The ‘anti’ Panacea

The ‘Anti’ Panacea

There are two forms of people who, retrospectively, enlighten us of their clairvoyance in the aftermath of these increasingly frequent terrorist attacks but they share one thing in common: self-righteousness.  A little humility and kindness would go a long way but, amazingly, it isn’t always forthcoming when it is most needed.

There are those who seek to use the exposure of tragic events as a springboard for their own political agenda propagating it with Strawman arguments. They look to somehow blame the victims, the government of the victims’ home country or, when all else fails, refugees, for failing to implement measures that they themselves would have done and, hence, prevented the atrocity from occurring.

People’s raw emotions were savagely targeted by UKIP (UK Independence Party) in order to dredge up support for their Brexit campaign with hatred and negativity at its origins.  Its message implies that by checking someone’s passport, you can avert these kinds of tragic events.  A quick scan of my passport will not tell a border guard my beliefs; ethical, religious, political or otherwise. There’s a better chance of finding that out through Facebook or Twitter.  Yet, this is being put forward as some kind of Panacea in security and anti-terrorism: 20th century thinking applied to a 21st century problem.  Any twelve year old with a wifi connection can learn how to build a bomb, rendering these kinds of border controls more of a ‘statement of intent’ than an effective security measure.

One only needs to visit the US to know that, provided you don’t admit to being a Communist or Nazi, you can get in for a while with a passport from the correct country in spite of their clunky immigration system. And yet, how many public shootings has that prevented? It seems that, for all the restriction of movement, there is a Columbine every week.

For what it’s worth, I believe that showing compassion to those displaced by theologically fuelled violence and saying ‘you’re welcome here’ is a far greater deterrent to a hate-propelled movement than barbed wire and a machine gun.  In creating an ‘eye-for-an-eye’ approach to conflict, the world ends up blind.  In turning your back on those in need, you have some level of complicity for their subsequent fate.  Politicians and governments ought to bear this is mind as they formulate responses to these events.  Linking these tragic happenings to immigration and refugee migration is not saving one life nor diffusing the root problem.  Although, people would do well to remember that these terrorists are the people the refugees, so frowned upon by conservative Middle England, are running from.

The second form of commentator that trumpets their own beliefs as a cure-all is the bigot.  ‘These people’ will be an overused term, on the pretence and plasticity of political correctness, meaning ‘people whose beliefs are not the same as mine,’ and will no doubt be accompanied by racist undertones.  As an atheist, I bear no animosity towards any form of theism, and regard them all with equal ambivalence nor do I claim that this is a more intellectualised decision.  However, this form of tolerance is not ubiquitous.  Too many religious people, and to an extent, atheists, proclaim exclusivity over virtues that are universal.  The belief that ‘their way is the only way’ is, and has been, the root of so much division.  I tried to write about this in the aftermath of the Paris atrocities in November (http://www.eurofootballstadium.com/trivial-model-for-unity-1296) and while my beliefs and values haven’t changed, perhaps how I think we respond to it has evolved.

Islam will suffer most at the atrocities that fundamentalists carry out in its name.  A bomb does not perform a triage of its victims based on method of prayer but it’s not only those directly affected by the bombs who will hurt.  Muslims will no doubt feel even more isolated and will probably seek support from inside their own communities as it is unlikely to be sufficiently forthcoming from others, precipitating accusations of ‘non-integration’.  Other theists should not take comfort that this atrocity is not taking place in the name of their religion but should instead extend a hand of acceptance and the arm of sympathy to Muslims.

The Muslim community should also be consulted and, for its part, agree to be highly visible in the condemnation of the attacks and integral in the proposal of solutions.  Only by considering this kind of response can the environment for radicalisation be minimised and by coordinating a human-centred, trans-religious response can bridges be built.

All living things are fundamentally made from the same energy that can be quantised and expressed in different wavelengths to give rise to physical differences.  So, celebrate the diversity of life and not the differences in religious books.  Celebrate that you share far more similarities with others than differences and that you can prioritise solutions over blame. Celebrate that, in coming together, we can be more than the sum of our individual efforts.  Celebrate that we can be compassionate and united, with or without God, and rise above the scourge of fundamentalism in all its forms.

 

Kruse-ing in a Taxi

Kruse-ing in a Taxi

Kruse

“It seems that all Kruse is guilty of is a moment of forgetfulness. Yet his club have seen fit to appease public indignation by acting as guardians of some kind of implicit moral code.”

I once left a pair of Doc Martens’ boots on the train on my way home from Glasgow.  Once I realised what I’d done, the weight of frustration, guilt and stupidity was far more punitive then any sanction my parents could impose.  As a hat-wearer, I have lost countless hats over the years.  I think I even once left a beanie in a taxi.  Should I have been punished for my misdemeanours?  Grounded by my parents or banished by my wife for my crimes to hair growth? Well, that’s exactly what has happened to Wolfsburg’s Max Kruse.

Within 24 hours, Kruse, a German International, scored a hat-trick and lost 75000€ in a taxi.  A day in the life of a footballer, it seems.

Kruse is reported to have alighted a taxi at 6am and to have called the Berlin Police shortly afterwards to tell them he had left 75000€, in cash, in the taxi.  Now if that was you or I, we would probably be threatened with prosecution for wasting police time.  However, that’s the equivalent of a week’s wage for Kruse so it is entirely plausible.  His reason for having the money is that he was playing poker through the night.  The ‘legality’ of him having this money is implicit in his defence and one must assume that Max Kruse is not ‘Der Don’ of the German Mafia.

Kruse has had to suffer not only the widespread ignominy of having his absent-mindedness reported by international media but also the not-so-insignificant loss of 75000€.  So, while the story may induce self-righteous sniggers and he has been a bit of a spanner, has he actually done anything wrong?

Well, according to his club, VfL Wolfsburg, he must have done as he has been fined another 25000€.  That’s an expensive night out. However, it seems to be underpinned by a rather perverse logic.  At Wolfsburg, if someone trips up during a game, do the management trip them up at training?  I’d be bit annoyed if I lost my car keys and my employer took my house keys as punishment.

What is Wolfsburg’s Problem with it?

Some will agree with Wolfsburg’s stance that he has brought the club into disrepute in a day where sponsorship money and image rights are so valuable.  However, I am still trying to ascertain what aspect of the story was so unacceptable to them and how, exactly, did he bring the club into disrepute?

Was it the time of day?

Kruse is said to have got out of the taxi at 6am.  I sometimes go out for a run before that time.  While my employer may prefer that I spend more time in bed, it is my free time and, provided I turn up for work on time and do my job effectively, it’s none of their business.  Wolfsburg had no game that day – they had, in fact, been victorious hours earlier with Kruse scoring a hat-trick – and he turned up on time at the club later that day. You could say he merited a night out.

Was it the nature of the activity?

If Wolfsburg are concerned about the ‘image’ surrounding poker and gambling in general, then their puritanical approach is laden with hypocrisy.  Over the past ten years, the money that the Gambling industry has invested exponential amounts in football (not for philanthropic purposes, but still…) from which Wolfsburg will have indirectly profited so, assuming the legality of the poker, he has done nothing wrong.

How is it any different from sitting up playing League of Legends or Football Manager until 6am?  Or binge-watching an entire series of House of Cards?  Or getting to the end of the New Testament?  All of these activities are legal, do not place him physical well-being at risk and none of them compromise the interests of the football club.

Was it the ‘losing the money’?

Some people, in their piety, will be disgusted at the sheer amount he left in the taxi. Fair enough. However, top footballers earn ‘disgusting’ amounts of money.  Would it have been more disgusting had he not contacted the police?  I think so.  Or was the club’s annoyance brought about by his absent-mindedness?  Occasionally, I have arrived at work having forgotten a USB drive or some kid’s homework who was absent previous lesson.  While these are temporary moments of incompetence, I’d be working to rule if I were to be fined.

It seems that all Kruse is guilty of is a moment of forgetfulness.  Had he left his house keys in the taxi, we wouldn’t even have heard the story.  Yet his club have seen fit to appease public indignation by acting as guardians of some kind of implicit moral code.  Surely he’s embarrassed enough? The irony of the club being bankrolled by a company synonymous with dishonesty and financial irregularity makes this all the more intriguing. I really hope the taxi wasn’t a Volkswagen.

 

Europa League Banter

Europa League Banter – 10th March 2016

Dull? Limp? Lifeless?‘ asked Cheryl Tweedy-Cole-Fernandez-Versini (sounds like the Sunderland back four) whilst tugging at her perfect hair extensions promoting some overpriced shampoo with super ingredients you’ve never heard of such as ‘elephantjizzium’.  ‘Sparse, greying and prickly’ would be my follicular response.

The words of the Geordie singer-socialite echoed in my mind after witnessing the second instalment of this Thursday’s Europa League (the Hipster’s Champions’ League), and they pertained to the not-so-horny Manchester United’s performance.  While Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool (as inextricably linked as Gary Neville and Valencia) bullied and harassed like evil Duracell bunnies on speed, Van Gaal’s United cowered in the corner, asking not to be punched in the face because their first communion was at the weekend.

Van Gaal’s post-match declaration that Fellaini had been one of the best players on the pitch was as ludicrous as his dive only a few days previous.  Playing Fellaini in the holding role proved that the eight months of research Moyes did in playing him there was completely wasted: the only holding Fellaini ever does is on the opposition’s jerseys.  The continuous formation switching coupled with the fluidity of defensive positioning – Chris Smalling has had more partners this season than Noah did in his big boat – made for a kaleidoscope of confusion.

Van Gaal’s masterplan, or ‘philosophy’, seems to be to make lots of unorthodox decisions, hope one comes off (like Dirk Kuijt at right back or picking Marcus Rashford) and then claim all credit for being a tactical wizard, absolving him of all previous sins and underachievement. His team are currently one very good goalkeeper away from being mid-table also rans.  In 6th position in the league with nine games remaining, practically out of the Europa League and hanging on in the FA Cup (remember when Man Utd dismissed its importance?) like a stubborn dangleberry, difficult games will fly in more quickly than Paul Scholes’ soundbites.

The worst thing about the performance was that, for all that Liverpool played well, there is an obvious way to play against the high pressing team.  Diagonal balls over the top would have had Lovren and Sakho back-pedalling against Martial, Memphis and Rashford (MMR – the injection of pace) with space to be exploited.  However, all viruses need a host cell to bind to in order to flourish, and the antibody came in the form of the patient passing game, attempted with hexagonally-booted Fellaini as the playmaker.

Before this maul on Merseyside, I was torn between two games: Borussia Dortmund v Spurs or Shakhtar Donetsk v Anderlecht.  That was until I saw Pochettino’s starting XI.  Harry Kane was rested for the game away to one of the best teams in Europe to keep him fresh for the crunch match against Aston Villa, a team who cannot beat its own reserves.

So my attention was divided three ways, between watching Anderlecht continue to disappoint, occasionally peeking at Dortmund v Spurs on my delayed stream and engaging in a vociferous Facebook debate about Pochettino’s team selection.  While Dortmund inexorably battered Spurs like a pizza in a Glasgow chippy, the social media debate arrived at an impasse that stated “if Pochettino wins the league, he’s a genius and if he doesn’t, he’s a fanny”.

Anderlecht meanwhile were a little outclassed, despite Flying Frank Acheampong’s away goal, and their ineptitude at set pieces remains depressingly recurrent. For the return leg, I’d quite like someone with more technical nous than me to do a heat map plotting the movement of Anderlecht coach Besnik Hasi, whose histrionics and gestures make Klopp look like one of those people who paint themselves silver and want money for standing still.  They should fit a dynamo to his flailing right hand and he could power the floodlights for the entire match.

Finally, I really enjoyed that all of the Europa League ties were played on the one night, back to back.  This diffusing the Champions’ League matches over 4 weeks for the same round in order to maximise the number of adverts shown is less organic and makes you lose sight of who has played who, or even what round it is.

The Europa League, much derided by the English establishment because Thursday to Sunday is deemed a shorter recovery period than Wednesday to Saturday, has proven to be a sweet filling to the stale bread of the predictable and repetitive Champions League this year and is fast becoming the tournament of the discerning football fan.  Roll on Thursday!

 

Eintracht Frankfurt

Eintracht Frankfurt v FC Ingolstadt: Bundesliga 1

Saturday 5th March 2016

Growing up around Glasgow, the name ‘Eintracht Frankfurt’ was synonymous with their 7-3 defeat in the 1960 European Cup Final against Real Madrid at Hampden Park.  My parents’ generation frequently brought it up as a moment of crowning glory for Glasgow.  The name, however, invokes images of defeat for me.  I saw Eintracht play last May but they were outclassed by Borussia Dortmund and they struggled again today against less illustrious opposition.  Without the goal threat of the talismanic man-bun that is Alex Meier (Bundesliga top scorer last season), Eintracht had set their phasers to stun.  No goals in the past two Bundesliga games did not augur well either.

It turns out, as I prepare to upload this the morning after the match, Eintracht manager Armin Veh has just been sacked. The fans got what they wanted: ‘Armin Out’ was their chant, before shaking all about, doing the Hokey Cokey and turning around.

Arena Walkway
Arena Walkway
Full time
Full time

Getting There

I was given a press ticket for this game so I didn’t need to worry about buying one.  However, the club website for tickets is: https://tickets.eintracht.de/default.php. I had arrived at Brussels Midi Station earlier than I needed to, giving me time to grab coffee and a pastry.  I walked up to the platform to take the Thalys train to Koln, my intermediate destination before changing train for Frankfurt.  My return fare for the whole journey was 77 euros, booked through Belgian Rail, SNCB as usual.  You can take the Megabus as well if you don’t mind arriving and departing in the middle of the night but, in this case, the bus was only about 10 euros cheaper.   Then, an announcement came over saying there was an 11 minute delay.  I had a 17 minute window for the connection in Koln, so was beginning to feel nervous.  These 11 minutes became 15, which became ‘about 20, which, in reality was 45 minutes.  They really should have managed my expectations better: I could’ve gone for a coffee instead of pacing back and forth like a metronome on the cold platform.  The Thalys train ride itself was fine and comfortable although I still think the Deutsche Bahn ICE trains are better.

Having clearly missed my connecting train, and not having a flex-ticket, I went to the ticket people to ask what to do.  I was told that, because Thalys is a private company and nothing to do with Deutsche Bahn, I’d need to buy a new ticket but that I should write to Thalys to ask for the difference to be refunded.  I was also told that, had I missed my connection because a Deutsche Bahn train was running late, my ticket would still have been valid.  Raging.  So, I paid for my single to Frankfurt, which I’ll be contacting Thalys to reimburse me for.

Not having reserved a seat on this new connection, I spent the hour and ten minutes on the ICE train in the café car.  So, instead of paying to reserve a seat, I got a ‘breakfast burger’ containing omelette, bacon and cheese (which was far better than anticipated), and a small beer for just over 5€, guaranteeing my seat to Frankfurt.

My plan of taking a quick tourist bus around Frankfurt to get an overview of the city was abandoned due to my lateness so I went straight to my accommodation, the Pension Alpha – the perfect place for the Beta male (http://www.pensionalpha.de).  I arrived to be told that my room had suffered from water damage and wasn’t available but that I could have another room, with a toilet (on another floor!) instead for a 25% discount, meaning my room was only 30€.  The omens weren’t promising.  The hotel ‘manager’ showed me to my room which was so far underground, the room didn’t need central heating due to its proximity to the Earth’s molten core.  I was basically in staff digs that had had a spray of polish and a quick vacuum.  Well, I wasn’t going to start trawling Frankfurt for better for the sake of one night and it was only 200m from the train station.  Sigh.

View from my seat
View from my seat
The 'floating' TV
The ‘floating’ TV
Teams coming out
Teams coming out

Frankfurt

The area around train station is often the ‘earthier’ part of town and Frankfurt is no exception.  I went for a quick stroll to the ‘Romer’ area, which is an ‘out of place’ square that time forgot in the middle of a modern Metropolis.  After a hearty serving of bratwurst, pommes and weissbier, I was ready to head to the stadium.  It was noteworthy that a small lady at an adjacent table had ordered the equivalent of a Frankfurt mixed grill, containing schweinshaxe, bratwurst and schnitzel.  The nearby abattoir must be a large local employer. The city has U-Bahn, S-Bahn and trams so it is easy, in principle, to get around.

The Commerzbank Arena

Flag Fans of the Curve
Flag Fans of the Curve
Pre-match optimism
Pre-match optimism
The Ingolstadt Loyal (since 2004)
The Ingolstadt Loyal (since 2004)
In the distance, between the trees and skyscrapers, is the main entrance
In the distance, between the trees and skyscrapers, is the main entrance
Commerzbank Arena roof, from the gangway
Commerzbank Arena roof, from the gangway
The cable guy
The cable guy

From Frankfurt Hbf, the stadium is less than 10 minutes away via the S-Bahn (S7,8 or 9).  Finding the platform, via the network of urine-scented tunnels, can take a few minutes as it isn’t well signposted.  The short journey is actually a rather frustrating experience.  The stadium has a designated stop – Stadion – but it is nearly a kilometre past the stadium so you watch the stadium disappear out of view as the train trundles by, before alighting.  There are no barriers as such so I consider the ticket I bought (having no match ticket at this point) to be a superfluous 3 euro splurge.

Upon alighting the train there are some beer and sausage stalls – I recommend getting one here as it’s a bit of a hike to the stadium and this may make it more pleasurable.  These facilities are found at regular intervals down the forested path, liberally sprinkled with urinating men around the periphery.  I arrived at what looked like the ticket office and main entrance.  I was to collect my ticket here.  I was told by the ticket office worker that she didn’t have a ticket in my name and that I should go to the main entrance.  ‘Great, where is that?’ I replied.  I was told to ‘ask the man in the yellow jacket’ as she was busy. So, like a good boy, I asked the man (steward) in the yellow jacket where the main entrance was.  Of all the possible answers I had considered, ‘I don’t know’ was not one.  Surely that’s in day one of steward-training?

I then found a diagram that suggested that the main entrance was miles away.  That couldn’t be right, could it?  I was starting to panic.  I like to arrive at geek-o-clock, early enough to photograph the place almost empty and scope out what’s on offer.  I wouldn’t get to do this now.  I asked another steward where the main entrance was and he said ‘about 5 minutes to the right after the tunnel.’ He lied, managing my expectations as well as the guy at the train station.  It was about 30 minutes walk.  I turns out the Commerzbank Arena has  huge boundaries and grounds with an area almost as diffuse as the nearby airport.  Having marched against the flow of people to get to the main entrance (it is now 15:10), I collect my ticket and join the massive queue at the turnstiles.  Between getting through the turnstiles and getting to the stadium is a good ten minutes of forest walk as well.  I jog along, a little painfully due to my dodgy hamstring, and arrive in my seat at 1525, exasperated but relieved.

The 51500 capacity arena looks rather like a concrete bowl from the outside but is far more impressive once you’re in.  The roof structure is unusual.  The club describe it as a ‘steel-rope-membrane-inner-roof’. There are pillars supporting a yellow disc, covering the circumference, and what looks like a semi-opaque canvas-like roof extending from it.  Inside this, above the pitch, there is a scaffold, supported by pillars from the top of the stand.  This scaffold is joined to the suspended TV via cables.  This can give the impression that the whole pitch is covered but it is not.

The stadium reminds me a little of the HDI Arena in Hannover and is a bit like an upgraded version of something similar.  There is only a small band of away supporters but given Ingolstadt’s rapid rise from obscurity, that’s not surprising.

The toilets were in plentiful supply and was all rapid and efficient.  The queues at the snack outlets are pretty intimidating and entropic.  They operate a card system but there are floating beer and cola suppliers for card holders to reduce the queues.  That said, there was no way I could have bought a card, topped it up, queued for food and got back to my seat within 15 minutes.  I could have hob-nobbed in with the press but I’d rather experience these things as a fan, not staff.

Eintracht fans making a good noise behind the goals – it’s a ‘beery’ atmosphere around the ground here: like T in the Park but with better beer.

Eintracht Frankfurt v FC Ingolstadt

Seferovic with a spring in his step.
Seferovic with a spring in his step.
Free kick to Eintracht
Free kick to Eintracht
What happened next?
What happened next?
Corner for Eintracht
Corner for Eintracht
Corner for Ingolstadt
Corner for Ingolstadt

The match itself was interestingly competitive, if not beautiful.  Marco Fabian established himself as a go-to player early on for Frankfurt and he does have a good touch.   He is not, however, the 20 goal per season striker they need.  Frankfurt started brightly but on the 7th minute, the referee blew for a penalty for Ingolstadt after an accidental handball in the box.  It was unlucky, but probably correct.  Hartmann dispatched the penalty confidently despite the wild howling of the home fans.  Their small band of supporters looked delighted.

I think I’ve worked out why Eintracht are struggling in the league – they’re not very good and do lack ‘next level’ quality everywhere! Hradecky just kept them alive with a save on 32 minutes and Ingolstadt looked the better team in the first half.  They were simply more composed and threatening.

My notes from the rest of the match are largely composed of criticisms of Haris Seferovic, Eintracht’s Swiss centre forward.  Continually being caught offside, heavy on his feet, blowing several chances at goal and then blaming his teammates or shouting at the linesman, he epitomised everything that was wrong with Eintracht.

Marc Stendera, the Football Manager ‘wonderkid’,  left me wondering what the kid was all about and he was substituted at half time.  Only Fabian ever showed an guile or creative spark and the narrowness  made it easier for Ingolstadt to defend.  Eintracht looked like the newly promoted side for much of the match.

On the 64th minute, Hradecky made a fabulous save from a header at a corner down low, which I would cite as the catalyst for the Eintracht revival.  Ingolstadt were weakened by their substitutions and the expulsion of Pascal Gross, whereas Eintracht grew and grew and finished the match camped in Ingolstadt’s half.  Marco Russ headed home a deserved equaliser and the home side continued to press.

 

 

When the 40000 attendance at the match was announced, there were boos echoing around the stadium.  Perhaps a more regular Eintracht watcher could explain that – I’ve never heard the attendance figure booed before.

In the end, Eintracht couldn’t find their way past Ingolstadt thanks to a combination of attacking ineptitude and defensive resilience from the visitors.  The final whistle is greeted with jeers, howls and choruses of ‘Armin Out!’

Upon leaving at full time, I march purposefully to the train station via the direct route, and upon hearing the station announcer saying that the train at platform 10 goes directly to Frankfurt Hbf, I gleefully hop on, only to sit there for nearly twenty minutes.  I do, however, arrive on time in central Frankfurt to eat a quick Burger Kaiser before hitting the pub to watch Dortmund v Bayern play out a goalless draw.

What did I learn?  It’s an interesting stadium but, if you need to get your ticket from the main-entrance, don’t take the train as the station is miles away.  The Eintracht fans seem like they have the potential to be excellent given a more entertaining spectacle on the field. However, the current team look a long way away from this objective.

Stadium Ratings

  • Quality of match:  ***
  • Stadium character: ****
  • Stadium atmosphere:  ****
  • Hospitality: ****
  • Ease of access: ****
  • Things to do around the stadium: **** (if drinking and eating counts)
  • Overall: ****
 

Statistics in Football

“Showing a heat-map to Thierry Henry is like showing Stevie Wonder the score to his Greatest Hits: completely inconsequential.”

Statistics in Football: Correlation, Causation and Crap.

Lies, damned lies and statistics.  As a scientist, I always look for data or evidence to validate any claim I make.  So, in the era of OPTA, heat maps and the Sky Interactive Whiteboard, you’d think my world of football and data would be utopian.  However, there are some things that just shouldn’t be quantified or compared.

Let me tell you the tale of a scientist who had been training a spider.  The scientist had trained the spider to obey his commands.  The scientist had done enough practice and research and was ready to present his findings to his peers.  Gathered in his lab were all the esteemed scientists in his field.  ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, behold the spider’ he exclaimed.  ‘Spider, walk forwards 10 steps.’ The spider obliged.  Gasps filled the room.  ‘Spider, walk backwards to steps.’ The spider remained obedient and complied with the command. The lab filled with applause and bewilderment.

‘Ah, but you haven’t seen the best bit yet,’ the scientist teased. ‘Watch this!’ The scientist lifted the spider, plucked off all of its legs, and put it back down. He then repeated his earlier commands, to which the spider did not respond. Observing the furrowed brows in the room, the scientist proclaimed ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, I can therefore conclude that if you pull the legs off of a spider, it can’t hear you.’

‘What was the point of that story?’ some may ask.  Well, the point is simple: while the observations (extrapolate to statistics, if you will) are irrefutable, the conclusions i.e. interpretation of the statistics, is often highly debatable.  Is a variable causal, correlated or coincidental?  Andy Roxburgh, the former Scotland manager, would respond to criticisms about the team’s performance by referring to the number of corner-kicks won.

I could look at a table of ‘passing accuracy or pass completion percentages’ and find characters like John Obi Mikel near the top.  Does that mean that the octagonally-footed Mikel is an excellent passer? It may mean that he doesn’t attempt any passes except from really simple 5 metre square passes.  Just because the ball has rebounded twice from Mikel’s shins into the net doesn’t mean that Abramovich doesn’t cover his head atop the stands when he sees the Nigerian eyeing one up.

I recently read an argument about ‘the best dribblers in football.’ Statistically speaking, in terms of percentages of successful dribbles completed per game, who do you think it might be? Arjen Robben? Messi? Mahrez? No, the author was arguing that Mousa Dembele is the best dribbler in football, based on some statistic he’d lifted.  Now, I like Dembele as a footballer but if I’m a defender, I think I’d rather see Dembele charging towards me as opposed to the others mentioned above.

Furthermore, is ‘statistically most efficient’ the same as ‘best’? Watching guys like Ronaldinho, Messi, Maradona in his prime or Douglas Costa run at defenders is enthralling and exciting, perhaps the purest physical expression of footballing artistry.  What it gives to the fan and the player’s teammates is beyond quantification.  Imagine trying to quantify your favourite painting or song.  I could measure the absorption spectrum of the painting or the frequencies of the song but I wouldn’t dream of expressing the quality of the painting or song based on that data.

So, to say that e.g. Mertesacker completed more successful passes than Ozil means that he is a better passer is, frankly, ridiculous.  Quantifying the significance of the individual to the team based on these kind of statistics is facile.  ‘Experts’ and armchair fans alike are trying to Football Manager-ise the game to ridiculous extents.  Showing a heat-map to Thierry Henry is like showing Stevie Wonder the score to his Greatest Hits: completely inconsequential.

So please, let’s celebrate the beauty, fluidity and artistry that is found in a game played within rigidly right-angled confines.  The guy who scores two goals from twenty chances is more significant that the guy who scores one from two. Or is he?