The FA Cup. Dontcha just love it! But it can be a very dangerous and unrequited love. As Ipswich Town found to their cost. No doubt the good people of Ipswich, their football team and its manager were imbued with that air of nonchalant confidence that comes with playing against a collection of electricians, chippies and bricklayers one hundred places beneath you in the tier of English football.
Long before kick-off, and the expectation of an inevitable outcome, thoughts would have already been turning toward the fifth round and a possible mouth-watering home tie against Manchester City. Football managers themselves are apt to happily trot out the yearly cliche of ‘The Magic of the Cup’ while simultaneously dreading being on the end of that other accompanying cliche. The one that announces the ‘shock of the round.’ Kieran McKenna unfortunately found himself the victim of the latter. And for few minutes on Sunday, Eric Ten Hag wore the look of a drowning man.
But, however much a shock Maidstone United’s victory may have been, it has solidified the thought in my mind that when it comes to football, stats are utterly meaningless and irrelevant.
After any shock or unexpected result, the stats are rolled out quicker than a red carpet for Emma Raducanu, and usually by the losing manager. So OK, Ipswich had seven hundred shots, six hundred and ninety-nine on target, eighty corners and three hundred percent possession! Their well-paid players wear a special vest designed to hold a small, square-shaped pod between their shoulder blades. This gizmo contains a 10Hz GPS, an accelerometer, and a magnetometer. In the modern game they are viewed by sports scientists as essential as shin guards!
These devices can capture over 1250 data points per second which enables them to measure how hard and how much each player is working. Post match the coaching and sports science staff analyse this data to evaluate the total distance, speed, sprints, power load and intensity. How could they possibly lose? Well, unfortunately, these toys for anoraks do not measure a payer’s ability to place a white leather football into the back of the bet. Neither do they measure complacency, skill level, bad luck or a condescending attitude towards vastly inferior opposition. And tellingly, stats never show what doesn’t happen?
Watch any live TV game nowadays and the screen is awash with more meaningless stats that could possibly be collated by a train spotter. Number of tackles made. Number of touches in the opposition box. Number of duels won/lost or how many times the centre forward scratched his balls! Whoever thought that such nonsense could ever predict a definite outcome of any match obviously dodged sports at school. The ONLY stats that carry any meaning is the result. Maidstone has two shots on target and guess what? Their players don’t wear CDs sewn into their shirts. And good old-fashioned sweat is a pretty good indicator of how hard a player is toiling for the cause. This morning the Ipswich collection of statisticians will be hunkered around a laptop in attempt to explain why the stats lied. They needn’t bother. They’d be better off reading the back page of the Sun!