You can’t keep a good football stat down

We’ve all seen Fat Sam patrolling the touchline, Madonna live-in-concert mic tucked inside his lug‘ole, looking every inch the modern man we all know him to be. The most self-confident man in Britain is known to be just one of a growing army of managers to enlist the help of ProZone – a means by which to attain statistical analysis on everything from the amount a player has run in a match to his use of the ball when in possession to name but two minute points. But in this modern age of ours, can stats prove everything in football, or is there still room for differing perspectives and the use of the naked eye to dissect the beautiful game?

The truth lies somewhere in between. Stats are great. On a personal level, I’m a huge believer in them. They’re crucial in helping to disprove some of football’s accepted truths – such as Owen Coyle’s Bolton side play passing football, Man Utd’s defence is watertight and that Jermain Defoe is anything other than a deeply average striker. I’ll beat these drums until my last dying breath, and all with the help of statistical information.

However, stats can also be deeply misleading. They can distort an argument because for without applied in the ‘right’ context, they can change turn a point completely on it’s head. They are merely a tool to be used to disprove theories and assists in arguments for the casual armchair pundit.

Just the other day after Frank Lampard’s wonderful display against Bolton in their 5-1 drubbing of Coyle’s side at Stamford Bridge, which included a Lampard hat-trick, did I see such an instance of deeply misleading and reprehensible statitude.

It was over on Twitter (you can catch me at JamesMcManus1 if you’re asking @shameless plug #hangsheadinshame) where a fellow Tweeter, Twitterer or Twatter depending on your preference, in a state of euphoria confidently declared: “Lampard now has 175 league goals in 350 games for Chelsea. Brilliant.”

Now, I know he’s been a prodigiously prolific goalscorer in the Premier League for nearly a decade now, but that still seemed a bit off to me. A quick glance at Wikipedia then proceeded to tell me that Lampard had indeed played 350 Premier League games for Chelsea, but that the 175 goals came across all competitions, for he had only a measly, hardly worth talking about 119 league goals for the club. In 518 career games for the West London side he had indeed scored 175 goals, a fine record, but did it really need the falsities to make it stand out as particularly impressive?

There is of course still room for the naked eye. Otherwise coaches all over the land may as well just pack up and go on home. We shall indeed surrender to the machines just over a decade after the Terminator films correctly prophesised. But instead of Skynet, it shall be the almighty ProZone’s altar that we bow down to in hushed and humbled prayer.

OptaSports provide the shining light by which others should look to follow. They offer up little nuggets of statistical gold without any inherent bias towards this club or that club as is often the calling card of those that cry out ‘lazy journalism‘ at the drop of a hat (yes, I am fully aware of what I‘ve left myself open to now).

Stats aren’t everything in football, they’re merely there to apply the context amidst all the fawning and bias that takes place in the media today. You can’t keep a good stat down, no matter how hard you try. It may not be sexy, it may not be what gets readers reaching for the paper in the morning, but context is everything.

You can follow me on Twitter @JamesMcManus1
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