Unsung heroes to watch out for this season


Michael Carrick – Manchester United’s Players’ Player in 2012/13
Image via Creative Commons (c) wikipedia

Who is Manchester United’s best player? Robin van Persie? Wayne Rooney?

With one goal all season and four assists Michael Carrick rarely comes to mind if asked about exciting, get you off your seat players; nor does he bring to mind the kind of force of will heroics that have become the standard press release of Steven Gerrard or John Terry.

However, when all was said and done at the end of the season he was the one player singled out by the title-winning side as players player of the season. This opinion was also seemingly backed up by those who played against him, as he was also nominated for PFA player of the year and whilst pipped to the award by Gareth Bale, he did make it into the team of the season.

This got me thinking, is there something that is obvious to the players on the pitch, but is much less so to those of us sat in the cheapseats (or not so cheap if you are sat at the Emirates!)?

Club Player of the Season Awards 2012/13

Players Player tableTo find out who the unsung heroes are that we should be keeping an eye on when the new season kicks off, I decided to take a look at the statistics of each of the player’s player of the season in 2012/13 and see if there was a common thread.

But what can we take from the 11 awards that were made?


Asmir Begovic and Brad Guzan represented the only Goalkeepers on the list, although with two out of a possible 11 places they are statistically well represented. With Stoke and Villa struggling for much of the season there would seem to be a tacit acceptance by the teams in question that their last line of defence is most responsible for keeping them in the Premier League.

For Brad Guzan I think there can be some level of credit given for a breakout season where he managed to displace the experienced Shay Given, but for Asmir Begovic, despite his own undoubted quality, his award perhaps says more about Stoke than they would wish; (the equivalent of a drunk driver kissing the seatbelt after parking the car in a tree)

For the rest of the analysis I have excluded these two so as not to distort the outfield player statistics. This leaves us with nine players to compare and contrast for any key trends that can inform the kind of players we should look out for in 2013/14.

1. Players that are on the pitch

This may sound obvious but those players who are getting the votes, are getting on the pitch, and not as substitutes. Nearly all of their appearances are as first team starters.

Impact substitutions are great for the fans, and possibly show a correlation to points on the table, but in terms of team respect, being there for every minute of the struggle counts. Of the nine players looked at, there were only eight substitute appearances in total as compared to an average of 35 starting appearances each.

2. Players that get the simple things right

Pass completion rates are noticeably higher for this cohort, over 3% better than the average across the whole league. It is also the one statistic where each player out-performs their team (excusing the attack minded Michu whose goal haul probably explains his award).

The nine players also show very few defensive errors. On average there are more than 1,600 minutes between each defensive error, that’s over 17 games without a defensive mistake. When it comes to the end of the season it is the player who reliably got the ball to your feet and didn’t make the memorable howlers who seems to poll well.

3. Players that have one obvious strength – a stand-out stat

Using a very blunt 10% as a fair contribution to any teams overall outfield statistics there are for nearly all nine of our winners some stand-out team contributions that mark them apart.

Michu managed to score 38% of his team’s goals – a contribution that can’t go unremarked on by his teammates. Morgan Schneiderlin completed 18% of all of Southampton’s tackles and interceptions for the season.

Juan Mata contributed 24% of Chelsea’s assists in the season, 25% of their clear-cut chances and 27% of their accurate crosses. Shaun Maloney was similarly influential for Wigan creating 27% of their clearcut chances and 25% of their goal assists.

Winston Reid performed three of the four successful ‘last man’ tackles managed by West Ham, crucial interventions that stick in the mind, (especially if you are the last but one man two paces behind).

Leighton Baines provided 44% of Everton’s accurate crosses and 30% of their clear-cut chances. Michael Carrick was a full 5% more accurate with his passing than the team’s average and interestingly 5.5% more forward thinking than the Manchester United average pass distribution, keeping things moving in the right direction.

From the statistics available you can make a clear case for each of the chosen players and why they deserved the award in 2012/13, but from goals up front to saves at the back, players would appear to vote on contribution to the team rather than virtuouso footballing ability.

This provides an important lesson for fans next season – look beyond those players grabbing headlines, and try and identify the players who are making other kinds of consistent contribution to the team.

Of course it is possible that the likes of Carrick and McAuley simply lobby hard all year and bring the Jaffa Cakes to every training session…


  1. where's_the_white_ball_going? says:

    good insightful article – nice job.

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