Goalscorers / Conversions

Nothing in football is as overrated as a goalscorer.

This is a truism within the game but something which supporters – and the pundits who pander to them – steadfastly refuse to acknowledge. In short: Goalscorers do not score goals, teams do.

A goalscorer is a part of that team for sure but not one who is more valuable than the other parts in the process of scoring goals. The centre forward could not head the cross in were the cross not made by the winger who needed the through ball from the central midfielder. A classic economic mistake is to overvalue towards the end of a production chain and football excels in doing that.

We can all recall the goalscorer who filled his boots at one club, moved, and found that goals dried up. The idea that signing a goalscorer will add thirty to the Goals Scored column is an obvious myth.

This leads us to one of footballers darkly comic stories. Manchester United manager Dave Sexton signed Nottingham Forest’s Garry Birtles for £1.25m in the early 1980s after Birtles had started the season with six goals in nine games for Clough’s side.

Sexton played Birtles twenty five times for the remainder of the season and Birtles did not score once which was an embarrassment for Sexton that got worse when – following their release from six months captivity at the hands of Radical Islamists in Tehran – one released former captivee started his statement to the world’s media with the words “Has Garry Birtles scored yet?”

He had not. But he would do. In Birtles first season United scored fifty-one. The season after Birtles got eleven of fifty-nine but ended up back at Forest the season after.

Sexton’s assumption – that he could buy Birtles the finisher of Nottingham Forest’s play and get Birtles’ goals – is both wrong and regnant. The team creates goals which the score’s name is (sometimes more than others) arbitrarily attached to.

Premier League 2015/2016 scorers ordered by percentage of teams goals.

  1. Ighalo – 15 goals of 40 – 37.50%
  2. Kane – 25 goals of 69 – 36.23%
  3. Vardy – 24 goals of 68 – 35.29%
  4. Agüero – 24 goals of 71 – 33.80%
  5. Deeney – 13 goals of 40 – 32.50%
  6. Defoe – 15 goals of 48 – 31.25%
  7. Lukaku – 18 goals of 59 – 30.51%
  8. Ayew – 12 goals of 42 – 28.57%
  9. Arnautovic – 11 goals of 41 – 26.83%
  10. Sigurdsson – 11 goals of 42 – 26.19%

Consider in the above how Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney both features in the top five for percentage of goals scored by their team. Watford scored forty goals last season, Spurs sixty-nine, but while everyone would expect that Ighalo would score more if he were in the Spurs team few would suggest that if you moved Harry Kane to Watford he would be or should be happy to score few goals (or take fewer corners)

Likewise Jermaine Defoe rightly gets tremendous credit for being a goalscorer for putting in 31% of Sunderland’s goals where as Lukaku is considered to have levelled out having claimed a similar percentage. It seems obvious to suggest that if you put Defoe in the Everton side he would not improve on a personal level (at least in the short term) but he would be expected to score more commensurate with the team scoring more.

Twenty

There is a near obsession with the idea of signing a twenty goal a year striker and not just at Bradford City and this misses the point of what a manager should be looking for in his recruitment. Ighalo scored fifteen goals of forty last season and my contention is that had he been at Spurs he would have got twenty-five of their sixty-nine. These are very good strikers and a very good striker gets 33% of his teams goals. James Hanson – not a goal getter by anyone’s imagination – got 20% of City’s goals last year. Billy Clarke got 7%, Devante Cole 9%, Jamie Proctor 11%. To put this in the context of successful teams with shared out goals Dimitri Payet was West Ham’s top scorer with nine of sixty-five goals which is 14%.

To have a 20 goal a year striker based on last year’s fifty-five goals is to look for someone between Kane and Ighalo on the list above. It is to hope for the extra-ordinary. If we pitch ourselves somewhere between where City were under Parkinson and the performance of Jamie Vardy when we might look at a striker who converts 25% of his teams goals as being a good level of performance then the onus is not on any of the forwards to score more goals but rather on the team as a whole to create more goals. Twenty-five more goals in fact, to take City’s return from fifty-five to eighty.

Teams that score eighty goals or more tend to win leagues which is the conclusion of the lust for a twenty goal a year striker. Twenty goal a year strikers emerge at teams that have exceptional seasons. They are the result of good goalscoring rather than the cause of good goalscoring. Put Harry Kane in a team which is not creating goals and his return will suffer, we all saw that.

If the team creates enough goals then – if they are commensurately good enough – the strikers will score enough goals and teams would be much better looking for ways to increase the total number of goals scored rather than trying to buy in goals Dave Sexton/Garry Birtles style.

Respect / Response

The Football League has a new set of rules to cope with the “unacceptable levels” of “intolerable behaviour” by players and managers in English football.

Ad absurdum these new rules mean that players can be booked for bumping into the Referee but more practically they give the officials the power send players off for swearing at them or insulting them.

Which is unarguable on the surface and few people would suggest that anyone should have to put up with abuse, insults and swearing directed towards them. Of course the Football League is not going to do anything within the context of the laws of the game to prevent players from being the object of this – racist abuse supporters is entirely a Police matter – and when it gets onto the field we they prefer to punish the victim.

The detail is more murky. Reading the list some of the enumerated offences are practically useful to stop match officials from being insulted and abused but, smuggled within those, are offences created to stop players from questioning or disagreeing with decisions.

Take the unclear working “visibly disrespectful behaviour to any match official” and imagine a defender who has seen a forward dive over his withdrawn leg to win a penalty. The double hand swallow dive mime is a direct question to the authority of the Referee who has given the incorrect decision but should it be a yellow card offence? It is now.

As is banging the floor hard when a forward is brought down and believes he should have had a penalty but sees the Referee wave play on. Smash the ground with your fist and of course what you are doing is questioning the Referee’s decision but is that a bad thing?

What is the ethical merit of never questioning Referees? Why is it virtuous for players to accept every decision as correct even when they may know better than the official that it is not? Everyone knows the practical benefits of an unquestioned autocracy but few welcome it in other areas of life.

It is not as if the match officials are never wrong. Ask the better ones and they will tell players they are often wrong but try to be right as often as they can be. Those Referees seem to be the ones which players respect.

Which is, in the end, the root of these new laws. The dual belief that match officials are drowned in a sea of disrespect and a misguided sense of how respect can be forced into players. On the former point one could be excused for thinking that events at Bradford City games are drastically different from the rest of football.

One struggles to remember any significant incidents of abuse of officials worthy of the name at City matches going back years. I’m sure they hear the odd bad word and that some of them are directed at them but nothing that stopped them doing the job as evidenced by the fact that no games descended into chaos or anything similar.

This idea that football is awash with disrespect of officials at the professional level to the point where it is obvious to supporters – and thus that it could make a difference as an example at other levels of football – is not true. Stamp out all disrespect from professional League One football and it would look exactly as it does now, unless you increase the definition of disrespect to include any questioning of a decision.

Which speaks to the idea that respect can be forced into footballers. It cannot.

Questioning a decision – and there are right and wrong ways to do that – is a natural reaction and one that a grown man is allowed to have. Football seems very much concerned with stopping this.

Referees seem very much concerned with stopping this as if stopping anyone showing what they consider to be disrespect means that there is no disrespect and, by extension, that they are respected.

But respect can’t be forced and if anyone in football wants to seriously think about respect as an issue then perhaps they should consider the inherent lack of respect with which football treats the players. They are told not not even think that that the Referee could be wrong.

Referees are not Headmasters. They have the responsibility for enforcing the laws of the game but that is where their role stops. They are not responsible for the behaviour of the players just for enforcing the laws when behaviour transgresses those rules.

From today they can be booked – told off – for banging their fists on the floor in frustration at a wrong decision.

Footballers are treated like children and these new guidelines smuggle in more ways to tell them off for questioning as if they were kids to an demanding father.

Maybe changing that is where respect should start.

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