Are you an Irons anorak?


By Simon Leyland

Do you wear an Anorak? Are you into statistics?  Are you constantly looking up West Ham`s xG numbers or Scamacca`s shot location metrics? If you do, here’s a question; do you trust them to be accurate? And if so, why?

It is rarely said but many of us like statistics for their own sake and this applies to football as much as any other walk of life.

I like knowing that Osasuna have won more aerials (28.2) this season than any other team in the top five European leagues, and yet have the lowest successful pass percentage (68.7) or that Napoli has the most shots per game (17.6) and Elche the least (6.3), every bit as much as I like knowing Mott the Hoople`s highest charting album on the UK album charts is their 1973 release, Mott, which peaked at #11.

It doesn’t make me enjoy football or music more per se, but that doesn’t matter. The knowledge is, in and of itself, entertaining enough.

Statistics give me a warm fuzzy feeling and I’m not ashamed to say so. Of course, I have absolutely no idea if these numbers (from who state ‘Data sources – Opta Sports, eNetPulse & Getty Images’) are correct and I have no way of checking.

I accept them as I find them, but then I’ve nothing invested in their accuracy. But many do.

The industry sells stats as profound insider intel, in a way which often seems over-inflated in importance. Football is more than data, data is not more than football, but you’d think they had the key to unlocking the greatest mysteries of the universe.

All of them breathlessly promise unrivalled insights.

Opta says: ‘Our award-winning AI team maximises the value of global sports coverage dating back over 40 years by coupling it with machine-learning technology to generate insights for meaningful experiences for fans.’

‘Machine-learning technology’ sounds like they’ve constructed a huge Heath Robinson (ask your gran) contraption where you insert a football at one end and out comes a prediction for Colchester United v Mansfield at the other and that it’s not actually just a computer and software..

People and pundits often try to unearth their own personal massive Koh-i-Noor soccer stat to place in their crown of punditry, to prove the quality of their insight into the game. It seems obligatory these days.

Like any currency, the football stat industry relies on us all believing in it for it to continue to exist. The moment we think money is a worthless bit of paper, it has no value at all. The moment we think football stats are not precise, is the moment the industry collapses.

Now what was Bowen`s xG again?

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