Statistics are the last real taboo in the modern game when it comes to judging players against each other.
Some managers have been criticised for attempting to use figures purely to analyse the value of a player (such as was the case with Kenny Dalglish’s misguided signings of Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson), but when it comes to those pub discussions and casual football debates, there’s no answer to that mate that can pluck a stat from thin air to shatter someone else’s argument.
It seems clear that amongst pundits, coaches and fans alike, there is always the curiosity concerning how a front man from a smaller club would perform when playing for a giant of the game.
We’ve have already seen some number nines struggle (such as Demba Ba at Chelsea) but could statistics hold the key to deciphering if a player deserves a chance to prove his worth at a top side?
Steven Fletcher has had a successful yet modest career to date. Performing well in struggling sides, but statistics from the 2012-13 Premier League season suggest his performance was far more vital than may have been previously anticipated.
To measure his contribution, we must take a theoretical view to the value of a goal. It is clear that a goal to take your team from a drawing position to a winning one is more useful than the final strike in a 5-0 rout, but can we put a specific number to this.
Firstly, as a striker can be assumed to have no real responsibility than scoring goals and winning games, we can ignore any defensive responsibility he may have. Therefore, a goal putting his team 1-0 up is, as far as he is concerned, enough to win the match.
As a result of this discovery, each striker’s goals tally can be calculated in terms of the relative points each goal was worth at the time of scoring, with an equaliser worth one, and a goal to take his team to a winning position worth three.
This may seem like the finished article, and with this taken into consideration, van Persie would come out on top of the other strikers.
However, more analysis can be made to prevent the study from being skewed towards the players with lots of creative players behind them, providing them with a far higher number of chances to shoot at goal. To combat this, we must divide the number of points earned per season by shots taken and there you have a figure depicting how many shots a striker has to take before he earns the equivalent of one point.
Crucially, under this system, Steven Fletcher comes out on top of the pile, closely followed by some other surprising candidates, notably Adam Le Fondre and Dimitar Berbatov. But what of the other big name strikers?
As you may expect, van Persie performs well, coming just behind some of the names mentioned above. However, the likes of Luis Suarez and Wayne Rooney are at the other end of the spectrum, as their wasteful nature is reflected in the numbers.
To conclude, although there is plenty more room for improvement in studies such as this above, it must not be forgotten that statistics could play a valuable role in the future of football, as relative minnows such as Le Fondre and Fletcher proved to be as valuable to their sides as the likes of van Persie.
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