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The Lead

Reading through the various newspaper paeans to 35-year-old Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher, who announced today he would be retiring from football at the end of this season, I noticed a curious screen cap over at the Daily Mail:


The point was clearly to emphasize his incredible number of appearances in his time as a Liverpool player. By this alone, we can conclude Carragher was considered an essential component of Liverpool’s defense for quite some time.

But what jumps out is the only other statistic attached to his list of appearances: number of goals scored. Carragher of course is a defender; this number is of almost no value here whatsoever in telling us anything about why Carragher was so good.


A website like can list off a number of atomized game events, and total them. Tackles. Interceptions. But in isolation this tells us little. How often per minute played did he perform these feats? Do they carry inherent intrinsic value? Should tackles even be tabulated, as they are often a mark of last-gasp defending? What statistic could measure Carra’s ability to organize his colleagues? This lack of tangible, measurable characteristics has long been an issue in evaluating defenders.

So, instead, most writers have filled in the blanks for us. The word “legend” appears often. We also find the words “dedication”, “work-rate”, “tremendous ability,” and so forth. But there is precious little discussion of what exactly he excelled at as a defender. What were his specific strengths? Why did Liverpool favour him for so long, and not someone else?

Some of the reasons involve the classic intangibles, but football is still a game played on a pitch, not a merely a measure of strength of character. The paucity of reliable, individual player statistics means most writers find themselves incapable of honouring Carragher with a set of clear, unassailable footballing traits.

Instead, a Liverpool legend will be honoured with empty journalistic platitudes. Carragher and other defenders like him deserve better.


Reports circulating Chelsea may offer Lampard contract extension.

Liverpool’s Jamie Carragher announces retirement.

Defoe sidelined for three weeks due to ankle injury.


Saha content with support role at Lazio.

Marchisio still unsure whether he’ll play in next week’s Champions League game.

La Liga

Even Ronaldo uncertain over Mourinho’s future at Real Madrid.

Napoli president says Cavani’s price tag extremely high even for Madrid.


Guardiola’s Bayern Munich to battle Barcelona in a charity match this summer.

Schalke 04 worried about Huntelaar’s eye injury, Dutch player out indefinitely.

Bit and Bobs

Ipswich’s Chopra deletes Twitter account after posting a pic of a bag stuffed with money

European Commission wants transfer reforms.

Player misses golden opportunity to score.

Thanks to Alima Hotakie for compiling today’s links.

Comments (9)

  1. I love the word cloud reference. I make them at work and its a good way to conceptualize things

  2. I always felt like Carragher and his opposite number would disappear into a black hole, and never be seen or heard from. In terms of pure defensive players, I really think he was one of the best.

    • Stats also have a tough time capturing a player’s performance on the big occasion eg. Istanbul 2005. But Carra also has a knack for playing well in big league games (against United and Chelsea for instance), even if he’s not getting a regular run of games.

      And it’s true, the only specific skill I can think of is that he’s a very good tackler/shot blocker. Everything else is more intangible, but he definitely deserves to be called a great defender.

      Can anyway else picture him and Gary Neville scrapping on the touchline as managers during a Liverpool-United match in 5-10 years time? Money….

  3. Nothing on England beating Brazil and becoming #1 favourites for 2014, with Jack Wilshire being Xavi and Iniesta rolled into one? Sorry, just imitating the English press.

    But seriously, nothing on WCQs and friendlies?

    • It’s been really, really overboard.

      But know who didn’t do jack shit last night? Neymar.

      • Neymar, was a bit disappointing I agree, I was switching from game to game, but from what I saw of Neymar, he is a bit fragile. IMO, he’ll be a similar player to Arjen Robben.

  4. Empty journalistic platitudes, as in the way sportwriting functioned up until OptaJoe came along a couple of years ago?

    I’m a massive fan of the whole “stats revolution” but not having the data to back the point you’re making doesn’t render the journalist’s assesment of a player useless.

  5. Btw, apologies for dropping a line only when I disagree about something. I thouroughly enjoy this blog and appreciate the effort it takes to keep it relevant.

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