Friday, 14 November 2014

Risk V Reward: Angel di Maria boasts highest pass rate from high risk attacking passes

Angel di Maria has an incredible successful passing rate of 79.10% which when you consider his style of play makes him the player on the ball most likely to try to unlock a defence.

But that story doesn't sell does it? In the last 24 hours I have been reading reports & twitter feeds about Angel di Maria and the criticism he is receiving for the Opta stats published on various platforms.
They report this as him being the record signing but he's the worst passer. I have two challenges in my mind with this. One being what we already all know in England which is that we our obsessed with criticism and finding what's wrong and not what's right. But more from a technical coaching perspective this is an important topic. 

Working with Elite Cricket
I have actually worked in/with performance analyst for around 10 years of my coaching life. I have been part of seeing how stats affect performance and the interpretation dangers. Working in that industry many of the stats are vital. For example when analysing opposition, as a team you could understand their systems and style of play based on many objective facts produced by organisations like Opta. Also, your analyst can produce vital stats linked to the actual video with product from the like of Prozone & Sportscode. So, what's the problem?
When you spin that success rate of 79.1% success and quote 20.9% failure it and chuck in that it makes you the worse performer in the club it can have a hugely detrimental affect to your game. Firstly lets turn that in to real context. You passed the ball ten times, two of them failed. When you consider the type of player he is, to me that's a non story. In my role I was fortunate to meet performance analyst at many of Europe's top clubs including Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Chelsea and so on. As well as that I did some work in other sports. Rugby is of course a sport that utilises live stats at the top level like ruck, mauls, turnovers etc but the sport that really engrained a thought in my head was cricket. I was fortunate to have met people within the elite performance at the ECB and also at some top level county cricket teams. One guy had gained the view that stats should be very carefully used in order to not have a negative performance affect. He told me that they had a spell where they used to produce the stats and pin them up in the dressing room. One key stats was the success rate of catches. This was meant to highlight performance and ultimately improve standards. However a new stat was being produced. Performance was down. Individual catch success rate went up but overall the teams catches in volume was less. Why? The analyst did two things. Firstly they went to the video and watched every single catch opportunity from training and games which was coded. It now appeared that the attempt to catch was down and also high risk catches were virtually zero. They followed that up with player meetings who confirmed that perhaps, sub consciously or consciously they perhaps were no longer willing to take on higher risk catches because they didn't want to be highlighted to peers and more importantly to management. This after all is their career on the line.
Easy pass v risky pass/cross
Risk V Reward
So, to bring this back to football there is an obvious relationship. When your on the ball does your brain flash back to that stat printed on the notice board saying im the worse passer? Do I recall that paper article saying that im the worse passer and not value for money. Then, I change my game. Well If Angel di Maria simply passes easy, sideways and backwards then is he just another player that Manchester United already have. A deeper controlling midfielder? When reality is he is a player that is looking for ways to constantly break you down with  a dribble, beat someone or a killer pass. This is a high risk strategy and means he also stands a higher risk of mistakes. When you go through the video you see a player that wants to take you on, want's to cross the ball, wants to make a killer pass. If your a defender out their, can I ask you which type of player you would rather player against?

Balanced team
The Spoilers - Great teams need balance of defence & flare

People that know me as a coach know that I have a simple philosophy. A team should be made up of a balanced team and also clever players. You cannot have five di Marias in the team. Of course that wouldn't work. But a team with di Maria and the security of Carrick & Blind behind him. Yes. Ive also said before about this issue within youth recruitment and coaching.
In my experience, I have seen grass roots coaches 'coach' out the individual brilliance of the higher risk naturally attacking players. As a youth coach I seen a greatly talented player completely change. He was 8/9 when I first seen him. He used to skip past people for fun. I seen him again at around 10 and I witnessed the coaches having a go at him. "Stop being greedy, pass it". I then seen him last year and I have to admit, he is now very ordinary and would not be recruited as without the ball he isn't great. But the flare is now gone. So he's neither.
Then on the flip side, Ive seen Elite Academy coaches try to make naturally defensive players attacking 1v1 players. Or only recuiting attacking 1v1 players that do step overs. Its simply balance. I described in my blog how important the spoiler is and how it frustrates me that we seemingly don't recognise the different strengths and types of players required to make a successful team yet this has been proven over the years. Now we see the topic of some of our great sides not being balanced enough. Too much flare, not defensive minded. Then it will go around again. Too negative, midfielder's don't break lines and take risks. When I hear this I just role my eyes and shake my head because the topic goes round in circles. Maybe I will soon get my chance now at senior level to put my simple philosophy in place. I have to admit, how can a Man Utd find them selves in a situation without top defenders/centre back's, regardless of injuries. Arsenal unable to field a top defensive midfielder and defenders. Arsenal, famously the hardest team to beat in England. The famous back four with the rock in front? That's shocking.
I mentioned clever players. This is because players need to understand the circumstances and dynamics. For example. If Angel di Maria is on the pitch, with ten minutes to go and they are two nil up. Perhaps, I would ask my performance analyst to tell me his retention percentage then. Because the question might be does he change his game based on circumstances? Does he know how to manage a game? Of course that might mean I need to remove him in certain circumstances. However, during the normal course of the game I would want him to take risks? In his position of course.
If a striker scored on average of one goal in four attempts that's a mere 25% success rate. Do you tell him not to shoot any more?

Tony McCool


  1. The problem is that you (and most other coaches) look at general stats. You need STATS in CONTEXT to better judge the performance of a player. By CONTEXT I mean, for example, location:in which part of the field he makes the passes, what is the match status: winning/losing/drawing, what stage of the match: 1st/2nd half, last quarter, etc. Opta gives you all the data, but you need an expert in statistical analysis to do to get this valuable information. You can't do it yourself. So, before you criticise stats, get a data analyst to provide you with better stats, or stick to what you know: video analysis.

  2. The Problem? The problem is 'I' needs the stats in context? Or the press journalist that's using stats to criticize a players performance needs the stats in context? I never criticized 'stats'. I criticized the article and how they were used. I don't need to be an expert in statistical analysis to understand it. Within a football environment (not press) what are they for? What is Video Analysis for? Whats Strength & Conditioning for? Whats the medical team for? Whats the scouting team for? Are they not all working together for a common goal? They are not individual entities else they wouldn't be funded. Stick what I know? thanks, that's the holistic and strategic approach to winning football matches before during and review for the next one. That approach using stats the correct way is also very effective in recruitment. I know many top football people that do not buy into 'stats'. You don't need to jump to your industries defense with me though. I'm not one of them. Kind Regards Tony