Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Tom Vickery says...

The numbers game a bane:
There have been many times in the Maracana stadium when I have been sitting next to the team collecting match statistics. "Accurate pass by the number 5," the team leader would call out, though the ball had been blasted calf-height on the recipient's wrong foot, keeping the play so tight that loss of possession was inevitable, or "inaccurate pass by the number 8," after he had played an inspired ball inside the opposing full -back which might have set up a chance if his team-mate had been bright enough to read it.

Witnessing the match stats being compiled has made me acutely aware of their limitations. Football is too fluid for the rigidity of the statistical mind. Has the ball been used well? This depends, surely, on the situation of the game, the zone of the pitch - on considerations that cannot be reduced to a statistic.

If football were just numbers it would be bingo, and would not have become such a global passion. Even football's key statistic - goals - are not the be all and end all. It is often said that no one remembers who came second, but it's not true. The likes of Hungary in 1954 and Holland 20 years later lost World Cup finals, but their teams are still remembered fondly. Brazil didn't even make the semis in 1982 - but there are many all over the world that fell in love with football after seeing the beauty of the play from Socrates, Zico, Falcao etc.