On message boards sometimes people have had a dig at me for using statistics. I do understand the limitations of statistics in football, honestly I do. But I also understand that sometimes they tell us things that we wouldn’t otherwise know. They supplement what we see with our eyes. I understand that most people aren’t after “the truth” and aren’t that bothered that they need to see a statistical counterpoint to their dearly held belief, but while we have all these debates it always seems worth considering a variety of angles. And increasingly that means statistics, too.
As various books tell us (most famously now, Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking: Fast and Slow”) the human brain is actually pretty bad at evaluating a lot of things. It takes shortcuts all the time, which is important in so far as it helped man evolve into what it is today, but which can lead to evaluative issues. We all make snap judgements about footballers, and if we get it in our minds that “Ruiz is always losing it” our brains get excited when we see this happen in a game. So while Ruiz might only get caught on the ball twice in a match, that’s what we’ll take away because it conforms to our “Ruiz code”. our dominant image of Ruiz’s contribution will be him getting caught on the ball. So the other night I saw Ruiz probing and attempting lots of forward passes; another poster on TiFF said that he and his friends had noted how frequently Ruiz passed up the opportunity to play forwards. We were both looking at the same thing, but both looking *for* different things.
And for another thing, there’s really so much going on on a football pitch that we simply can’t keep up. I mentioned in passing yesterday that Bryan Ruiz, in contrast to popular perceptions, had run as far as anyone in Costa Rica’s games. We’ve been here before: I noticed in an away defeat at Southampton that, contrary to a lot of observers’ reports, Ruiz, while not involved, was hardly standing still. He was doing the exact opposite, making long and circular runs that were more or less useless. He wasn’t not trying; he just wasn’t making very intelligent attempts to get involved. Or put another way, he was probably trying too hard.
Which is why statistics can help. In this World Cup, FIFA is making available all kinds of information. So we know how far Bryan ran, and, despite Spigs’ challenge, we actually know that he wasn’t going at 5mph while running all this way. We also know that Ruiz passed forward and backwards, and that against Greece, for example, he found Joel Campbell 11 times, twice as often as anyone else did.