sides went head to head and each member of one midfield rated eight or nine out of ten and the other rated four or five, as we are so often meant to believe happens, these games would be far more one sided and uncompetitive. Are you not annoyed when reading about a big win for your team and seeing that your vanquished opponents are getting slated, whether they deserve it or not?
This leads to my next question; what are these ratings meant to reflect? Are they supposed to appreciate the varying levels of ability of each player- would an eight for Titus Bramble be more of a six for John Terry? Or are all players created equal with top marks something each player could realistically attain by merely having a reasonable game?
The game that always sticks in my mind as an example of the problems with the current system was Arsenal’s 2008 Champions League win over AC Milan at the San Siro. The papers cried how it was the dawning of a new era and the coming of age for Arsene Wenger’s young team. Yet, when the same journalists came to put their player ratings to paper, none of the AC Milan players managed to get higher than a six- whilst many of Arsenal’s big players were given eight or nines- was this really the disparity in performance required to hand the Gunners victory in Italy?
With such a subjective system in place, it is strange that so many papers and media outlets put such a weight behind the concept. I would like to see a system that distinguishes itself from an arbitrary numbers system, where each rating considers context and perceived potential of a player, instead of just slating the losing team.
Meanwhile back in Milan, Redknapp, settling in well as the elder statesman of the Sky punditry box brought out one of the oldest clichés in the book in response to Souness; “Ahhh Graeme, I’m not taking anything away from Spurs…”
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