Soccer

SoccerSoccer has the least information available of any of the sports Apples & Oranges is rating. This is true both in the sense that there is no comprehensive statistical record, and because what data is available is mostly limited to just two categories — games played and goals scored.

But I was determined not to leave out the world’s most popular sport, and worked to cobble together a workable formula that would put soccer players’ careers into the proper context with other athletes. I had established the precedent in American football to give players credit for their team success. In soccer, Apples & Oranges would rely on that concept even more. So, forwards get credit for the goals their teams score, defenders for the goals their teams prevent, and midfielders benefit from both.

Goal-scoring still dominates the rankings. All other things being equal, scoring more goals leads to a higher rating. That led to a secondary problem; as we know from studying advanced stats, high-scoring players score a lot of goals because they take a lot of shots … which means they miss a lot of shots, too. As with basketball, I needed a way to penalize a player for the effect his missed shots have on the team’s defense. But it proved impossible to isolate the effect a player’s shooting volume had on his team.

So I settled for an inelegant solution, which was to weigh the Offense 1 category (individual goal-scoring) at a 2-to-3 ratio with Offense 2 (team scoring). By blunting the effect of extremely high goal totals this way, it balanced the playmakers against the gunners. Pelé and similar volume-shooters are still way out in front, but now they’re not lapping the field. The Maradona/Dalglish types catch up a little bit.

Because of all this, forwards end up with defensive ratings of zero. If we had better data, their offensive ratings would be higher, and that would be balanced out by slightly negative defensive ratings.

Defense 1 is based on our established method of counting goals conceded at less than 1.5 times the league average. Goalies get full credit; defenders and midfielders get a piece of the team total. For extremely low-scoring leagues (like Serie A in the 1980s), this doesn’t leave quite enough margin, so Defense 2 is a bonus (for goalies and defenders only), based on team shutouts.

Lastly, post-Franz Beckenbauer sweepers, who functioned as playmakers as well as the last line of defense, benefit from all the team-based stats: team scoring, team goals prevented and team shutouts.

Picking which position a player played was fairly straightforward, except for the No. 10’s. Some are forwards, waiting for their teammates to win the ball for them; others (like Maradona, Zico, Cruijff, etc.) go into the midfield and win possession back themselves.

I didn’t count games from every league. I selected top-division and cup games from England, Scotland (through about 2005), Spain, Italy, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Brazil and Argentina, plus continental cups and all national-team games. For Brazil and Germany before a federally unified league began, I use the regional leagues.

Strikers Games Total Per 160 Sqr Root Sum Off Def
Pelé 680 114.59 26.96 10.70 37.67 53.93 0.00
Eusébio 532 88.49 26.61 9.41 36.02 53.05 0.00
Ferenc Puskás 355 56.66 25.54 7.53 33.06 49.57 0.00
Gerd Müller 625 86.01 22.02 9.27 31.29 44.04 0.00
Gunnar Nordahl 329 48.35 23.52 6.95 30.47 47.03 0.00
Romário 614 81.06 21.12 9.00 30.13 42.25 0.00
Ronaldo 569 75.46 21.22 8.69 29.91 42.44 0.00
Hugo Sánchez 499 66.49 21.32 8.15 29.47 42.64 0.00
Marco van Basten 425 56.85 21.40 7.54 28.94 42.80 0.00
Luigi Riva 379 51.54 21.76 7.18 28.94 43.51 0.00
Gabriel Batistuta 552 69.80 20.23 8.35 28.59 40.46 0.00
Sándor Kocsis 196 28.28 23.09 5.32 28.40 46.17 0.00
Just Fontaine 229 31.88 22.27 5.65 27.92 44.55 0.00
Roberto Dinamite 377 47.35 20.09 6.88 26.98 40.19 0.00
Jimmy Greaves 653 73.66 18.05 8.58 26.63 36.10 0.00
Giuseppe Meazza 525 61.56 18.76 7.85 26.61 37.52 0.00
Fritz Walter 481 57.03 18.97 7.55 26.52 37.94 0.00
Telmo Zarra 372 45.09 19.39 6.71 26.11 38.79 0.00
Roberto Baggio 658 71.40 17.36 8.45 25.81 34.72 0.00
Dixie Dean 410 47.29 18.45 6.88 25.33 36.91 0.00
Alan Shearer 788 80.08 16.26 8.95 25.21 32.52 0.00
Omar Sívori 416 47.56 18.29 6.90 25.19 36.59 0.00
Ian Rush 809 81.26 16.07 9.01 25.09 32.14 0.00
Raúl 729 73.39 16.11 8.57 24.67 32.22 0.00
Mario Kempes 461 50.39 17.49 7.10 24.59 34.98 0.00
Gary Lineker 519 54.81 16.90 7.40 24.30 33.79 0.00
Kenny Dalglish 925 85.62 14.81 9.25 24.06 29.62 0.00
Uwe Seeler 458 48.80 17.05 6.99 24.03 34.10 0.00
Vivian Woodward 159 19.43 19.55 4.41 23.96 39.10 0.00
Arsenio Erico 332 36.62 17.65 6.05 23.70 35.29 0.00
Hristo Stoichkov 366 39.47 17.25 6.28 23.54 34.51 0.00
Silvio Piola 587 58.29 15.89 7.63 23.52 31.77 0.00
Steve Bloomer 612 60.09 15.71 7.75 23.46 31.42 0.00
Emilio Butragueño 524 52.95 16.17 7.28 23.44 32.33 0.00
Tommy Lawton 216 24.50 18.15 4.95 23.10 36.30 0.00
John Charles 294 31.93 17.38 5.65 23.03 34.35 0.40
Denis Law 573 55.48 15.49 7.45 22.94 30.99 0.00
Dennis Bergkamp 787 70.77 14.39 8.41 22.80 28.77 0.00
George Weah 532 51.75 15.56 7.19 22.76 31.13 0.00
Paolo Rossi 317 33.59 16.95 5.80 22.75 33.91 0.00
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge 624 58.32 14.95 7.64 22.59 29.91 0.00
Rudi Völler 613 56.89 14.85 7.54 22.39 29.70 0.00
Jürgen Klinsmann 626 57.72 14.75 7.60 22.35 29.50 0.00
Nat Lofthouse 535 48.86 14.61 6.99 21.60 29.23 0.00
Eric Cantona 449 40.78 14.53 6.39 20.92 29.06 0.00
Allan Simonsen 429 37.49 13.98 6.12 20.11 27.97 0.00
Kevin Keegan 602 48.76 12.96 6.98 19.94 25.92 0.00
José Manuel Moreno 398 33.57 13.50 5.79 19.29 26.99 0.00
Zizinho 439 35.08 12.79 5.92 18.71 25.57 0.00
Juan Alberto Schiaffino 469 34.33 11.71 5.86 17.57 22.29 1.13

Pelé has the third-highest offensive rating in any sport, behind a couple of NFL players, and is No. 2 overall, trailing only a Victorian Age cricketer who died in 1915. He is easily the greatest sportsman of the 20th Century.

That said, Eusébio came in pretty close. It’s a steep drop-off after him, though; even great goal-scorers find it difficulty to keep output high, year after year.

Dennis Bergkamp was named after Denis Law. They ended up 0.14 points apart.

Wingers Games Total Per 160 Sqr Root Sum Off Def
Rivaldo 559 59.07 16.91 7.69 24.59 33.82 0.00
George Best 523 43.03 13.16 6.56 19.72 26.35 0.00
Francisco Gento 649 50.66 12.49 7.12 19.61 24.98 0.00
Tom Finney 478 38.68 12.95 6.22 19.17 26.57 0.00
Ryan Giggs 854 60.07 11.25 7.75 19.00 21.39 1.12
Luís Figo 876 61.12 11.16 7.82 18.98 22.33 0.00
Zbigniew Boniek 303 25.74 13.59 5.07 18.67 27.19 0.00
Garrincha 416 31.46 12.10 5.61 17.71 23.68 0.00
Paulo Futre 357 26.68 11.96 5.17 17.12 23.91 0.00
Stanley Matthews 771 33.33 6.92 5.77 12.69 13.83 0.00

Wingers, as a group, are the most overrated of all athletes, especially Stan Mathews (who basically stopped scoring goals after World War II). They tend to have excellent dribbling skills, which get a lot of attention from the press and fans but, tactically, they are inherently peripheral figures with a limited ability to impact the game.

I treated them as forwards, even if they were nominally midfielders.

Midfielders Games Total Per 160 Sqr Root Sum Off Def
Johan Cruijff 618 88.12 22.81 9.39 32.20 38.81 6.82
Zico 402 59.30 23.60 7.70 31.30 41.96 5.25
Alfredo Di Stéfano 695 93.06 21.42 9.65 31.07 36.37 6.48
Michel Platini 620 80.73 20.83 8.98 29.82 35.92 5.75
Diego Maradona 676 85.15 20.15 9.23 29.38 35.20 5.11
Ronaldinho 501 57.09 18.23 7.56 25.79 30.24 6.23
Ruud Gullit 565 62.59 17.72 7.91 25.64 28.54 6.91
Sandro Mazzola 631 67.84 17.20 8.24 25.44 28.72 5.68
Socrates 217 26.40 19.47 5.14 24.60 33.45 5.48
Enzo Francescoli 636 65.31 16.43 8.08 24.51 27.67 5.19
Gianni Rivera 735 72.10 15.70 8.49 24.19 25.70 5.69
Teofilo Cubillas 207 24.48 18.92 4.95 23.87 32.62 5.22
Lothar Matthäus 888 79.72 14.36 8.93 23.29 21.87 6.85
Luis Suárez 616 59.86 15.55 7.74 23.28 25.27 5.82
Michael Laudrup 616 59.79 15.53 7.73 23.26 25.99 5.07
Mario Coluna 601 57.08 15.20 7.56 22.75 23.49 6.91
Pavel Nedved 605 57.36 15.17 7.57 22.74 25.34 5.00
Bobby Charlton 865 75.22 13.91 8.67 22.59 23.87 3.96
Zinedine Zidane 789 69.97 14.19 8.36 22.55 22.89 5.49
Didi 388 37.75 15.57 6.14 21.71 24.51 6.63
David Beckham 681 59.12 13.89 7.69 21.58 21.77 6.01
Frank Rijkaard 571 50.23 14.07 7.09 21.16 21.19 6.96
Nils Liedholm 415 37.96 14.64 6.16 20.80 24.17 5.09
Enzo Scifo 443 39.76 14.36 6.31 20.67 23.30 5.43
Gheorghe Hagi 360 32.49 14.44 5.70 20.14 23.95 4.93
Gunnar Gren 274 25.76 15.04 5.08 20.12 25.04 5.04
Roy Keane 695 53.57 12.33 7.32 19.65 18.61 6.06
Paul Gascoigne 504 41.57 13.20 6.45 19.64 21.42 4.97
Raymond Kopa 545 43.65 12.81 6.61 19.42 21.65 3.97
Wolfgang Overath 620 48.12 12.42 6.94 19.35 19.42 5.42
Paul Breitner 533 41.55 12.47 6.45 18.92 18.24 6.70
Liam Brady 716 51.92 11.60 7.21 18.81 18.24 4.97
Edgar Davids 577 41.59 11.53 6.45 17.98 16.56 6.50
Jean Tigana 562 35.81 10.20 5.98 16.18 14.92 5.47
Ernst Ocwirk 216 15.27 11.31 3.91 15.22 20.20 2.41
Danny Blanchflower 593 31.59 8.52 5.62 14.14 12.84 4.21
Carlos Valderrama 219 12.95 9.46 3.60 13.06 14.08 4.84

Cruijff and Di Stefano were ostensibly forwards, but they played a midfielder’s game. Cruijff, of course, was the centerpiece of Dutch “total football,” doing everything, everywhere. Di Stefano was similar — clearing a ball off the line one moment, then racing down the field and delivering a killer pass — but they didn’t have a name for it yet.

Zico, Platini and Maradona were all of a type: midfielders wearing the No. 10 shirt, and controlling virtually the entire game from the center of the field. Zico rates higher on offense because of the enormous number of free kicks he scored. Maradona comes up a bit short because his level of play fell off drastically after 1990.

Bobby Charlton started out as a center forward, then moved to the midfield, which is why is offense/defense ratio is a bit different.

Defenders Games Total Per 160 Sqr Root Sum Off Def
Ronald Koeman 725 81.88 18.07 9.05 27.12 27.20 8.94
Gaetano Scirea 648 53.87 13.30 7.34 20.64 17.28 9.33
Franco Baresi 715 56.29 12.60 7.50 20.10 14.69 10.51
Franz Beckenbauer 673 53.59 12.74 7.32 20.06 17.09 8.39
Matthias Sammer 332 29.24 14.09 5.41 19.50 19.57 8.62
Daniel Passarella 580 42.42 11.70 6.51 18.22 15.09 8.32
Giacinto Facchetti 723 35.60 7.88 5.97 13.84 6.51 9.25
Paolo Maldini 1012 38.58 6.10 6.21 12.31 2.21 9.99
Carlos Alberto 467 20.30 6.96 4.51 11.46 5.48 8.43
Roberto Ayala 666 20.31 4.88 4.51 9.39 1.74 8.02
Alessandro Nesta 596 18.14 4.87 4.26 9.13 0.98 8.76
Nílton Santos 492 15.26 4.96 3.91 8.87 0.66 9.27
Elías Figueroa 255 8.76 5.50 2.96 8.46 2.60 8.39
José Santamaría 370 11.60 5.02 3.41 8.42 0.22 9.81
Bobby Moore 775 18.30 3.78 4.28 8.06 1.61 5.94
Billy Wright 645 16.09 3.99 4.01 8.00 1.25 6.73

Franz Beckenbauer revolutionized the sweeper position in the late 1960s and, through the end of the 20th Century, the deep-lying defender who initiated and controlled the attack was one of the dominant tactical developments in world soccer. The change to the back-pass rule in 1992 meant that the position went extinct in about a generation — coaches were no longer willing to build from the back without the safety valve of being able to pass the ball back to the goalkeeper.

Beckenbauer himself was, according to the chart, overshadowed by men who followed his example. Koeman is way out in front because he scored more than 200 goals, mostly on free kicks and penalties.

Non-sweeper defenders face the same issue we’ve seen with defensive specialists in other sports; credit is spread too evenly for stars to dominate like they do on offense.

Goalies Games Total Per 160 Sqr Root Sum Off Def
Edwin van der Sar 926 109.83 18.98 10.48 29.46 0.05 37.91
Ray Clemence 1047 119.39 18.24 10.93 29.17 0.00 36.49
Gianluigi Buffon 916 99.85 17.44 9.99 27.43 0.00 34.88
Oliver Kahn 851 91.37 17.18 9.56 26.74 0.00 34.36
Peter Schmeichel 663 71.56 17.27 8.46 25.73 0.22 34.32
Dino Zoff 878 88.82 16.19 9.42 25.61 0.00 32.37
José Luis Chilavert 604 65.60 17.38 8.10 25.48 3.92 30.84
Peter Shilton 1186 110.39 14.89 10.51 25.40 0.04 29.75
Ricardo Zamora 219 27.26 19.92 5.22 25.14 0.00 39.83
Amadeo Carrizo 564 59.36 16.84 7.70 24.54 0.00 33.68
Sepp Maier 709 71.31 16.09 8.44 24.54 0.00 32.18
Lev Yashin 400 44.12 17.65 6.64 24.29 0.00 35.29
Walter Zenga 588 59.53 16.20 7.72 23.91 0.00 32.40
Jean-Marie Pfaff 267 30.58 18.33 5.53 23.86 0.00 36.66
Rinat Dasaev 535 54.70 16.36 7.40 23.75 0.00 32.52
Pat Jennings 1034 91.15 14.10 9.55 23.65 0.00 28.21
Ubaldo Fillol 758 70.56 14.89 8.40 23.29 0.00 29.79
Gianluca Pagliuca 772 62.29 12.91 7.89 20.80 0.00 25.82
Gordon Banks 672 54.24 12.91 7.36 20.28 0.00 25.83

Gianluigi Buffon will be Top 5 when he retires. Watching van der Sar, I thought I was seeing the best ever and I wondered why he never got the credit I thought he deserved. It was gratifying to see my formula bear that out.

I have Ray Clemence way ahead of Peter Shilton, in case anyone wants to reignite the great English goalkeeping debate of the ’80s. This highlights a trend of top English goalies and defenders staying at mediocre clubs throughout their careers — Shilton was at Nottingham Forest for their glory years, but spent most of his time at Leicester, Stoke, Derby, etc. … Gordon Banks played at Leicester and Stoke; Bobby Moore played his entire first-division career at West Ham; Billy Wright was a lifer for Wolves. In Italy, all these guys would have ended up at Milan, Inter or Juventus. If they were Spanish, then Barcelona or Real Madrid. In England, somehow, it’s Leicester and Stoke …

To do list:
Roberto Carlos
Sinisa Mihajlovic
Francesco Totti
Thierry Henry
Steven Gerrard

Missing data:

I’ve had the hardest time tracking down data for some Brazilian players. If anyone has year-by-year info for Tostão, Gylmar, Vavá, Jairzinho or Gérson,  I sure would appreciate seeing it.

The Holy Grail is Matthias Sindelar, who played in Austria between the wars. If anybody can come up with club data for him, I’d be eternally grateful.