Statistics often give wrong answer on player performances
The Thursday column
A footballer’s performance cannot be accurately measured using statistics, despite what all these analysts of the game will tell you. The naked eye is the best judge of whether a player had a stormer or a stinker.
This week, for instance, I stumbled across a summary of Aaron Ramsey’s stats against Middlesbrough, which revealed he had a pass accuracy of 91 per cent, attempted 67 passes, covered 12.29km, made 11 recoveries and one assist.
Much of that data sounds like the kind of numbers by which an RAC patrolman might judge the success or otherwise of his shift, and none of it enables me to tell whether Ramsey actually played well, albeit they were wrapped up in a tweet from Arsenal’s official feed, which commented simply “well played”. Hmm.
Pass accuracy figures do not show the overall degree of difficulty of a player’s attempted distribution, and 67 passes is not unduly high for a central midfielder.
Ground covered does not impress me greatly, given some players have to chase around even more than they would like because they are getting run ragged by the opposition or are having to gallop back to atone for wayward passes.
I have no idea what a recovery is in football terms nor any desire to find out, and assists are meaningless because you qualify for one whether you beat six opponents before pinging in a perfect cross or perform a simple three-yard layoff.
Even worse than the recent surge in popularity of player stats, however, is the proliferation of those tailored league tables that are supposed to raise eyebrows because they are so surprising but actually just raise eyes because you are so sick of them.
You know the sort of old nonsense. Amazing revelations that a crap team would be in the top three if only goals scored in odd-numbered minutes or shots from outside the box counted.
Occasionally one such table is brought to light that does actually create a certain amount of interest and one such example this week showed that if you counted points since the start of last season Tottenham would be clear at the top.
This pleased me because although they have yet to win a title under Mauricio Pochettino Spurs are easily the Premier League team I most enjoy watching and it is to be hoped their first championship since 1961 is not far away.
Unlike most of their top-six rivals, Spurs seldom disappoint the neutral spectator. They have a superb keeper in Hugo Lloris, buccaneering full backs in Danny Rose and Kyle Walker whose improvement in recent years shows what a wonderful coach Pochettino is, and excellent centre halves from the Low Countries.
The midfield blends solidity, energy and skill at its base from Eric Dier, Mousa Dembele and Victor Wanyama, and the three behind Harry Kane are a perfect blend of skill, steel and spirit.
Slowly, very slowly, people who have for decades viewed Spurs as brittle flatterers are now being won over, but this is still a team who have not received due recognition for their quality and their new-found status as a side who will not be pushed about.
The star, however, is Dele Alli, who having just turned 21 already looks the complete number ten and a player who should be dominating football matches in 2030 and beyond.
He has had a sensational season and when the next professional footballer denigrates the opinion of someone because they never played the game just point out to them that if players were such experts how come Alli did not make the PFA Footballer of the Year shortlist?
So why are they 8-1 to win the league next season with Sky Bet, who also bet 2-1 City, 11-4 United, 3 Chelsea, 12 Liverpool and 16 Arsenal?
It’s because they are playing at Wembley next season while the development of White Hart Lane is completed. But what price would they be if they were still at the Lane next term? Surely no bigger than 4-1.
So the adjustment for the temporary change of home ground is drastic and possibly too much so, even though it will be pointed out that Spurs did not shine under the arch in the Champions League group matches.
This is a team who look like they can still get even better. The stars appear to be staying and there will be money to add depth to the squad.
Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho will spend as much as they can in the close season but they did so last summer too and it didn’t work out particularly well so there looks like a false assumption in the market that they will improve.
I’m happy to believe Tottenham are the outstanding bet for next season, when they would be hugely deserving champions. At last they may be ready to top the only league table that matters.
Stable open days offer valuable opportunity
The reports in this newspaper of the recent open days that took place at Lambourn and Middleham remind us how important these events are in so many ways.
They allow people who would never be able to afford a racehorse the chance to see what goes on in a yard, thus strengthening their appreciation of the sport and hopefully generating lasting interest in it.
They also allow people who are considering ownership to get a taste of what they can expect if they join a syndicate or go it alone.
And most valuably of all they give children a wonderful experience that will hopefully sow the seeds of a lifelong love of racing.
They are immensely beneficial to racing and it is especially good to see the introduction of Good Friday racing has not unduly wrecked the Lambourn event.
Racing is a sport like no other, it has its own peculiar lexicon and takes more understanding than probably any other. You could ask an expert 200 questions about it and still not fully grasp it.
So to allow people inside the stables to see what goes on and lift the air of mystery is a wonderful thing.
What a shame, then, that whereas the vast majority of trainers in Lambourn and Middleham opened their doors over Easter, when it comes to the Newmarket version, which this year is a weekend (September 19-20) rather than a day, there is a marked drop in the percentage of stables that welcome the public.
Plenty embrace the event with full enthusiasm and good for them, but a disappointingly large number simply don’t bother. This is not good enough.
Hopefully before too long the smarter young trainers who understand the value of PR will cause the extinction of such prehistoric attitudes, but until that day comes the BHA should make it a condition of granting a licence that trainers agree to open their doors to the public once a year.
Ratings not quotas should decide who makes the cut
Silly racing opinion of the week was the widely-held view that there should be a limit on the number of horses an owner can have in a race, in the wake of Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud providing 13 of the runners in Monday’s BoyleSports Irish National.
Ratings and ratings alone should decide who makes the cut, and that belief comes laced in sympathy for those trainers who struggle to get by while Gigginstown and the other mega Irish owners mop up so many of the big prizes.
You cannot place limits on the extent to which wealthy owners dominate fields by saying some horses should stand aside so inferior rivals can get their chance to shine.
If the likes of O’Leary, J P McManus and Rich Ricci didn’t invest so expansively in their passion there is every chance people would enviously cry out for the kind of financial commitment they make to Irish racing.
Questionable opinion of the week came as part of Richard Hannon’s criticism of Arc for what he saw as poor prize-money at Windsor.
It is understandable that trainers, owners and jockeys should covet bigger prizes, and when you see how some courses consistently stage comparatively more valuable races than others you do wonder why there are imbalances.
But when Hannon cited the amount horses cost he suddenly strode on to less solid ground.
“We ran a £62,000 two-year-old in a race that was won by one that cost 90,000gns and the runner-up cost £170,000, yet we’re racing for two grand,” Hannon said.
The simple answer to that, I’m afraid, is don’t pay such vast sums for unproven horses.
There are undoubtedly meetings staged by Arc that offer meagre rewards albeit they are above the stipulated minimum sums, although hopefully the imminent introduction of the offshore funding requirement will help matters.
But there must always be a relationship between the value of horse races and the value of racehorses.