Is there any way to judge players that does not rely on relativity?

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Post by Cruijf Sat Jan 24, 2015 12:22 pm

Imagine you're at the park with some friends and you start a game of footy. Some way into the game, you pick up the ball near your goal and go on a Messi/Maradona esque Goal of the Century run, beat the entire team, round the goalkeeper, and finish it off.

Are you as good as Messi? You did the exact same thing he did against Getafe. Are you as good as Maradona? You did the same thing he did against England.

The answer is obviously no, but the reason why its no is the question I want to pose in this thread. If I asked anyone of you why I'm not the best player ever for going on that run, you'd tell me its because I did it against a bunch of amateur footballers in the park, not in the World Cup or Copa Del Rey against professionals. In other words, relativity. We judge how good someone is by comparing their achievements to their opponents. But if that's the case, how do we know how good their opponents are?

Is Messi really the best player ever, or are these just the worst defenders ever? Was prime Thiago Silva actually good, or was he just playing against terrible attackers?

How can you really know how good someone is when you can't compare them to people from other time periods?

This is obviously inspired by the whole 'BPL is declining' argument in the General Section, where some people think top teams in the BPL are worse, and others think its just the bottom teams have gotten better.

How can you really know?

How can you judge people when you don't have an objective method of determining how good they are?

Hope I'm making sense, but I'm very curious if anyone has an answer for me.
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Post by Onyx Sat Jan 24, 2015 4:01 pm

When comparing players from different time periods, the difference in quality of individual players doesn't need to be taken into account. What matters more is the quality of the teams Messi, for example, is performing against. If he's performing against division 1 teams (La Liga) and top CL teams, then that's all that matters. Why? Because it is generally assumed that division 1 teams are the best in the country and CL the best in Europe. It would be near impossible to determine the quality of a player, if we kept comparing the opponents that they played against to the past.

In regard to Chelsea 05 vs 2015, I think people tend to rate 05 more highly simply because they had more established and familiar players. At the time, they weren't as established, but when you think of the likes of Drogba, Lampard, Cech, Makelele etc now, they're all legendary players. So you can understand why they'd rate that team over the younger players they have now.

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Post by The Franchise Sat Jan 24, 2015 10:33 pm

Its a interesting thought.

But one thing is, and its hard to explain but ill give my best shot..the relativity you speak of, you always have to put it in the right context and use logic.

For example,

There can be no logical argument, the average professional football player has more advantages than the olden day player.

Their training, nutrition and recovery is on point, its been researched and been tinkered with to the point that the people at the highest level of the game have the ability to provide a plan for all 3 of these things which totally maximize the physical level of the players.

There is no doubt to me that just with this as a fact (and you can just see it by looking) the average player today is better conditioned and physically faster and stronger than the average player x number of years ago.

Add to this, teams are more and more about the collective today then ever before. Its just standard practice now that all 11 players have some role to play in the defensive phase. It wasnt like this before.

You add these things together and you have to realise that its more difficult for today's players in many ways than ever before. However, that doesnt mean that today's players are better than the players of the past...no way at all. In the end, the players of the time can only compete against players of their time and trying to compare to different era's is always too flawed.

Overall, I know the guy in the park isnt as good as Messi...because he isnt facing pro's who train daily and have all the advantages. He is facing John Smith who was totally wasted 12 hours earlier and is operating on 4 hours sleep and chocolate bar for breakfast.

But I want to get to the point of this thread. The talk about the EPL teams.

I mean, its not important when we speak of individuals and their levels....im actually quite surprised people still fall into this trap..like seeing Atletico's success has shown them nothing. Individuals alone dont mean anything.

Even today, perhaps only 1 Atleti player will get into a Madrid or Barca starting 11..and yet, untill recently (and still is VS Real) Atleti are very capable of beating the breaks off both teams's asses and they are still the La Liga Champs untill someone takes it from them.

Its about the team and how they function together and what they can do together.

The EPL teams now are defiantly worse than those years ago. And by worse, I mean further away from the level of elite teams across Europe. The best teams, of any era...they are forged from the collective, they are a team in the true sense of the word...they are capable of performing greater than the individual parts, even when the individual parts are amazing players.

Finally, a key work you used here is "objective" in finding a method to compare....and there is no such a thing, there is no such a thing in comparing players or teams against each other who are currently playing, let alone vs the past. Objective to me doesnt exist in football, nor should it. I am sure people are thinking what about stats..this isnt a thread regarding the value of stats so I will keep it short, but I will say I strongly feel they are for those who dont really understand football and how it works, the only things they actually measure..hold very small importance in the totality of the game.
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Post by DuringTheWar Sun Jan 25, 2015 7:15 am

@The Franchise wrote:
You add these things together and you have to realise that its more difficult for today's players in many ways than ever before. .

I'm gonna say, being marked by 1 player before, was harder than being "marked" by 3 players today. On many occasions I've seen entire teams completely prevented from playing football. I think gullit said it recently in an interview, difference between now and before, when you went into an defenders zone, they went at you with all they got, now, it's hello and goodbye. I'm not even going to talk about all the environmental factors that forced the technical level to be higher either.

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Post by The Franchise Sun Jan 25, 2015 9:12 am

@DuringTheWar wrote:
@The Franchise wrote:
You add these things together and you have to realise that its more difficult for today's players in many ways than ever before. .

I'm gonna say, being marked by 1 player before, was harder than being "marked" by 3 players today. On many occasions I've seen entire teams completely prevented from playing football. I think gullit said it recently in an interview, difference between now and before, when you went into an defenders zone, they went at you with all they got, now, it's hello and goodbye. I'm not even going to talk about all the environmental factors that forced the technical level to be higher either.



Thats just an old man talking about "back in my day". And I love Guillt, both as a player and even more as a pundit now.

But what you are talking about. Being marked by 1 players then is harder than 3 now Laughing Go play any kind of football at any level and say that again.

All your saying is, back in the day...they fouled you more and were more physical with you and got away with it. Which is true, but this misconception of the old days baffles me...even back then, a foul is a foul. If you get fouled, you still get a freekick..the difference is the player didnt get a card so easily. But you still got the ball back.

People would have you believe it was the Wild West and you could get a De Jong boot to the chest without a foul being called. Its rubbish.

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Post by DuringTheWar Sun Jan 25, 2015 10:09 am

There is no misconception, I know a foul was a foul. You have the misconception if you think having an endless stream of free kicks means you are getting to play. There is huge difference between defenders trying to shepherd you and deny you space, and facing someone that is physically stopping you from playing, it's that simple.

Yeah maybe gullit was an old guy reminiscing, if all the statistical and visual data didn't back up his claim. I enjoyed the way he bitchslapped Ray Hudson's attempt to compare todays ptb teams against Barcelona to 80s and 90s Italian football.
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Post by DuringTheWar Sun Jan 25, 2015 10:15 am

I would like to add, that although I agree a foul was a foul, that was only defined by whether you won the ball. You could tackle in any form, two feet, off the ground, studs up, from behind, excessive force, all fair game if you got the ball.
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Post by Cruijf Sun Jan 25, 2015 4:08 pm

The fact that footballers nowadays are faster, stronger, and generally fitter is undisputed I think, but the question is whether that translates more to technical ability and other more important factors of the game.

As for the arguments of Ruud Gullit, Christian Vieri, Gary Neville, et all, that defending has gotten worse, that's the crux of my point. How can you know defending has gotten worse and attacking hasn't gotten better? Obviously you can say teams are more disorganized and broken down too easily, but no matter how good a defender you are you will be pulled out of position if the other team is attacking well enough.

Look at the following two videos for example:

Serie A 1989/90 Best Goals:



BPL 2014/15 Best Goals:



You can argue there's terrible goalkeeping and defending in both videos, but you could also say there's amazing attacking play.

What's the difference?
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Post by DuringTheWar Sun Jan 25, 2015 5:49 pm

Football is a game of attrition, what demonstrates the level of defence is how frequently they are worn down and disintegrate to the point goals are scored. When they do disintegrate it looks the same whether it's a good defence or a bad one, it's the frequency that matters. In that respect, in the examples you used, there were significantly less goals in the 1989 90 serie a season than the 2014 15 bpl season.
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Post by Cruijf Mon Jan 26, 2015 2:30 pm

But that's the entire point of the thread, how can you know the increase in goals is due to worse defending and not better attacking?

And the increase isn't that great. 684 (Serie A 89/90) vs 1052 (BPL 13/14) is a massive difference, but when you factor in that there were 74 more games played in last year's BPL season (since Serie A only had 18 teams back then), it make more sense. When you look at the actual averages of goals per match, its 2.24 vs 2.77, not that big of a difference.
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Post by Donuts Mon Jan 26, 2015 4:26 pm

i would kill to have teams pull the famous seria a offside trap more often against barcelona rofl
what a myth that they were so great and organized.. it was just innovation and once it was figured out it was easily broken down.
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Post by DuringTheWar Mon Jan 26, 2015 8:36 pm

Hi donuts I was thinking this thread really needed your expertise on this subject, thanks for enlightening us, xx

I'm not sure serie a was famous for it's offside trap though, teams usually dropped deep with a three man central defence sweeper included + two defensive wingbacks. I suppose the ac milan team of sacchi is what you mean by "famous serie a". It was quite a bit more effective I suppose when just being level with any bit of your body = offside.
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Post by DuringTheWar Mon Jan 26, 2015 8:41 pm

@Cruijf wrote:But that's the entire point of the thread, how can you know the increase in goals is due to worse defending and not better attacking?

And the increase isn't that great. 684 (Serie A 89/90) vs 1052 (BPL 13/14) is a massive difference, but when you factor in that there were 74 more games played in last year's BPL season (since Serie A only had 18 teams back then), it make more sense. When you look at the actual averages of goals per match, its 2.24 vs 2.77, not that big of a difference.


In the context of football that's a big difference, football is a low scoring sport so just over a goal less every two games is quite a big difference. Maybe you could also look at the top goal scorers as an indicator, luis saurez, yaya toure, and Daniel sturridge, equalling or outscoring marco van basten, roberto baggio, and diego maradona. Which three are the better attackers?
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Post by Katy Perry Mon Jan 26, 2015 9:04 pm

Why are people either afraid to compare players from different eras or nostalgic and prefering always the old players when they do? I mean yea it's flawed, but even saying that one player is better than another in the same era is flawed as there's no way to undeniably and objectively quantify a player's ability, yet we do it all the time.



This is a WC final, the best defensive coaching, defensive teams, defensive players of that era played in that match. So Pele is the greatest player ever and no one ever did what Pele did in that match and in his era, no one replicated his stats and achievements because no one ever was as good as him?

Again, this is very subjective and this is only my opinion, but I think that compared to the past, today's football has much better training, physical aspect of the game, defending, attacking, adapting to the opponent, tempo of the game and therefore today's players are much better than past's players.
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Post by Lord Awesome Mon Jan 26, 2015 9:10 pm

The way I do it is just look at what they do and against who. Factors that also contribute to rating the level of player performances are chemistry and constitution of the team and also the chemistry and constitution of the opposing team. Managers also play a big role in the utility of their players. As was said before, the conditioning of today's players is vastly superior to yesterday's footballers. Also the tactics and style of play has certainly evolved due to the aptness of today's player. That's as broad as I can put it.
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Post by rwo power Mon Jan 26, 2015 9:16 pm

You probably need to take into account the shoes and balls that were used in the past. The good old leather balls had very different characteristics from modern hightec balls.
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Post by Cruijf Tue Jan 27, 2015 1:43 am

@DuringTheWar wrote:
@Cruijf wrote:But that's the entire point of the thread, how can you know the increase in goals is due to worse defending and not better attacking?

And the increase isn't that great. 684 (Serie A 89/90) vs 1052 (BPL 13/14) is a massive difference, but when you factor in that there were 74 more games played in last year's BPL season (since Serie A only had 18 teams back then), it make more sense. When you look at the actual averages of goals per match, its 2.24 vs 2.77, not that big of a difference.


In the context of football that's a big difference, football is a low scoring sport so just over a goal less every two games is quite a big difference. Maybe you could also look at the top goal scorers as an indicator, luis saurez, yaya toure, and Daniel sturridge, equalling or outscoring marco van basten, roberto baggio, and diego maradona. Which three are the better attackers?


But this stuff fluctuates to the degree of difference between the two things we're comparing.

The 92/93 season for example, just a couple years later, had an average of 2.8 goals for game, even more than last years BPL season.

Your point of comparing attackers and stats does have merit, but you run into the different eras problem. You can't actually compare Luis Suarez and Van Basten, and so you can't definitively conclude one is better then the other and draw conclusions from that.

On another note, since Rwo brought of balls and shoes, its worth mentioning the pitch argument, something people often bring up to elevate players of past generations.
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Post by titosantill Tue Jan 27, 2015 5:12 am

its all very subjective, if an individual grew up in the city of santos when pele played and was fortunate to go to games and watch him regularly, he will be a fanboy and swear by him no matter what, unless he sees another footballer whose skills reminds him of pele or wins him over.

in the same vein, years from now when we get older and people who were fans tell their younger ones about the cristiano-messi battles, the younger ones will denounce such "nostalgia", arguing that football must have been soft if anyone was averaging 30plus, 40, 50, 60 goals a season, and how in their own time, the footballers and defenders are stronger and nobody can average such numbers (until someone shows up).

also , sports has always been developed to be more conducive and comfortable for participants, so fans of this moment will lament how their heroes, whether ibra, kun, cristiano, messi etc scored on flooded pitches, and played in bad weather whilst in future maybe most stadiums would all be roofed, artificial grass set to meet certain standards, and footballs made more accustom to allow for easier set-piece deliveries (depending on economic development and money ofcourse), and will use that as their argument for players' toughness in the 2010 era and what not. whilst the younger generation will have a different outlook and say these new developments have indeed made their own generation stronger and better

its too difficult to make comparisons in a team sport, especially over eras, as it just turns into a bashing or ridiculing of players' achievments. fans will swear by what they know, or who they grew up on, unless they are journalists or hold a deep love for the sport besides just teams, that enables them carry out research on past players. what players from the older eras have against them mainly is the lack of consistent footage, not just of highlights or stats, but full games that actually tell a story.

and its even more difficult to compare the 'present' to the 'past', when one is in the 'present', when time permits and the 'present' becomes the 'past', one can easily put things in perspective. e.g. some can compare lebron or durant or whoever to jordan now, because we enjoy watching them, but if they retire the way things are, they won't be put in such brackets at all, in fact people who have written top ten greatest lists, will now revert in putting some people they chalked off ahead of them
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Post by rwo power Tue Jan 27, 2015 5:49 am

By the way, if you compare goalies from the past, you also have to take into account that in the very beginning, the goalies didn't wear any gloves (and had to face heavy and sometimes water-soaked leather balls), then later they used simple protective gloves.

Only in the mid sixties, the first times special gloves appeared when Gordon Banks used gloves that had a coating of the same stuff used on table-tennis  bat.

Only in the 1970, the first real goalkeeper gloves were designed by the company Reusch and Sepp Maier that used a special coating so that the ball wouldn't slip easily out of the grip anymore.

So comparing goalies from different times is probably even more difficult as the improvement of their tools is probably even more significant.
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Post by Cruijf Tue Jan 27, 2015 11:10 am

So Lev Yashin didn't use gloves Rwo?
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Post by rwo power Tue Jan 27, 2015 3:48 pm

@Cruijf wrote:So Lev Yashin didn't use gloves Rwo?
On the pics and vids I saw, he seemed to use rather standard leather gloves that didn't appear to have much in common with modern goalkeeper gloves which have a special coating for better grip and some other features:

Is there any way to judge players that does not rely on relativity? Th-lev10
(click to enlarge)

BTW, here's an article on the matter: http://www.wsj.com/articles/for-the-glove-of-the-game-1402007474
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Post by Cruijf Wed Jan 28, 2015 10:32 am

That certainly means a lot when you consider the balls weighed 10x more back then...
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Post by Dante Thu Jan 29, 2015 12:20 pm

Nice OP and some very good points in this thread. This post is how i personally judge players from any era and of any given quality they may have , in how i consider football should be played , also judging decision after decision based on circumstances .

I don't believe there's any objective method to judge players , tbh . Rather , there's only but a subjective definition of what is more or less considered as good football . Based on this term of varying degrees and in its success we judge players . For the average fan , anything entertaining translates as good football . For the initiated , functioning team work with chunks of individual brilliance translates as proper football , which they define as good football . For the idealists , good football always was the simple matter of necessity , which transforms into what everyone else bases their criteria on what good football means . Thus , our idea of football comes from our experiences and biases and thus , our way to judge players will only be an old idea in someone else's head. Relativity is always there and cannot be removed , but it isn't the main or only way to judge players . Nor should it be like that.

Football before it becomes an act , an observation , or statistical analysis , it's an idea in the player's head. It's an idea on his teammate's head . And even before that , it is a basket filled with ideas that have been forged before even the game begins . Given that ,

how i judge players is what they choose to do at any given moment considering the circumstances and how they did it . Then i consider how individualy good or bad they have proven to be and only after that i throw relativity in the mix. Relativity can mean anything because of the countless variables and parametres and question marks , you can't always rely on that and i don't think it's correct to use relativity as your main criteria . Not before anything else at least.

After having said all that , let's take a look at Van Basten's most famous goal , that one in the Euro final in 1988 against USSR . You can bring relativity into the matter . You can , but imo , at least as i judge players , relativy comes in 2nd fate . If defenders were better or worse , or if attackers have been better or worse today , or if attackers were worse and defenders better. For the criteria on the sport i won't bother at all , how much it has improved and evolved. Besides the excellent points that have already been pointed out already , any given present has always been the best standard of the game , at any given time ; which present was better is something contradictive within itself . Tomorrow's game will always evolve , it's pointless to be wasting time on this , things always change and move , you can only stay at the quality of the time and their impact on the game and the ideals of the game , which is making the best decisions as simply and as beatifuly possible . When players do that , it speaks beyond time and standards , countless players have their great moments echoing through eras and Van Basten's goal is just one example of what i say . After all that , you can bring relativity into the mix , but it will strictly be for statistical/historical/progressive analysis , it won't be to decide what was/is better. You can't measure greatness , it's always greatness at the moment it happened . Moving on to Van Basten's goal .

As i understand the game , what he chose to do with the ball there seems pretty much wrong to me . Almost naive even , to grasp the notion and decide to go for it and neglect anything else they have been working and go past his teammates , and decide against all that in under 1 sec , is wrong. Isn't it ? From that angle to so be so arrogant and decide to shoot instantly , with so many obstacles in front of him ? Deciding and doing this while neglecting teammates waiting in the box ? When a final is at hand ? With the cross being so unbalanced in height and force , it's almost madness to even think you can time it correctly , balance your body in an instant , put the right force and angle into the ball and even if you do all that in the best way possible , expect to go in and without someone stoping it . Controlling the ball and then trying to pass it , or shoot it , would be the logical thing to do .



However , here comes the 2nd part of how i judge players : it's the how he did what he did . To this day , it's generally considered that the only way to score from there would be exactly how Van Basten did it , there was no other way to score from that spot and from that action . It was perfection . The idea may have been wrong , but the execution was right . More often than not good football stems from this very contradiction , how can a wrong idea prove right in practise ? Van Basten there proves that your quality as a player goes beyond standards and eras , or football theories , or relativity . Relativity only matters so much , you can't conclude anything using relativity , say if we had today's defence there , what would have happened? Or any other player in Van Basten's place. Therefore , i always judge based on that goal , that wrong decision or not , standards better or not , quality improved or not , it's the ideals of the game that you base your judgement and then the execution of said action . And then you can add relativity in , but imho , it will only help you so much , if you strictly want to find out who was better , relativity won't give you 'results' . Who was better is something that will always be subjective , who did the best at any given time however , that is something that you can define a lot easier.

Frankly , i don't think there's any player in the history of the game that could score what Van Basten scored there. What does that prove ? Does that prove Van Basten is the best player ever , or that his era was more difficult ? Does that prove that Van Basten would be so succesful today , or disprove it ? It doesn't prove anything other than what i already said , you can only judge each decision and its execution based on the ideals of the game . You can't bring relativity in to conclude who was better between eras , or that these players would suck today because of the higher level of the game. They played in the higher level of the game already in their time. You can judge however if they took the best option and how well they did it . I balance this out , throw my bias as in how much i liked it and how succesful it was and only then i bring relativity into the matter , to have as much an opinion closer to the truth .
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Post by Curtinho Fri Aug 07, 2015 11:19 am

I think there are plenty of players that could have scored that goal, if given the opportunity. A lot of the time immaculate goals like that one come down to preparation and opportunity. On an individual skill level there are so many players that can do mind boggling tricks, shots, etc. but football as a whole is about so much more than that...reading the game, consistency, teamwork, structure, etc.

Ultimately I think it's pointless to compare across different eras. Players should only be compared to their peers and not past greats. There are too many changes to the game from one generation to the next, and not only the game but outside of the game as well. The media, training, gameplanning, coaches, money, etc. all have a big effect on the on-field product. Each successive generation has an inherent advantage over the previous one because on top of better training, coaching, more money, improved technology, and better athletes they also have access to all the information, videos and techniques of the past which they can apply and build on.
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Post by Blue Sat Aug 08, 2015 4:54 pm

@rwo power wrote:You probably need to take into account the shoes and balls that were used in the past. The good old leather balls had very different characteristics from modern hightec balls.


Also have to take account hundred other things like the advancement in nutrition and sports medicine.

I always find it without basis to compare Messi to Pele, or today players to past players. It is like comparing todays Physicist to Einstein, every renowned physicist today should know more and be more knowledge then the great Einstein.

But Einstein accomplishment and legacy is great as anyone that step foot on this earth.
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