The 100% Definitive Players Of The Season? And Gerrard Is 80th…

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Daniel takes a closer look at an allegedly ‘no-arguments’ ranking of the Premiership’s best players.

At this time of the year pundits review the past Premiership season and various lists appear of the best and worst players to have (dis)graced our stadiums and TV screens. These reviews are usually highly subjective and reflect the writer’s bias towards certain teams, players and attributes: some may favour players with high technical skill levels, others may prefer work-rate, and if you’re Graeme Souness you will have a penchant for violent, pissheads with no discernible football ability whatsoever (preferably recommended to you by ‘George Weah’).

The Fink Tank in The Times newspaper prides itself in being different. It is the brainchild of Daniel Finkelstein, a man who used to do forecasting for the Conservative Party (untrustworthy), and who prides himself in being able to look objectively at football as he has no interest in it (freak). But seriously, by analysing results over the past five seasons and looking at numerous indicators, particularly average goals scored and conceded, the Fink Tank has proven to be a very good predictor of match results and, consequently, final league standings. For example, it forecast that West Ham were likely to have a bad 2006-2007 compared to their previous season, as in 2005-2006 the number of shots they had compared to the number their opponents had against them was indicative of a side fighting relegation, not one in the top half of the table. Sure West Ham have had to deal with a lot of other problems in the last year, but it was a telling stat and accurate prediction nevertheless.

Having proved a good predictor of match results, the Fink Tank has now turned to ranking the performance of individual player using statistical analysis. Something called a multivariate Poisson Log-Normal Model was used which, I believe, works by taking the square root of Drogba’s Duberrys, multiplying this by Julio’s Arca, subtracting a Primus number, where RVP = YP Lee to the power of Pythagaros’s nodules. Or in layman’s terms, a couple of doctors with far too much time on their hands.

Please do read the simple description below (or the Fink Tank’s own more lengthy one), as it will help cut down on “McCarthy above Berbatov?? lolzlolz The Times is a cnut” type responses. Although there are some curious results.

They have tried to “identify the relationship between goals scored and every kick of the ball made by every player for every club.” They then simulated the league season repeatedly, taking players out of the simulation one at a time and replacing them with an average player in his position. By doing this they could see whether a player added points to is team or cost them points compared to an average replacement. The more points a player would have added the higher ranked he is. Anyway, you can see The Times website for a fuller explanation and for the ranking given to all 403 players who played more than 400 minutes in the Premiership last season. Below are the top ten ranked players and the top five and worst five for goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders and forwards with the number of points they would have added to or subtracted from the average team.

Onwards, for the results:

The Top Ten

1 Cristiano Ronaldo 19.12
2 Frank Lampard 16.24
3 Gilberto 16.01
4 Peter Cech 14.41
5 Jens Lehmann 13.94
6 Paul Scholes 13.50
7 Tim Howard Everton 12.96
8 Nemanja Vidic Man Utd 10.48
9 Beni McCarthy Blackburn 9.91
10 Alexander Hleb Arsenal 9.87

The Five Best in their Positions

4 Petr Cech 14.41
5 Jens Lehmann 13.94
7 Tim Howard 12.96
14 Brad Friedel 9.06
17 José Manuel Reina 8.47

8 Nemanja Vidic 10.48
11 Rio Ferdinand 9.37
15 Ricardo Carvalho 8.52
20 Linvoy Primus 8.08
21 Sylvain Distin 8.03

Midfield players
1 Cristiano Ronaldo 19.12
2 Frank Lampard 16.24
3 Gilberto Silva 16.01
6 Paul Scholes 13.50
10 Alexander Hleb 9.87

9 Benni McCarthy 9.91
12 Wayne Rooney 9.20
18 Robbie Keane 8.19
19 Didier Drogba 8.14
22 Dimitar Berbatov 7.97

The Five Worst in their Positions

344 Antti Niemi -4.42
381 Paddy Kenny -7.16
383 Jussi Jaaskelainen -7.44
391 Ben Foster -9.77
402 Paul Robinson -12.03

390 Graeme Murty -9.68
393 Leighton Baines -9.85
396 Nicky Shorey -11.14
397 Phil Neville -11.15
398 Nicky Hunt -11.29

Midfield players
377 Gary O’Neil -6.61
378 Kevin Kilbane -6.67
380 Keith Gillespie -6.69
389 Matthew Etherington -8.64
395 Gavin Mahon -10.58

394 Darius Henderson -9.87
399 El-Hadji Diouf -11.59
400 Tommy Smith -11.77
401 David Bentley -11.82
403 Kevin Davies -14.08

It is possible that you took a balanced and rational view and concluded that generally players who had a good season were ranked highly, but that some players who do the uglier work outside of the penalty box like full backs, ball winning midfielders and Kevin Davies (last place is harsh for the highly effective battering ram) are not fully appreciated.

More likely you took a subjective, unbalanced view like I did. When I saw people ranked in a position that I agreed with the Fink Tank did indeed seem like scientific genius: Ronaldo, Gilberto, Scholes, Vidic, Cech, McCarthy all had good seasons and I’ve always thought Paul Robinson is highly overrated. However, I had far stronger reactions to those positions I disagreed with: Lampard 2nd and Gerrard 80th? Hleb one of the top ten players in the league! Bentley one of the worst three players in the league! This thing has worse accuracy than Ade Akinbiyi. I’m sure you were similarly outraged in your own way. Tottenham fans will be gobsmacked that Arsenal players finished top of the rankings. Bolton fans will be disgusted that Jussi Jaskaalainen is considered one of the worst ‘keepers around. Liverpool fans will wonder why their highest ranked player is 17th.

And what this shows is that even when you try to be dry and scientific and use statistical models to analyse football, the passion, emotion and subjectivity of human individuals takes over.

Where would the enjoyment be as a football fan without irrational bias? Many of us are blinder than Stevie Wonder in our love for our clubs and will support and defend them to the hilt. And of course the pleasure in football is not only in seeing your team do well, but it is also in seeing those you don’t like suffering. I had a good giggle replaying Shevchenko’s injury-inducing mis-kick on You Tube and did a little dance when I realised I wouldn’t have to see another Neil Warnock interview on my TV screen for a while. I’m sure as readers of this site you will have your own favourite moments involving your own heroes and villains and which will, of course, reflect your own bias. I’m sure cfc4ever loved Essien’s last minute winner against Valencia, Frazzle revelled in Berbatov’s European goals, and Scouse Billy had a good chuckle at Rio’s own goal against Portsmouth.

So Professor, you can stick your stats where the Fink don’t shine. This is Caught Offside and we like some plain, good old-fashioned, logic-out-of-the-window ranting. Manchester United were lucky, Chelsea are cheats and, if they beat Brazil, England are the best team in the world again.

Well that’s my outburst finished (and I feel better for it). I’m hoping you’ve got a rant or two of your own.