One Of Us Speaks: Let’s Get X-Rated
Big Al (One Of Us) is starting a new weekly column with A Cultured Left Foot, a different perspective from my own. The Grumpy Old Man kicks off with something I find irritating but nonetheless privately maintain, Player Ratings.
I used to quite like Player Ratings. They claimed to condense a 90-minute performance into one figure and being fairly lazy that suited me down to the ground. Even if I’d witnessed the match first-hand, I’d take the scores on board because the writer was a pro.
There are many problems with them, not least of which is that a team is an entity, not eleven individuals. Assign scores to each player after watching the match once and you’re taking a giant leap into the unknown. There’s so much that you won’t catch on first viewing.
If you want to judge a performance accurately, you’re going to need a 90-minute DVD devoted solely to that player’s actions, on the ball and off. This is just the starting point, because the performance of one player relies to a large extent on the performance of his teammates, so you’ll have to view two or three pieces of footage in synchrony, pausing at specific moments to evaluate decisions and actions.
A journalist won’t manage that during the frantic minutes before his filing deadline, instead he will be scratching his head to remember moments to give a performance value. Beyond the obvious stuff like goals, individual skill and egregious errors will be crunching tackles, lung-busting runs or anything that constitutes “a real shift”.
It is eye-catching when a player covers a lot of ground and launches into tackles but counter-intuitively, this behaviour can be detrimental to a team if it means vacating a position, playing in a way that teammates won’t be able to anticipate, or expending energy that could be better used in other situations.
Rinus Michels highlighted Sonny Anderson’s unsuccessful stint at Barcelona in the 90s in his book, Teambuilding: The Road to Success. The Brazilian striker complained that his attacking game was suffering because he was expected to do too much defending, which he interpreted as entailing a lot of running, sapping the stamina needed to join and finish moves.
Those grumbles appeared quite reasonable until Michels contented that Anderson’s comments betrayed a complete misapprehension his role in the team. If a striker defends in a “team-efficient” manner, he won’t have to charge around the pitch closing down the opposition or tracking back.
Instead, he’ll sense where his teammates will be; he’ll know what they expect of him and what to expect from them, and through intelligent positioning and effective pressing, he will defend efficiently without expending unreasonable amounts of energy.
That isn’t easy to spot during the flow of a match but it’s hugely important. Gilberto Silva had a great instinct for off-the-ball teamwork. Apparently languid on the pitch, many weren’t convinced by him at first. Then he got injured and in his absence a hole appeared in the team. People began to appreciate what they couldn’t see in the blur of a Premier League match at full pace.
Now, if a result in football depends so entirely on the team, would it ever be possible to designate precise 1-10 ratings to players? The answer is a tentative “yes”. But you’d need so much material – not to mention privileged access – to compile fair scores.
And let’s think about what’s fair for a moment. It’s a blunt truth that certain players are more talented than others. What is important is that they mesh together, know their tasks and carry them out diligently. A fair score would take on board the role that the player has been asked to fill. This means that the evaluator would need to know the ins and outs of team-talks, training sessions and private conversations between coach and player.
It’s this kind of hasty analysis that lumps players with unfair reputations. If an unpopular player misplaces a pass, this event is going to stick in the mind of the appraiser more vividly than if an established star had done the same because it reinforces an opinion. Already rushed, subjective ratings become prone to received wisdom.
Why is all this important?
Player ratings are a symptom of the misguided idea that it’s easy to build a team. At a time when there’s discord between Arsenal fans and players, they encourage cold, preconceived judgements that sustain a culture of negativity around unpopular individuals.
They’re just as likely to mislead as offer quick insight. This is a problem because their convenience makes them so popular. They confer unmerited authority on the judge. Hasty evaluation places too much stock in the appearance of effort by a player, without assessing whether these exertions are actually ”team-efficient”.
By isolating individuals, we end up with fantasy speculation like, “How many Arsenal players would make it into the Man U team?” Which makes as much sense as me discussing which of my internal organs would work better transplanted into someone else’s body.
And with that I think I’d better sign off for this week. I just hope you weren’t tucking into breakfast when you reached the previous paragraph – unless you happen to be a fan of player ratings.
Posted on July 15, 2011, in Arsenal, Football, Premier League, Premiership, Soccer, Transfer Gossip and tagged Arsenal, Football, Premier League, Soccer, Transfer Gossip. Bookmark the permalink. 405 Comments.