I don’t think there’s much doubt that Scottish football isn’t in the best place right now.
It’s been nearly a decade since the 2007/08 season, when the national team sat 13th in the world, and Scottish football had three teams in European football after Christmas.
Since then, things have gradually worsened. Fifa now ranks Scotland as the 67th best team in the world, sandwiched between two of the poorest countries on the planet: Benin and Guinea Bissau. Meanwhile, Celtic carrying pretty much entire responsibility for the league coefficient has seen us slump from the 10th best league in Europe to the 23rd.
I was in Germany recently, and I read an interview in a paper with Ralf Rangnick, sporting director of RB Leipzig, who currently sit 2nd in the country’s top flight in their first full season in the Bundesliga. In the interview, Rangnick spoke in depth about Leipzig’s tactics and shape. He explained that, in a game of football, most goals are scored in under 5 passes. Thus, Leipzig focused on the quality, not quantity of possession.
Now whether you agree or disagree with Rangnick, when was the last time you heard something as detailed as that from a Scottish manager?
Interviews are riddled with clichés, about “wanting it more” and “being professional”. What does any of this actually mean?
When I watch football, I want to know why things happen. More than being told it was a “great finish”, I want to know how the striker found that pocket of space, what the midfielders did to support him, and what the opposition defence could have handled it better.
I’m not expecting Brendan Rodgers to come out and give a detailed explanation on how he plans to set up at corners in the next game, but I do believe a middle ground exists. A middle ground that we don’t see too often in this country.
Back in November, Aberdeen beat Partick Thistle 2-1 at Firhill. After the game, Eilidh Barbour of BT Sport had the temerity to ask Derek McInnes if Aberdeen “rode their luck”.
Derek was certainly no happy bunny.
Now here’s why I love stats.
Seth Dobson runs the FitbaFancyStats (@226blog) account, which provides advanced stats on Scottish football. One of these stats is “expected goals”, which measures the quality of chances that a team produces a game. It looks at distance to goal, angle from goal, number of defenders between shooter and goal, amongst other factors. Basically, it goes into a lot of detail. Here’s what Seth found for that Partick Thistle vs. Aberdeen game:
— FitbaFancyStats (@226blog) November 5, 2016
Based on the chances they conceded, Aberdeen were indeed fortunate to get the three points, despite McInnes’ aggressive denial. I’m sure you wouldn’t be too hard pressed to find a similar incident.
So how does this all tie together?
These stats transcend opinion. By using numbers, we can educate ourselves about the game, ask better questions of the players and staff, and, ultimately, improve the country’s football..
It’s not about the numbers themselves. It’s about moving away from a culture of hysteria and clichés towards one based on evidence and improvement.
If you don’t think a stat makes sense, call someone out on it. If you don’t think it’s relevant, then bring that up too. Stats that are better displayed, better explained and more relevant will help everyone to understand what goes on when these twenty two men take to the pitch.
Numbers will not solve all of our country’s footballing woes. But by paying attention to them, we can at least make a start.
This was a guest article by Dougie Wright. Dougie is a football analyst/blogger and is currently the tactical analyst for Superscoreboard on Clyde 1.
You can follow him on Twitter @dougie_analysis where you’ll find plenty of stats, analysis and chat about Scottish football and beyond.