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The Need For Objectivity

“Men act like beasts insofar as the sequence of their perceptions results from the principle of memory alone: they resemble the empirical physicians who practice without theory.” Gottfried Leibniz

Over the past few months I have become increasingly frustrated at the lack of objective analysis in football. Almost all football debate be it in the pub or on the internet inevitably devolves into a game of this is my opinion and this is your opinion, let’s see who can shout the loudest. Bonus points are awarded for insulting your opponents, having the highest word count and never admitting you’re wrong.

The most common method of player evaluation is the subjective and unreliable eyeball test. You watch a match involving 22 players where often you will be rooting for one of the teams or one of your favourite players to do well, most of the time you will be focusing on the player with the ball and ignoring what happens around him, and by the end of the match you will probably already have forgotten most of what happened at the start. All this is then passed through the filter of various biases in the brain which we know is notoriously poor at evaluating events objectively. The end product is a hodge-podge of incomplete data seasoned with all your favourite biases and predetermined notions of how you think things are supposed to work, and this is what you use to draw your conclusions from. The limitations of this method are obvious yet rarely if ever will you see someone question it, instead we all have an unspoken agreement that this is the way it has always been done and this is the way it should be done.

There is a need for objectivity in football analysis. The use of statistics and mathematics in addressing problems of player evaluation, team evaluation, and on- and off-pitch situations in football is still at an elementary level when compared to other sports like baseball and basketball but I feel strongly that it is the only way we can move football analysis away from the clutches of subjectivity and into the warm embrace of well-reasoned, logically sound objective argument. That isn’t to say that these methods don’t have their limitations and weaknesses, and certainly football presents a unique set of problems that sports like baseball or American football don’t have to deal with, but rather than shying away from them we should be tackling them head-on in an attempt to move the level of football analysis away from the age of cavemen and into the modern era.

Nonetheless it is an unavoidable fact that the eyeball test is still a vital part of the way we evaluate and analyse football. Despite growing popularity the football analytics movement is still in it’s infancy and it will be a while before we have the tools to answer truly meaningful questions about the game without having to rely on the eyeball test. Until then the best we can hope to do is supplement our subjective assessment with statistics and mathematics and constantly audit our thought processes for faulty logic and inconsistencies. As Leibniz wrote: “we are all mere Empirics in three fourths of our actions.” If we could get that down to one half or one fourth then at least we will be moving in the right direction.

Categories: General
  1. April 20, 2011 at 17:00


    Trully great blog. I’m myself passinate about football analysis and statistics and keeping my own “statistics database” about world cups and some euros and La Liga seasons. I thought i’d never find passionate people about such an objective analysis of the game!

    Keep the faith!

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