After the excitement of the Summer Olympics, back to the drudgery of the football season. That's right, the drudgery. And what's killed the game's romance? Certainly the big money involved, which has made shock results less frequent, has had a part to play. But more than that has been the rise of tedious statistics, turning the game of the people into the game of the pub bore.
Last year, we can tell you, thanks to the guiding light that is Opta Sportsdata, that Robin Van Persie was the Premier League's "top shooter", with 132 digs on goal, Ashley Williams of Swansea was the league's "top passer", with 2,474 knocks to his team-mates, Wigan's Victor Moses had the most dribbles and runs (247), Bolton's Martin Petrov sent in the most crosses (283), Spurs' Emmanuel Adebayor was caught offside more than anyone else, 51 times, and Grant Holt of Norwich committed the most fouls (82).
Now, that might well be of interest to your average gambler, who could bet on any or all of those statistics – but it doesn't tell the whole story. How many of Williams' passes, for instance, travelled just a yard and how many were spectacular, perceptive, crowd-pleasing balls? Was Holt particularly dirty – or was he actually just a typical British centre-forward who puts himself about a bit?
Beyond gambling, all these stats are useful for is to feed those people who tell you one of your team's most miserable players is great, because the TV coverage revealed they shuttled around for 10.2km over the course of a game.
We all know there are lies, damned lies and clichés, but the beauty of sport – even a sport whose results are all too often hamstrung by the money involved – is its unpredictability. What was so exciting about the 2012 Games, for instance, was learning that canoe sprint, say, was even a thing – and that we were good at it. So the very idea that a fluid game could boil down to percentages, spreadsheets and ratios rather than fleeting moments of genius is just too disheartening to contemplate for more than 90 seconds, let alone 90 minutes.
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