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Sambafoot Sunday: Brazilian Statistics - Who's the Best Brazilian Footballer?

The role of statistics in judging players, and a look at the best Brazilians according to the stats.

Sambafoot Sunday by James Nalton. The beat goes on...

The world of statistics and analysis has revolutionised the way we consume football. Some think it bleeds the life out of the game and others (especially the bookmakers) know the power behind this continuously evolving phenomenon.

Brazilian footballers have always had a reputation for natural football gifts and a magical touch ingrained in their DNA, but now we can use the statistics to prove that they’re just like everyone else. Fortunately, we can also use the statistics to prove how magnificent some of them are when it comes to this football lark.

The best Brazilian playing in Europe’s top leagues at the moment, is Raffael of Borussia Mönchengladbach. That’s according to the statistics website WhoScored. The 28-year-old forward has struck up a partnership with German striker Max Kruse, and has a total of eleven goals and five assists this season. Between them they’ve scored half of their team’s goals.

Another similar partnership has emerged elsewhere in Germany, as the second best Brazilian playing in Europe, Roberto Firmino, has linked up well with young German prospect Kevin Volland at Hoffenheim. The pair have the same amount of goals as Raffael and Kruse - 19 - and Firmino tops the Bundesliga assists chart with 8.

The 22-year-old Firmino has attracted interest from several clubs across Europe, thanks to these impressive numbers and a string of outstanding performances in blue and white. However, the traditional form of scouting still needs to be done. Any club signing a player on statistics alone could be in for a surprise, as there are many tactical and mental aspects of the game which can’t be judged on numbers alone.

This uncertainty when it comes to statistics can also be demonstrated by the disagreements which emerge between the websites and organisations who chart this type of thing. The definition of a tackle will be different, possession will be measured using alternate methods, and different weight will be put on the various data.

If we were to look to another publicly available statistics website, Squawka, we see that their statistical judgement determines that the best Brazilian playing in Europe is Thiago Silva. This is something Sambafoot readers would agree with, as he was recently awarded the Samba Gold Trophy which is given to the best Brazilian in Europe, as voted for by you!

The idea of subjectivity in statistics was the topic in a recent Twitter discussion I had with @Nazdagama (an account you should follow). He said:

"Ratings from stats sites are to a certain degree also subjective - they are based on giving certain weight to certain stats (you might disagree with the relevance of those stats and/or the weight assigned to them)."

As someone who runs a Liverpool FC website which judges players out of ten, based simply on how good I think they play in each game, it’s interesting to ponder which, if any, performance based scores based on statistical data are objective. At the end of the 2012/13 season, Liverpool’s best player wasn’t Luis Suarez, as many might have thought, but Philippe Coutinho. His excellent four month period on joining the club saw him trump Suarez by 0.10, when taking an average of their season’s ratings.

Similarly, the awards will tell you that the best player in Brazil last year was Éverton Ribeiro, but the aforementioned WhoScored would disagree, as his team-mate Dedé topped their chart.

The statistical waters can be muddy at times, and there’s still a lot to be said for the old fashioned concept of watching football matches when it comes to judging a player - and there always will be.

However, the growing legion of amateur analysts and the increase of publicly available data can only add to our enjoyment of the game, especially if it means more notice is taken of unsung heroes such as Raffael and Roberto Firmino.


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