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Gary Neville's FUT Talk: STATS IN COACHING

Posted December 13th at 12:00am.

My honest view is that statistics play an important part in football nowadays. I think that television has really enhanced the information flow that is going through the game. But I think it’s quite dangerous for me personally to use absolute statistics like pass completion or shots off target and shots on target, and then say you’re going to pick an individual based on that alone. There’s always a gut instinct, it’s not a mechanical sport, football.

When signing players there are routine statistics that you would want to know, the most important ones are his games per season ratio, is he reliable. These are the things that will really help in the signing of a player, but then you don’t take into account the mental factors, they don’t factor in the emotional factors.

You might have a player who’s scored 20 goals in 30 games for his club, however he’s going to a completely different league and team with a completely different style of play and culture. Those things can’t be assessed by statistics. The chemistry bonuses you receive in FIFA Ultimate Team for having players from the same league, team or nationality in your squad reflect this.

In terms of using statistics to inform styles of play, English football was set back years by the POMO (Positions of Maximum Opportunity) route that Charles Hughes implemented; the fact that possession football wasn’t important, getting the ball as far forward as quickly as possible, that percentage game of getting the ball in the box. Of course it’s important to get the ball into the opposition’s box as many times as you can, but that’s just one facet of the game.

You’d have to say that United, Arsenal, Chelsea, City in the last 20 years have all been possession football teams. Barcelona winning the European cup, Spain winning the major tournaments in the last few years, have proven that in the modern game possession is a key factor. But there will always be teams who play in different ways. You talk about Tony Pulis’ style, you talk about Greece winning the European Championships. I’m a lover of all styles of football and I do believe that all styles of football can succeed but, I think to say that every team should play the Charles Hughes POMO method is completely wrong and it sets English football back.

Over the course of a 38 game season, again, if you’re playing three games a week without keeping possession of the ball that requires a high level of energy. Mentally and psychologically if you haven’t got the ball that makes it more tiring. People ask, why did Manchester United win so many games in the last three or four minutes of a match? Generally, it was because we kept possession and the opposition’s focus dropped.

The other way that chemistry works in FIFA Ultimate Team mirrors real world football is in boosting the specific attributes of players by applying chemistry styles. For example, a “finisher” chemistry style improves shooting and heading stats, while a “powerhouse” style improves passing and defending. Lot’s of FIFA Ultimate Team players debate whether this should be used to strengthen areas where players already have a high rating, or to combat their weaknesses. In football, from what I’ve seen, when you’re a kid and you’re 16 to 20 you work on all aspects of your game. Then when you get into the cut and thrust of first team you work on things individually.

Players are quite a reactive bunch in first team football , because we’re playing once every three days, and we’re resting and recovering between matches. If you have individual ten to fifteen minute periods on the training pitch you tend to work on areas you need to improve from the previous game, or you work on what you might be tested on most in the next game that’s coming up. Things you’re already doing well you tend to leave and just do during your general practice. But if I’m getting beaten one on one a lot defensively I would then go and work a lot on that the week after. If I’m losing a lot of headers at the back post, I’d then go and work on my headers at the back post. If my crossing was bad I’d go and work on my crossing.

I suppose the player I see the most progression in at the moment, who has improved one aspect of his game and is the form man in the Premier League, is Luis Suarez. For the first year and a half that I was watching him in England, he was very much an individual player, someone that at times would try and beat a whole team on his own. Sometimes it came off but quite often it wouldn’t. What I see from him now is a better selection process, he’s got more maturity in his game, he’s got a better appreciation of his team mates, he’s progressed in that sense magnificently in the last 12 months. In FIFA Ultimate Team, this sort of improvement could be seen in some players by applying a ‘Maestro’ chemistry style.

Maybe the introduction of Daniel Sturridge alongside him has helped, that seems to have been a key factor in his development. He’s still got those individual attributes where he’s scored great goals but I also see more awareness around him of his team mates now. That’s something that Cristiano Ronaldo in his early days at United had, that he was very individualistic in his game, he tried to beat three or four men every time he got the ball.

That’s where statistics can be used to back up an opinion. Last season, according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index, Suarez averaged 7.35 shots per goal in the Premier League. So far this season he has averaged 4.11 shots per goal. His shots to goals ratio has massively improved because he’s got a better selection in his game and he’s become a better player for it.

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