James Corrigan: Giggs is a great assister to all the stat-counters

The Way I See It: From where has this statistical obsession arisen? It's too easy and tempting to point to America

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The Independent Football

Ryan Giggs may not be much of a brother but he is a wonderful assister. That exposé cannot be challenged or silenced. I have the evidence.

Is there such a word as "assister"? In French there always has been, but thanks to those revolutionary linguists in America, the term is spreading deep into the English vernacular. The "assist" is now a celebrated achievement in football, with Fantasy Football League geeks poring over them and even normal fans hailing their significance.

Let it be known, let it be recorded, let it be passed on through the generations that in setting up Javier Hernandez on Saturday, Giggs notched his 121st assist in the Premier League, extending his lead at the top of the charts to 33 over Frank Lampard.

What does it all mean? Not just who decides what actually qualifies as an "assist" (if a ball bounces off Giggs' arse into Hernandez's path while he's tying his shoelace, does that count?) but what does it actually signify? Of course, you would have to be a fool, or maybe a close relative, to pooh-pooh Giggs' standing as a provider. But nobody can question the quality of strikers he has been passing to over the years.

An assist only qualifies as an assist if it is finished off. Otherwise it's forgotten. It might have been the greatest cross in the history of the game, but if the dolt on the other end has a Fernando moment it is worth nothing in the eyes of the statisticians. But then, it would be worth a mark in Giggs' "touches taken" column. Not that he's leading that category.

Let it be known, let it be recorded etc that the Swansea right-back Angel Rangel extended his lead at the Premier League "most touches" chart in the 11th minute on Saturday. True, it was a fluff which set up Giggs to set up Hernandez, but a touch is still a touch. Did it qualify as an assist as well?

The point is, statistics oversimplify the sport, regardless how ingenious the boffins may be in first devising a category and then providing the measurements to rank this category. Sure, stats have their place, as any manager worthy of his vast back-room staff will testify. They can pick apart the findings of the ProZone and discover who has run up to their optimum distance, who has tackled the most, passed the most and so forth. Sam Allardyce was one of the first to embrace the science while at Bolton and I remember one of his players once moaning to me in an interview: "We haven't only Big Sam looking down on us, we have Big Bloody Brother as well."

But how much do the stats enhance the viewer's experience? The TV execs must believe enormously as they bombard the audience with numbers, like a deranged Johnny Ball with a new calculator. The way it's going, the possession-counter will soon rival the scoreline for airtime. I heard a Manchester United fan saying in the pub the other week: "We had 51 per cent of possession and had seven corners to their four." They had just been beaten 6-1, at home, by Manchester City.

At least, the possession-counter sometimes helps (sorry, "assists") in telling the story. Some of the stats hurtled in our direction are so fatuous as to be grossly insulting. United had never won at Swansea, we were told. An intriguing fact maybe, but totally irrelevant – they hadn't been there in 30 years. Later on MOTD, Gary Lineker revealed that so-and-so and so-and-so had played exactly the same amount of games in their Premier League histories: which presumably teed up the tie perfectly. You'll have to ask him who these teams were as the meaninglessness of the revelation caused my brain's cursor to locate "empty trash".

From where has this statistical obsession arisen? It's too easy, and far too tempting, to point to America. No doubt, the United States of Algorithms have something of a compulsive disorder when it comes to reciting sporting data; but, contrary to public opinion, we don't follow everything they do. We don't play professional baseball, we don't call the FA Cup the World Cup, we don't sprinkle cheese on our cornflakes. Cricket and its mass of figures prove the British sports fan has long been prone to nerdiness. He or she must resist turning football into the same myriad of fractions. We know Swansea pass a lot because we see them doing it. That's it – with our own eyes. We also understand that sometimes, in the elite division, it doesn't and won't do them much good. That's the fun of following football: forming opinions on your own perceptions. Not spouting out computer-generated digits like dutiful robots.

Personally, the only stats I would be interested in knowing are which player tells the ref to eff off the most, which manager whinges about the officials the most and which player is booed the most. But then, Messrs Rooney, Wenger and Barton would probably be vindicated if all that was totted up. Statistics are really no gauge on reality. Give me the damned lies any day.

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