My Belated Tirade on Statistics…

Posted on October 22, 2009 by Elliott
So, I begin with a disclaimer. I love and hate statistics. As a graduate of a graduate school, I realize that statistics can cleverly mask value judgments and assumptions. If I feel like cleverly hiding my deontological proclivities, I reach for the graphing calculator. Brian Phillips at the runofplay has a philosophical aversion to such statistics, but for me, they simply cause a spell of indigestion.

My defense of soccer focuses on the qualitative aspect of the sport. While some may focus on the “beautiful game” as a collective interaction between 11 men on each side, I will highlight individual moments and glimpses of brilliance which, for me, transcend a number or stat count.

Even if my team was losing 5-0, I would leave the stadium happy if my player had done this feat of feet. These are the moments you cannot a price tag on, the moments of myth, the seconds which span an eternity.

And they are decidedly not goals. The goal, the win, the blackhole of utilitarian calculation. If anything, these moments are the anti-goal, when brilliance builds to a false but satisfying climax. Think dinner sans the desert, but you are full anyway.

The Ronaldo stepover. I know that Ronaldo (Brazilian) is still playing. I know he has had some personal issues. Let´s just forgot about those inconvenient facts for two minutes and six seconds.

The Zidane Roulette. His career did not exactly end on a positive note, but the graceful Frenchman combined the two step and the pivot in a jig that would make any Irishman proud.

The Cruijff Turn. The Dutchmen had a wicked cut, but watching his infamous behind the leg turn at fullspeed is breathtaking.

A Ronaldinho Elastico. I know he is at AC Milan, one of the most storied teams in Europe, but let´s face the facts – the ´Dinho dribbler of years past is long gone. However, in his wake lie a thousand and one defenders, all bamboozled by once laser-quick feet.

The Robinho Sombrero. A soccer ball is a ball is not a hat. Or is it? Ask Gabriel Heinze.

The Di Stefano Kickout. While this move had showed its age, Di Stefano´s dribbling innovations set the stage for elastic legged kids the planet over. This video was the best I could find in terms of the Golden Arrow´s slick feet.

These shining examples of creativity and flair illuminate why we watch the beautiful game for 90 minutes on shoddy, pirated streams, rather than simply reading a mundane recap. But I know that some of you are collectivists, some of you cynics will degrade my focus on And1 shannannigans.

In the interests of pulling the rug out from under your troll-ogre comments, here are two links to amazing collective “goals.” The first, Spain vs. Ukraine in Germany 2006. The second, Argentina vs. Serbia, also Germany 2006. Even if these plays had not resulted in goals, the movement, touch, and understanding would be worth the price of admission.

Still, statistics do serve a purpose, once philosophical assumptions are agreed upon. As such, I do not toss the baby out with the bathwater, I just believe that statistics are a bit malleable. And as one of the many children of globalization who follow teams in foreign countries I will never visit, I find myself searching for deontological pleasures instead of fleeting utilitarian gratification.

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