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January 9, 2014

You Might Think Leo Messi Was the Best Goalscorer in Each of the Past 4 Seasons – You Would Be Wrong

By Ted Knutson

While doing research for elite goalscorer stats over the past few seasons, I finally had a chance to really dig into the numbers and do a full set of conversions to control for penalties and time played.

Why would you want to do this? Two reasons, really…

1)      Penalties are converted at a 76% clip on average anyway, and any number of players on a team can do this. Therefore you shouldn’t be rewarding guys for scoring penalty goals – you actually need to subtract those from goalscoring totals. Thus we start with non-penalty goals.

2)      Not all players are on the pitch the same amount of time. Some get subbed off regularly, some are only substitutes, some get injured, suspended, etc. By doing some simple calculations, we end up with non-penalty goals per 90 minutes played or NPG/90, which is how all goalscorers should really be evaluated, both in the past and going forward.

Those drawn here by the headline are all thinking, “Shut up, stat man and just get to the point.”

Well, once you do the conversions, you discover that despite the monster goal tallies, Lionel Messi and his superhuman footballing prowess has actually only been the most impressive goalscorer in Europe in two of the last four seasons.

Additionally, you might figure that Cristiano Ronaldo has consistently been the second most impressive goal scorer in each of the last four seasons…

Well, that ain’t quite true either.

2009-10
goals_2009_10

2010-11
goals_2010_11

2011-12
goals_2011_12

2012-13
goals_2012_13

Messi has lead the world in NPG/90 twice in the last four years. He also posted a second and a third, but it wasn’t Ronaldo who clipped him to the top spot in 11-12, it was Gonzalo Higuain. Meanwhile, Ronaldo was actually tied for 1st in 2011 (with the Gomez Button), and then second in 2013, but 3rd and 5th the other two seasons in question.

This isn’t to say that both Messi and Ronaldo aren’t amazing – they clearly are (and Messi’s value will become even more apparent when I talk about G+A/90 in the near future). They are also the only two who have been in the Top 5 the last four seasons (Higuain was 12th one of those years). It’s more to highlight the point that there are other players in Europe who have also had amazing goalscoring production when controlled for certain important factors.

Just looking at the headline stats for football can be misleading and costly, both in terms of paying too much for transfers, and when teams undervalue an incredible scorer like Higuain and let him slip away. (Here’s looking at you, Arsenal.)

Anyway, I’ll be going over a much broader list of goalscorers for each of the past four seasons in the next week, as well as highlighting different ways of evaluating scorers, providers, young players, and transfer targets.

If you like this, check back soon – there’s a lot more to come.

–@mixedknuts

 

Article by Ted Knutson