Monthly Archives: June 2015

Stats and Spurs transfers….what could possibly go wrong?

So after Spurs announced the signing of Kieran Trippier, Rob Mackenzie, the new “head of player identification”, tweeted an endorsement of the player. Mackenzie said Trippier “played more mins, delivered more crosses & created more chances than any other full back under 25 in a Top 5 League. Productive.”

While it was interesting to read some of the logic that lay behind what seemed a slightly curious signing, it also made me concerned that Spurs may be in danger of drawing the wrong lessons from the increasing amount of data being used in football.

Sure, the fact Trippier played a lot of minutes suggests his physical condition is good, and that is useful to know. But the volume of crosses seems pretty irrelevant as a stat — ask David Moyes how pumping in a load of crosses worked out as an approach. Chance creation is useful — but how good were the chances? And how many came from set pieces?

Obviously, Mackenzie only had 140 characters, so this isn’t a criticism of him or the tweet. As I said, I think Spurs fans really appreciate him engaging like this. I certainly do.

My point is about the transfer and the use of stats. Sure, Trippier may have had some pretty good individual stats, but let’s not forget one crucial point. He played for Burnley, and they were terrible. They deservedly got relegated. They scored 28 goals in the league all season! Sure, they worked hard, were well-drilled in defence and were more competitive than many people thought, but at no point did it look like they were going to survive.

In every sport, certain individual players on bad teams have great stats. Take basketball, you’ll get a “star” player scoring an absolute ton of points on a bad team — it doesn’t mean the player is actually all that good, it’s just there are no other options so he may as well just jack up a load of shots and inevitably some go in. Same with crossing — Burnley were crap, so pretty much the best option they had was just to swing in crosses and hope something happened, which inevitably it sometimes did.

I’d also add about age, what relevance does under 25 have? Tripper is 24, so, based on standard player development, he doesn’t have much scope to improve, bar the inevitable step up almost every Pochettino fullback seems to make.

I’m not anti-stats at all — I’m fully aboard the Moneyball train and think the football is in the dark ages compared to the US sports I follow. But it’s easy to use stats selectively, and dangerous for fans to think that the club merely using statistical analysis is a panacea for guaranteeing successful signings.

Trippier may well be a good signing. Hell, Spurs were a disaster at right back last season with Walker either injured or error-prone, and the likes of Dier and Chiriches out of position, so help is definitely needed. But I hope Spurs haven’t forgotten the basic principle that stats lie all the time, and can be twisted and distorted to suit a situation just as much as traditional scouting conclusions.

Because it wouldn’t be “Spursy” at all to go all-in on a transfer strategy that turns out to be a bit rubbish, would it?

(First published as a letter on Football 365 on June 22)

Surely Spurs can do better than Yannick Bolasie?

It’s mid-June and we are deep into transfer bullshit season. I don’t really mind — the papers and clickbait websites have space to fill, and no one is really harmed by made-up transfer stories. It’s a bit of an artform though, because when it’s done well, a good rumour can sneak through the gate and get you either hugely excited or worked up in fear.

I remember last summer when Spurs were linked to Antoine Griezmann. It was just the perfect rumour — an almost realistic target and an almost ideal fit for what Spurs almost needed. To this day, I have no idea if Spurs ever bid for him, ever spoke with him or his agent, or he for any moment ever thought that he might be on his way to White Hart Lane. But whenever I see him for Atletico Madrid, I think back to those heady summer days and what might (or may not have ever) have been.

This summer, there’s a story that is tapping the other transfer dimension, the slow-mo car crash sensation of an absolute shocker of a deal that has been repeated so many times that I’m starting to fear there may be some truth. The rumour: Spurs want to sign Yannick Bolasie from Crystal Palace for £20 million.

One outlet, The Sun, has repeated this rumour time after time. Obviously they have no shame, but it is getting to the point that they will look a bit silly if it doesn’t happen. Worse, this morning Bolasie himself retweeted one of those Twitter aggregators who scoop up all the Spurs gossip about the possible move. Talk about fanning the flames, even if it is just stating the obvious that he’d fancy a massive pay rise and cut of a huge transfer fee.

Bolasie had a good season, to be sure. He’s capable of unpredictable brilliance, and he had a great game at White Hart Lane. But, he’s not that young and so isn’t going to improve much. He’s technically average, and his effectiveness is quite low despite all the excitement he can bring. And, in a long career, he’s had just one very good season, so it feels like to buy now would be to buy right at the top of the market.

So why do I fear that this rumour may be true? Because he is exactly the sort of flash-in-the-pan, high risk/low reward signing that Spurs have wasted money on for years and years. This one would be a bit like the signing of Roman Pavlyuchenko after he’d had a decent Euros, in my view — just a sure-fire disappointment at a massively inflated fee.

Please, Daniel Levy, do not sign Yannick Bolasie, and if you could come out and say as much, that would save me from clicking on any nonsense stories about him coming to the Lane.

(First published as a letter on Football 365 on June 15)

Some love for the Women’s World Cup

I found myself watching Sweden v Nigeria in the Women’s World Cup last night — the weird new Kevin McCloud programme on C4 didn’t keep my interest and I was casting around on the iPad for alternative viewing.

I must say I loved it, and I’ll definitely be watching the England women tonight and a few more matches as well. I haven’t previously watched Women’s football — not for reasons of sexism, it’s just that there is a ton of sport on all the time and I can only watch so much. And in the summer, I watch cricket, which takes up an awful lot of viewing time. You can’t fake interest in something — you need something that hooks you, and Sweden v Nigeria had me from the moment I switched over (when Sweden were already ahead).

Sweden and Nigeria just went at each other, hurling themselves forward in attack with utter abandon and none of the tedious, sub-Catenaccio that seems to pass for most international men’s football at the moment.

Nigeria had one player, Asisat Oshoala, who looked like she was from another planet — she had incredible pace and power, and was also seriously skilled. She was constantly on the move, a bit like Luis Suarez, and looked totally world class. It was quite thrilling to see. I’d strongly recommend watching Sweden’s third goal — it was a beautiful move, the sort that you’d salivate over if it was by a Wenger or Guardiola team…one touch play, good movement, smart positioning.

Certainly, in this game at least, the attacking play was far better than the defending. The keepers in particular weren’t great. But you know what, it was better for it. It reminded me, more than anything, of watching my favourite Spurs teams of old. It was like being back when when scoring goals was more important than preventing them, and shaky centrebacks and missing fullbacks were welcomed as contributing to the entertainment, rather than sparking days of social media fury, blogs seething with recrimination after three more dropped points, and angry letters to the F365 inbox.

I really enjoyed this because, unlike much in the high-stakes modern men’s game, this actually was fun to watch. Come on England tonight!

(Originally published as a letter on Football 365 on June 9)

A quiet summer ahead for Tottenham 2.0

I usually head into transfer windows giddy with excitement about Daniel Levy’s impending wheeling and dealing, but this summer I suspect Spurs will be very quiet indeed. I suspect it’ll be four in, five out — with very little drama, as befits the new low-key, post-Redknapp/AVB/Sherwood everyone-take-a-breath Tottenham 2.0.

The obvious ones to leave will be: Adebayor, Capoue, Kaboul and Chiriches. They won’t be missed. The fifth, in my view, will be Andros Townsend. At the end of last season, both he and Lamela were given an extended run in the team to prove their worth, and while Lamela is frustrating, Townsend is totally ineffective. While his England stock remains high, now would be the time to sell and I’m sure Levy knows that.

Coming in, Spurs have signed Kevin Wimmer at centre back — he’s been talked about for ages so I hope he is good. I don’t think you’ll see anything more in defence — Eric Dier is v highly thought of at the club and I seriously rate him as a centre back prospect, while Vertonghen remains the other first choice. Expect Wimmer and Fazio to be the Europa League pairing. LB is set with Rose and Davies. I’d love to upgrade Kyle Walker at right back, but that can wait a year. Yedlin will get a run in the Europa, probably.

The key area of need is a quality defensive midfielder. While Spurs CBs got the blame, most goals originated in the midfield area. Ryan Mason tries hard, and is good at setting the tempo, but he is no holding midfielder, while Bentaleb is more of a playmaker than a ball winner. Schneiderlin would be the dream, but I suspect he’ll get a better offer. Imbula at Marseille is the guy who I’d really like to see more of. Stambouli and Mason is a decent Europe League midfield.

In attacking midfield, the key is someone to challenge Chadli, who has no competition on the left wing. I expect someone hard to pronounce and ultimately underwhelming, but we’ll see if the new transfer team can pull a rabbit from the hat. The young guns like Tommy Carroll, Alex Pritchard and Deli Alli will provide good Europe League cover and competition for Eriksen and Lamela.

The toughest situation is up front. Sadly, seems like Ings is off to Liverpool — I appreciate why he doesn’t want to come to the Lane and play second fiddle to Harry Kane. Spurs may need to be a bit creative — someone like Stefan Jovetic or Ayoze Perez would fit the bill as someone who can play with Kane. I think Bobby Soldado will stay as back up — he’s obviously a good egg, and his link-up game is good. He just can’t score anymore, which doesn’t really matter in Europa League as no-one watches or cares.

So, it’ll be quiet — but that is fine. Let the big four spend hundreds of millions, we’re not going to overtake them next season, we all know it — best of the rest is fine for me as long as I’m enjoying following the team, which I certainly am at the moment. Spurs are trying to build a new stadium — they had a profit of £80 million last season, so another year like that and it’ll be half the job of funding the massive project done. Then, the club can try to seriously compete from a position of equality. Spurs had a gamechanger last year with the emergence of Kane, there is a good young core that is developing, and at this stage the only real talent who is too good for the team is Hugo Lloris, but he’s a keeper and Vorm isn’t a bad replacement.

(Originally published as a letter on Football 365 on June 5)