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Analysis over numbers, goals before statistics

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Tim Vickery | 11:24 UK time, Monday, 12 January 2009

Reader Bill Foley sent in the following question: "With regard to your recent piece on the superiority of European leagues v South American, does today's IFFHS stats not dent your argument quite a bit with [in a ranking of the world's strongest leagues] Argentina third and Brazil fifth?"

I think the biggest dent is in the brains of those responsible for such nonsense. Both countries have been placed too high - almost all their top players in their prime are in Europe, leaving the domestic game with youngsters on the way up, veterans on the way down and journeymen in between.

On top of that, the idea that Argentina's league is superior to Brazil's lacks credibility (and the idea that the Argentine league is better than Spain's defies all sanity). Check the facts - since the expansion of the Copa Libertadores, the continent's Champions League equivalent, in 2000, eight clubs from Brazil have reached the final, while Boca Juniors are the only team from Argentina to have done so.

Andres D'Alessandro, Internacional (red); Alvaro Gonzalez, Boca Juniors (navy)

This difference is not hard to explain. Brazil's population is almost five times bigger than Argentina's, so it has more strength in depth and finds it relatively easier to replace the players it sells abroad.

Meanwhile, the same ranking list has the Peruvian league in 15th place, and anyone acquainted with the weakness of contemporary Peruvian football will relish the nonsense of this. South American football only has 10 countries, and the Peruvian league would struggle to come 15th even there!

This ranking-ism - the desire to turn everything into a bogus statistic - is a scourge of the modern game.

A few months ago I contributed to a feature in World Soccer magazine on the world's 50 top derbies. I sent in copy on the South American clashes, other journalists did the same from other continents and the production staff in London decided on an order for them.

I thought it was a fascinating piece. It taught me much about social rifts around the globe and how they are reflected in football.

But when I saw how it was being debated on websites I was disappointed - there seemed to be no discussion on the content, and lots of rows and complaints of the type that game 42 was much more important than 27, and so on. A triumph for numbers over analysis.

This can also extend to the action on the field. There have been many times in the Maracana stadium when I have been sitting next to the team collecting match statistics. "Accurate pass by the number 5," the team leader would call out, though the ball had been blasted calf-height on the recipient's wrong foot, keeping the play so tight that loss of possession was inevitable, or "inaccurate pass by the number 8," after he had played an inspired ball inside the opposing full -back which might have set up a chance if his team-mate had been bright enough to read it.

Witnessing the match stats being compiled has made me acutely aware of their limitations. Football is too fluid for the rigidity of the statistical mind. Has the ball been used well? This depends, surely, on the situation of the game, the zone of the pitch - on considerations that cannot be reduced to a statistic.

If football were just numbers it would be bingo, and would not have become such a global passion. Even football's key statistic - goals - are not the be all and end all. It is often said that no one remembers who came second, but it's not true. The likes of Hungary in 1954 and Holland 20 years later lost World Cup finals, but their teams are still remembered fondly. Brazil didn't even make the semis in 1982 - but there are many all over the world that fell in love with football after seeing the beauty of the play from Socrates, Zico, Falcao etc.

Football is never just about what you do. It's also about how you do it - and that is a difficult concept to stick a number on.

Comments on his piece in the space provided. Any other questions on South American football to, and I'll pick out a couple for next week.

From last week's postbag:

I remember an article you wrote a couple of years ago about Fernando Redondo retiring and how this marked the end of an era with the "number five" Argentina shirt. Do you consider Mascherano - in my opinion the best ball playing defensive midfielder in the world right now - to be a worthy heir? How highly is he rated in Argentina, where I assume this position is under severe scrutiny given the players who have performed this role in the past?
Ben Entwistle

The ball-playing central midfielder is still present in Argentine football culture. Perhaps the heir to Redondo is Fernando Gago, and Maradona has, correctly in my view, identified the Mascherano-Gago partnership as crucial to the national side he is building.
Six years ago I picked out Mascherano in World Soccer magazine as one of the stars of the 2003 South American Under-20 Championships. He hadn't played a senior game for River Plate at the time, but it was clear that he had an immense future - sound positioning, tough tackling, crisp passing, and he came up big in the most important games. His progress - and I share your assessment of him - hasn't surprised me at all.
In terms of his status back home, it's probably sufficient to say that one of Maradona's first tasks as Argentina coach was to persuade him to take on the captaincy.

In the last few months I saw Coritiba's Keirrison linked with the likes of Barcelona, Valencia and my club, Liverpool for a fee upwards of £10m. It seemed almost certain that after leading the Serie A scoring charts in 2008 he would move on to Europe, so I was surprised to see that he has instead moved on to Desportivo Brasil, a team who despite my interest in Brazilian Football, I have never heard of; he has since been loaned out to Palmeiras. My question is how did he end up spurning Europe for Desportivo Brasil? And while I agree it might not have been the right time for Europe, do you think he has made the right decision in leaving Coritiba?
Trevor Carey

As I understand it, the loan deal to Palmeiras has not yet been finalised. If it goes through I think it's the right move for him at this point. He's a 20-year-old centre forward who had an excellent season with Coritiba. He's strongly built and finishes well on his right foot. But he's raw, his build-up play is poor, and his left foot needs work. I don't see him as ready for Europe. With Palmeiras he'll be playing in the Copa Libertadores, plus the Sao Paulo state championship - a much higher level of football than if he stays with Coritiba.
Desportivo Brasil are part of a new development in Brazilian football - investors starting their own clubs. They are owned by sports marketing company Traffic, who are now looking to make money on player sales. Keirrison will never play for them - they only go as far as Under-20 football - but they own his registration and will hope to cash in when he does move to Europe.


  • Comment number 1.

    Tim, Do you think the idea of clubs being owed by sports management groups such as the Desportivo Brasil/Traffic in your blog, Will weaken or even in the long term ruin/kill off the game in South America?

  • Comment number 2.

    Hi Phil, is there any chance you could print the list in full so we can see who the IFFHS ranks top and bottom? Is there any way you could let us know how they score each league and what the ranking are based on?

    Thanks and great article as usual!!

  • Comment number 3.

    Tim have you seen their club world ranking with Estudiantes as the world's 8th best team? from what I saw of them they seemed to rely heavily on one man

    Do you think this love of statistics has come from American sport as football has tried to improve itself by learning from other sports?

  • Comment number 4.

    Another good and insightful blog from Tim.

    Regarding the IFFHS's top leagues list, having looked at the website there is no explaination as to what the stats are based on or anything to say they got their top 5 leagues, either that or the website is just badly laid out and i have no patience with badly made websites.

    Statistics can sometimes prove alot, but football, no matter how many worthwhile statistics you throw to an average fan, will always be based on opinion and bias towards your team and country and the players that represent them. You just need to look at the 606 boards to recognised that.

  • Comment number 5.

    A great article Tim!

    I have to agree with you on how statistics are taking over, though I think they can provide a great source of debate, but when it comes to ranking local derbies for a magazine, its a pointless exercise. I would prefer "the 50 best derbies in the world (in no partricular order)!

    Whats your opinion on stats being used in football management tim?

    For me it seems an increasingly large tool used by managers, particually the newer breed (allardyce, hughes, maclaren et al.) But the manager that keeps on rising to the top, sir alex, seems to play it by his feeling, rather than what the numbers are saying. Case in point against chelsea, he started Giggs in the centre when everyone else thought Carrick or Scholes would be preferred.

  • Comment number 6.

    More Good Stuff as per usual Tim,

    I totally agree with the point that football is a game that cant really be told via stats, as its far too much about fuidity, imagination and enterprise, aswell as the fact to see things and be clever enough to play the killer pass even if the other player isnt on the same wave-length to get on the end of it?!
    even the likes of the normal stats used, i.e shots on target, shots off target, possesion, fouls for and against dont alwys tell the full story of a game?!
    on the question of so called "sports investors" buying up young players to cash in on them when they are older, I believe is a very dodgy and crooked business that can only lead to corruption and badness in our beautiful game, it needs to be stopped, and measures put in place to prevent these kind of "crooks"(for want of a better word) exploiting young footballers for their own gain?! even more so than people say actually football clubs do?!
    obviously the stand out case being Carlos Tevez and the whole circus surrounding him and his transfer?!

    I would love to hear your thoughts on them and the stigma surroung their buying up and selling of of young players?!

    surely it cant even be long before, bribery from these "sports investors" soon involves them forcefully making a player sign for them/their club, its seems inevitavbly that this will happen?! in say....a mafia style way maybe???

  • Comment number 7.

    I'm reminded of the quote from Danny Blanchflower, which features in the fantastic book "The Ball is Round: A Global History of Football" by David Goldblatt:

    "The Great fallacy is that the game is first and foremost about winning. It's nothing of the kind. The game is about glory. It is about doing things in style, with a flourish, about going out to beat the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom"

  • Comment number 8.

    Hi Tim
    Player for player in the Libertadores, the Brazilian Serie A might be stronger than Argentina Primera but I think the Argentine league ia better package to watch for skill and a tight league with entertaiing games. Given the amazing finish to the season jusrt a few weeks ago, I was suprised you have not covered this in one of your articles.

  • Comment number 9.

    Great Blog Tim

    i have to agree with JohnBarnesfreekick - that the love of statistics is definately an american thing.

  • Comment number 10.

    Great, great blog. Enjoyed reading it a lot. I'd agree that statistics obviously don't show everything, but think they are both useful and interesting for fans to look at and/or debate.

    As for the sports investors coming into the game, it's becoming scary. The whole Tevez affair has highlighted how much more football is becoming business-like. What would happen if Sheffield United get their compensation? Could set a big precedent

  • Comment number 11.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 12.

    Very very good article Tim.

    Re: gerry_guk (post 7) I've personally though always found it very arrogant when people tell me how the game 'should' be played. As long as it is being played within the rules then it is the right way. I'm all for quality ball-on-the-ground football, but I also love seeing a team scrape a 1-0 win against supposidly much better opponants. It makes the game unpredictable. Would football not be abit boring if the technically better team won 99.99% of the time? If people want that sort of thing they should follow Rugby.

  • Comment number 13.

    Liverpool Vs Everton didn't even make that list!

    It also contained Liverpool Vs United.. That isn't a derby, that's a rivalry. Poor list.

  • Comment number 14.

    Hi Tim,
    I love your posts and eagerly wait for them after going through the latest one. Thanks for your blog!

    I completely agree with your comments about how statistics is being used in football these days. I'm a physicist and am passionate about this wonderful game. To emphasize your point, even such an exact science as physics is, statistics is being used with so much care and thought. Even then we make mistakes every now and then. Numbers can produce so much nonsense if seen in the 'wrong' perspective. Two events can only be compared if, a physicist will say, "all other conditions are same in the two comparing events" which is almost impossible to find in two football matches let alone in two leagues in two different countries. Alas, this comparisons are designed to create nonsense debates among readers and ultimtely to sell the news!

  • Comment number 15.

    post 8 - i didn't over the finish of the Argentine championship because it co-incided with the Club World Championship, a competition which needs as big a push to a British audience as possible.

    The irony of the Argentina thing was that Boca won the play-off on goal difference - if goal difference had been used at the end of the conventional season then San Lorenzo would have been champion, and there would have been no need for a play-off.

  • Comment number 16.

    very intereting read Tim - absolutely top drawer this week mate!

    the statistics issue is a good one - ironically it was the "purist" Brazilian football that had the big statistical push on player anaysis and everything that the modern "data trend" has grown Tim has writen about before!

    I completely agree that statistics are very 1 dimensional and that they can be heavily manipulated and/or flawed

    That said - there are very useful things that can be learnt from statistics in football - just ask Big Sam and his ex-Bolton side, i can remember an interview once when he stated that x% of goals are scored from crosses into the box, x from long ball knock downs, second ball etc, he also said about how it was proven that the most successful teams were statistically more likely to be better at winning he ball back... etc, etc...

    on to the "ownership" issue - it is time that FIFA stopped this ownership of players by anyone who is not a legitimate professional football club...can anyone tell me why Man U are allowed to play Tevez and West Ham weren't??? i don't get it???

  • Comment number 17.

    statistics are a tool that can be used to compliment a managers views. They are however only as good as the person who compiles them and the manager that interprets them.

    A good analyst should work with the manager and know what the coach requires to help him analyse a game. He should know what the manager recognises as a good and bad pass and compile the statistics to reflect that.

    A good manager has also seen the game and will also have video evidence at his disposal and his subjective view of the game rather than mere numbers and will understand how these can be best interpreted. I have met managers who saw bottom line numbers as the be all and end all of life on the pitch but I cant say these were the ones I considered good managers.

  • Comment number 18.

    Superb again Tim!

    Statistics can say anything you want them to by choosing to use or ignore the different information.

  • Comment number 19.

    A brilliantly inquisitive article. I have never given it that much thought but you are spot on, too much is placed on statistics to tell us about a player or club. And what u say about the accurate passing etc is a very good point, a lot of the best footballing minds will have lesser statistics due to the fact that they are more intelligent than their peers and their passes might not get read as intended.

    Also Tim, i wanna know what you think of a player called Christian Benavente, i think hes from Peru

  • Comment number 20.

    Tim, you were very kind to Ben Entwistle but I have to say...did Ben never see Fernando Redondo play?

    To suggest that Mascherano is Redondo's 'heir' is ludicrous. Their style of play is very different.

    Comparing Mascherano to Redondo is akin to comparing David Batty and Glenn Hoddle, in my opinion.

  • Comment number 21.

    I agree that the style of play is different, but the zone of the field they operate in similar, and in different ways they have the capacity to exert a massive influence on the game.

    I'm with Maradona on the Macherano-Gago combination. In fact I think that the biggest problem that Alfio Basile (previous Argentina coach) had towards the end of his reign was that because of either injuries or suspensions he was rarely able to pick the pair of them - one or the other was out.

    Looking further back, Gallego and Ardiles was a good combination - one to hold, the other to pass and move.

  • Comment number 22.

    Hi Tim
    This is a great subject, and I enjoyed your blog. I can see from the response that many people agree with your position on statistics. A a Brit living in Canada for 5 years, I have come to appreciate the usefulness of some statistics, and recognise the irrelevance of others. In North American sport as you know, stats are everywhere.
    I wonder if you believe ALL statistics to be of no use, or, like me, believe that you can learn a lot about a players strengths and weaknesses from stats?
    Using your example of misplaced pass- in the long run, the player who gives the ball away will show up with the accumulation of data, while the player who makes "inspired" passes to nobody, is not really contributing.

  • Comment number 23.

    as others have pointed out, the enemy is the statistic without interpretation.

    In accordance with the example used in the piece, the man who is respnsible for giving the ball away is the one who played the hospital ball, not the unfortunate one who received it.
    And in the second instance, the fault lies wit the player who did not make the correct run - but these are not statistical truths. They result from an analysis of the play - which is, of course, open to debate.

  • Comment number 24.

    I have to agree with comment number 20 Tim.. I think you are being too kind to Mr Mascherano.. He falls short in my book of industrious holding midfielders.. Andrea Pirlo being the best example of a defensive minded midfielder who can also play the game in the artistic way it deserves.. a latecomer in the shape of Marcos Senna also shows the ability to play.. I think Mascherano is too like Makelele for me.. he is a master at giving away meaningless fouls on the half way line that dont usually get punished but ulitmately stop the game and stop the opposing team attacking.

    With all the problems the Premiership is having with teams playing 1 up front and attacking not always being the driving force of a game, I just think this type of player can destroy and nullify a game at times.

  • Comment number 25.

    Here's a great 'statistic' that makes no sense, Tim: In the 2007 Copa América Final, Argentina had 61% possession. Brazil won 3-0.

    Is it true that Maradona wants Verón to come back? How would the midfield look then?

    My Argentine team now would be: Carrizo - Zanetti, G. Milito, Heinze, Burdisso - Mascherano, Gago, Cambiasso - Messi, D. Milito, Tévez

  • Comment number 26.

    Agree with SugarDunkerton's comment that Mascherano is overated. But I dont think Pirlo is the best example of a defensive minded midfielder.
    Andrea Pirlo is a fantastic player for creative passes, but Gattuso does the majority of the defensive graft for him with Milan and Italy.

  • Comment number 27.

    I have to disagree with post 24, Mascherano is not just a player that destroys and nullifies the game, he has more ability than what most people think, and has been known (in Argentina at least) of scoring some outstanding goals, although i must admit not very often. I believe he has more skill thank Makelele in terms of passing and attacking abilities but I might be bias about the subject being from Argentina!

    Great blog Tim it's a shame you didnt get a chance to discuss the Argentine tournament final due to the CWC at the time!

  • Comment number 28.

    If you're after any further evidence of the ridiculousness of the IFHSS table, the Irish league (it's not bad, but not exactly amazing) is ranked above Poland, Bulgaria and Belarus (whose champions did rather well in the CL group stage this season). I hope your WFF friend Mr Wheelock doesn't set too much stall by it either Tim; MLS is ranked in 77th, below such football behemoths as Yemen...

  • Comment number 29.

    If football were just numbers, it would be cricket

  • Comment number 30.

    Hi Tim.
    I remember an article you wrote a while back and you mentioned about how it's not easy for Brasilian clubs to keep great players.

    So It captures my attention on why Sao Paulo have been able to keep quality players such as Hernanes, Dagoberto and Miranda (João Miranda de Souza Filho)?
    I believe Hernanes was once linked with AC Milan.
    Are Sao Paulo an example to all other teams in the Brasilian Serie A league?

  • Comment number 31.

    post 25 - Maradona says that either Riquelme or Veron should play, and may experiment with a back 3 in order to accomodate them.

  • Comment number 32.

    Miranda has had one spell in Europe and will surely return - Hernanes will be on his way before too long (after this year's Libertadores would be the perfect time)and Dagoberto has been injury hit and has reached mid 20s without really moving from promise to reality. Maybe this season.

    Sao Paulo love to present themsleves an exception - a well run club in the disorgnised context of Brazilian football.

    Their model is clear - they are investing in youth development in order to sell potential great players, and thus finance a squad of good and ordinary ones, some of whom have come back from Europe.

  • Comment number 33.

    I love the quote "Statistics are like mini-skirts: they give you good ideas but hide the most important thing".. Very true it is!

    I'm a subscriber to World Soccer and i thought the 50 Greatest Derbies feature was fantastic and agree that in terms of cultural/social significance many games people have never heard of such as the Al Ahly-Zamalek rivalry is a "bigger" derby than Man Utd-Chelsea or a similar such game. However Tim, being a Cardiff fan i was disappointed that Cardiff v Swansea was overlooked!

  • Comment number 34.

    Tim, I was wondering if you could tell me more about Humberto Suazo the Chilean striker playing for Monterray in Mexico. He has a very impressive goal scoring record back in Chile and everytime I have watched Chile I have been very impressed by him. I heard a rumour a while back that he could be coming to europe soon is this true? He certainly looks like the British game would be perfect for his style

  • Comment number 35.

    Considering the reliance of managers such as Wenger on stats I think it's safe to say that they do provide some insights on the sport if not all. Some are terrible though, the one I hate most is the "Barcelona have only ever lost twice when Eto'o scored first" kinda ones, I mean what does that mean?

    Tim's point about the stats used in football (pass completian etc.) are a good point and I was just wandering if anyone else heard about plans to apply famous baseball statistician Bill James' sabermetric stats ideas to football. Seeing as they do more to take in to account the effect of overall team play when a player is on the pitch they sound like they could be the way forward.

  • Comment number 36.


    In terms of the strongest leagues i think thats a very subjective topic.

    I was lucky enough to see the Nacional V Penarol Derby in Montevideo in 2001. Thats certainly not for the weak hearted thats for sure, although im sure the Uruguayan league isnt ranked in the Top 20.

    I think that a lot of South American leagues (take Uruguay for instance) is on par with the Scottish Premier. Two teams of history (as above) with others eg Danubio following behind.

  • Comment number 37.

    I very much agree with your assessment on the idea of being able to use statistics to assess games. Even the most basic of statistics: the result in terms of goals, can often give a false impression of a match. As you say yourself football 'is never just a matter of what you do. It's a matter of how you do it'.

    I feel strongly that the quality of a team's play is more important than their results since that quality will always eventually shine through even if they happen to have a few poor results in the meantime through relative unluckiness. It's so hard to be able to break a match down into statistics and really give a true impression of what it was like and the quality of play involved.

  • Comment number 38.


    you mentioned the type of arguments that developed on messageboards regarding the WorldSoccer greatest derbies. This is the article I posted on this:

    I think it pretty much sums up your point about it getting bogged down by people saying such-and-such a game is more important than another game.

    I agree that it was a fascinating piece and gave me a great insight into a number of fantastic rivalries, particularly the Al Ahly-Zamalek game.

  • Comment number 39.

    Hello Tim,

    I have recently returned from Brazil where I spent 18 months. Whilst there I followed Flamengo and regularly watched their games at the Maracana. I have noticed your column since returning to the UK and read it regularly.

    I was just wondering how you got into your job in South American football. Is it something you can get into without a university education?

    Many Thanks

  • Comment number 40.

    No question, just wanted to comment on what a well thought out and well argued article this was, keep up the fantastic work Tim.

  • Comment number 41.

    I live in argentina and i watch several games a week live.
    I like your blog and your work on the radio but i do find you a bit biased towards brazil and against argentina at times, perhaps understandable seeing as you ive in brazil.
    I find it strange that you correctly point out the problem of using stats to prove a football theory but then use a very narrow one to show the superiority of brazilian clubs over argentine ones in the libertadores. You could just as easily use different numbers to show the superiority of argentine clubs in recent continental tournaments.
    Personally i think the two leagues are evenly matched and obviously overrated by the IFFHS.

  • Comment number 42.

    41 - I enjoyed the accusation that i'm biased towards Brazil and against Argentina.

    I'm usually accused of being exactly the opposite, so if I'm being attacked from both sides I'll take that as proof of being even handed!

    I don't know any other way of measuring realtive strength apart from performance in the Libertadores - no self respecting method should ever take the Sudamericana into consideration.

    If anything, my cut off point (2000) was kind to Argentina - I chose it because it was the year that the competition was exanded. Roll it back a couple of years and you have Vasco winning in 98 and Cruzeiro in 97 - so 10 Brazilian clubs to 1 Argentine reaching the final - if that doesn't suggest greater strength in depth then I don't know what does.

  • Comment number 43.

    Tim, yesterday Andy Gray and Dermot Gallagher were raving about the free kick spray that the referees are using in the Argentine second division and said it should be used in England. Hasn't this been used in Brazil for a few years now?

  • Comment number 44.

    Gago as the heir to Redondo, I have heard that many times, I do not think any player can ever replace Redondo but Gago is a talent. It is a shame that he did not get along with Passarella and he refused to cut his hair for the 98 WC. The funny thing is he wanted Batistuta to cut his as well but he never did and still went along for the trip. I can only dream what could of happened if Redondo took that trip. But I have to agree that the Mascherano-Gago 1-2 has to be in full force if Argentina want to go far in SA.

    I had a question and I was wondering if you can sheed some light on it. I am hearing a lot about this prodigy Erik Lamela who will make the first team of River this season and only 16 years of age. Is he the next big thing coming out of Argentina? I heard Barcelona tried to buy him when he was 12 and were willing to pay tons of money for his services.

  • Comment number 45.

    Please don't take it as an attack Tim!

    As I said, in a blog outlining the downside of using stats to prove a theory it just seemed out of place to use one yourself!

    I saw several Brazilian teams playing in Argentina in 2008 and thought they were pretty level with local teams.

    How do you measure 2 leagues against each other? By the best teams, the average, the worst? It's hard and there is no definitive answer.

    Anyway, enjoy the under20s tournament, look out for the Racing midfielder Franco Zuculini and particularly the Lanús forward Eduardo Salvio, he's only played 8-10 first team games but i really like the look of him.

    To JohnBarnes above - my team, Chacarita, plays in the argentine 2nd division. The spray works fairly well but youre right, i remember seeing it used when i was in brazil in 2003.

  • Comment number 46.

    Whilst I take your point Tim about a lot of Argentines and Brasilians playing in Europe weakens the leagues. I think both leagues remain very strong.The Libertadores statistic is on the surface damning but Argentina clubs have still won many more Libertadores than Brasils and in this decade have dominated the Copa Sudamericana(Mercosur)Also Argentina has won 5 World youth cups since 1995 with i think almost 50 of them playing still in Argentina.What other league can state this

  • Comment number 47.

    Keirrison's contract with Coritiba ends only in April, and so far Palmeiras and/or TRAFFIC have failed to make a good enough bid to get the player before that.

    So, if nothing changes in the next weeks, Keirrison won't be playing for Palmeiras at Libertadores or São Paulo state championship.

    I really hope he leaves Coritiba in april and goes directly to Europe, there's no need for him to play for Palmeiras before that.

    And if he's not ready yet to play for a top team, he can first be sent to a another club, to get experience. Like Inter did with Adriano when he first arrived Milan, sending him to Parma, or Barcelona is doing with Henrique (another good player that came from Coritiba), who is now playing at Bayer Leverkusen.

  • Comment number 48.

    and who sold Henrique to Barcelona? Our new friends Desportivo Brasil

  • Comment number 49.

    yeah but at the same time his career could take a huge down spiral that comes with lack of first team playing and he would eventually disseappear into the forgotten player smog that is the european club reserve teams. good on him for staying in brasil, and playing for palmeiras will definatly help his game and in the long run be a lot more profitable for him playing and money wise!

  • Comment number 50.

    also about the numbers side of sport... the match time analysise you were talking about makes me mad! the only numbers important are the goals scored!!
    i am in brasil for a year and i am facinated by the league here, and the rivalries between clubs (palmeiras x corinthains, flamengo x botafogo) and i am definatly looking forward to libertadores...
    any idea where i can find a good website with info on the libertadores?
    in português or english doesnt bother me

  • Comment number 51.

    Great blog as usual tim

    Just wanted to know what you know about martin galvan think he's only 17 playing for cruz azul tipped as a superstar haven't heard much though. And andres guardado heard about him a year or so ago go playing for chivas I think has he just not progressed? And I dunno what's happened to gio dos santos , you think redknapp will give him a chance??

  • Comment number 52.

    "Football is too fluid for the rigidity of the statistical mind" - Well said Tim.

    It is always a joy to read all that you write about the beautiful game. Thanks.

    Dr. Cajetan Coelho

  • Comment number 53.

    I was watching highlights of Manchester Uniteds successful Club World Cup win against LCD Quito whilst I was on nights last week. I can remember you highlighted a few players that they would miss due to their transfers to other clubs.

    One player who did catch my eye, was their Argentinian (I think) midfielder, Manso.
    My memory is a bit hazy, but I think there used to be a Manso who plied his trade in the Spanish leagues. Is this the same player, and, if it isn't, can you tell us a bit more about him.



  • Comment number 54.

    To quote the great Homer Simpson: "You can prove anything with stats, 30% of people know that."

    People may moan about stats but I can't remember the amount of debates with my mates in the pub when we've been using stats trying to prove each other wrong!

    I would miss the day when I couldn't see what percentage of passes Giggs made against Chelsea for example

  • Comment number 55.

    Great article and very true measuring the worlds great leagues is for sure very difficult and should be measure on the following formula:

    Points for the worlds best players competing in the league + average attendances + continental competative finishes + points for the worlds top managers + total club value + television audience statistics + total value of sponsorship = the best league

  • Comment number 56.

    Gunner-do-you-all, the link to the IFFHS site is below. The page is the list of the top 100 leagues that Tim wrote about above. They also have a section on how they award points for their different lists.

  • Comment number 57.

    Finally people who agree with me on the use of statistics in sport!

    My dad would always be watching test cricket and tell me this player should be in the team because he has a good average, this player is the best fielder because he's taken the most catches etc.

    I tried for hours to convince him that sport, like human life, is a qualitative subject. The batting average doesn't take into account opponents, match situation etc. A quick 60 not out when coming in at 500-3, with no pressure will up the average, but a grinding half century when your team is under pressure against top opposition is surely more worthy?

  • Comment number 58.

    Great blog Tim, and i fully agree on the use of stats in football. A quick question for you, have you heard of a young brazilian forward called walter? I saw him playing for a youth team when i was abroad, i think he plays for internacional, I was just wondering what you thought of him, if you knew him as from what i saw he looked like a decent striker.


  • Comment number 59.

    Well done Tim.

    A relief to hear your sane words when so many sports writers revel in statistics. Most people are satisfied to recognise if Ronaldo looks a bit out of sorts today without having to resort to looking up the proof on the OPTICA/Sky 'Percentage completion of offensive assists' Chart to see that he has fallen from 97.25% to 96.88%.

    Having said that, I am a statistician and enjoy gazing at the Sunday papers intent on proving that facts and figures mean nothing. Every 10 minutes I will bore anyone listening with something along the lines of "who do you think has conceded fewer goals Championship, leaders Wolves or second to bottom Doncaster?"

  • Comment number 60.

    re Keirrison

    The last i'd heard on this was that the european leagues view despotivo brazil/traffic as a third party owner.

    As such any potential suitors would have to be wary due to the still ongoing 'Tevez/Masch' situation.

    I'd also heard about a precontract arrangement with palmeiras for when his coritiba ends, and that was another reason why he wouldn't be making the trip to europe in this window.

    If any of this is true i don't know but certainly seems feasible.

  • Comment number 61.

    Hello Tim,

    Very good your argumentation on not limit football analysis in a pure statistical basis. Well done.

    Let me complement your answer about Keirison move to Desportivo Brasil. It might become clearer to the fellow that posted the question. According to the Brazilian law, football players federative rights cannot be simply owned by investors' groups. They need to be related to a football club. So that as you implictly explained this Desportivo Brasil is nothing else than a manner for Traffic performing its business buying and selling players.

    Best regards.

  • Comment number 62.

    As much as I like the Argentine league only a madman would describe it as 'better' than La Liga. Stats cover a multitude of sins and can almost be moulded to fit any argument you care to have.

    One thing though - when South American players come to the UK there is always a doubt about them being able to handle the physicality of the game over here. Complete bull - have you seen the industrial challenges in Argentina and Brazil? They are as hard as nails.

  • Comment number 63.


    Just wanted to add my voice to that of your numerous other readers on this blog and compliment you on another great read.

    With the football media being dominated by so many attention-grabbing headlines and articles that just seem to rely on stirring up rumours and controversy (particularly this time of year!), it's a pleasure to keep coming back to this space in the knowledge of finding well-researched and interesting articles.

    Thanks and keep up the good work!

  • Comment number 64.

    I've never spoken to a South American who has been based in England - or seen interviews with one who hasn't reamrked on the physicality of the English game - it's not a question of blood curdling fouls, it's a question of extra pace in reduced space leading to increased physical contact.

  • Comment number 65.

    Hey Tim

    I'm Spanish and like to follow a bit South American football , specially the Brazilian and Argentinian. I think both leagues are great but they're so much underrated.
    Unfortunately the clubs can't hold their players, basically all clubs have politics to sell players end of season to recovery the financier sector or not they'll close the doors.
    So i'd like to know where would put Brazilian and Argentinian leagues in that ranking by IFFHS not basing 100% on numbers
    In my opinion surely on top 10 , because there is no way to Portuguese , Turkish , Ukrainian , Greek etc... leagues to be better than them.

  • Comment number 66.

    I agree the quality is good and entertainment very good and both leagues particularly Argentinas very competitive 9 champions this decade even allowing for 2 c/ships each year.
    Damian Manso was a fantastic young talent at Newells Old Boys making his debut at 16 in 96 when the league was even stronger than now in the era 0f 1 peso 1 dollar.he played some games for Jose Pekermans Argentina youth teams and moved to Bastia in France where he had a serious knee injury returned to Newells then to Independiente back to Newells when with Ariel Ortega and Fernando Belluschi and co he won the Apertura title in 04.after this he played in Greece before Edgardo Bauza resurected his career with Liga where he has been outstanding.

  • Comment number 67.

    It's completely true that using numbers in free-flowing games with few interruptions like football is a weak and often unneccesary method of analysis. However, their usage is only indicative of a wider decline in football analysis in general. This blog is one of the few sources of serious non-partisan comment on football. The English media is particularly poor, hiring ex-mediocre English players, who added little grace on the field, as pundidiots or, even worse, managers, in which roles they replicate their inane and naive playing styles.

    It would be lovely if a consequence of the credit crunch was a few redundancies in this section and an end to the league stifling talent drain in South America. This would mean a player like Lucas at my club Liverpool would be able to illuminate a Brazilian league rather than have his performance unfairly hammered beacause he was foreign, young and learning.

  • Comment number 68.

    Well Said Juderiley Lucas was terrific at Gremio and in some games recently has begun to show his true potential thanks to Benitez knowledge not the pundits.Imagine at West Ham Mascherano and Teves originally were left on the bench constantly.
    England and indeed the British isles remain an area which is very dificult for South American players as the adaptation process is so dificult which is of course the principal reason that Cristiano Ronaldo is the FIRST player from that league to win FIFA player of the year

  • Comment number 69.

    Vickery, I agree with 97.4% of what you have said about statistics.

    According to a recent survey, exactly 98.45% of football statisticians "lack all grasp of aesthetic beauty".

    To my mind, these number-crunchers aren't very far removed from people who describe football as "jusr 22 men kicking a pig bladder around".

    Of course, football can be reduced to that, just as it can be translated into a set of numbers.

    But that's true of everything in life. You could describe the House of Commons as 600 people opening and closing their mouths all day.

    The fact that those 600 people can declare war or over-tax the poor or whatever wouldn't really seem to matter...

    A recent survey proved that I was 100% correct about all these views, so I'd prefer it if nobody bothered to argue with me on this.

  • Comment number 70.

    Wonderful blog Tim. I enjoy world football and your blog is pretty much the only way I can keep up with goings-on in South America.

    To post 38, I had a read of your article about the top 50 world clashes/derbies. I have to say that it was quite sad to read people (narrow minded Premier League fans by the looks of it) dismissing African/Asian/American football as being insignificant compared to English football. Such people have no appreciation for the game itself but are more interested in chest-thumping and gloating about how they are fans of the world's greatest "product".

  • Comment number 71.

    P.S. I liked your closing comment on this week's edition of World Football phone-in on 5live

    I don't however approve of your support for THFC


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