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.

StrikersGamesTotalPer 160Sqr RootSumOffDef
Pelé680114.5926.9610.7037.6753.930.00
Eusébio53288.4926.619.4136.0253.050.00
Ferenc Puskás35556.6625.547.5333.0649.570.00
Gerd Müller62586.0122.029.2731.2944.040.00
Gunnar Nordahl32948.3523.526.9530.4747.030.00
Romário61481.0621.129.0030.1342.250.00
Ronaldo56975.4621.228.6929.9142.440.00
Hugo Sánchez49966.4921.328.1529.4742.640.00
Marco van Basten42556.8521.407.5428.9442.800.00
Luigi Riva37951.5421.767.1828.9443.510.00
Sándor Kocsis19628.2823.095.3228.4046.170.00
Gabriel Batistuta56570.4019.948.3928.3339.870.00
Just Fontaine22931.8822.275.6527.9244.550.00
Roberto Dinamite37747.3520.096.8826.9840.190.00
Jimmy Greaves65373.6618.058.5826.6336.100.00
Giuseppe Meazza52561.5618.767.8526.6137.520.00
Fritz Walter48157.0318.977.5526.5237.940.00
Telmo Zarra37245.0919.396.7126.1138.790.00
Roberto Baggio65871.4017.368.4525.8134.720.00
Dixie Dean41047.2918.456.8825.3336.910.00
Raúl91790.3115.769.5025.2631.510.00
Alan Shearer78880.0816.268.9525.2132.520.00
Omar Sívori41647.5618.296.9025.1936.590.00
Ian Rush80981.2616.079.0125.0932.140.00
Mario Kempes46150.3917.497.1024.5934.980.00
Gary Lineker51954.8116.907.4024.3033.790.00
Kenny Dalglish92585.6214.819.2524.0629.620.00
Uwe Seeler45848.8017.056.9924.0334.100.00
Arsenio Erico33236.6217.656.0523.7035.290.00
Hristo Stoichkov36639.4717.256.2823.5434.510.00
Silvio Piola58758.2915.897.6323.5231.770.00
Steve Bloomer61260.0915.717.7523.4631.420.00
Emilio Butragueño52452.9516.177.2823.4432.330.00
Tommy Lawton21624.5018.154.9523.1036.300.00
John Charles29431.9317.385.6523.0334.350.40
Denis Law57355.4815.497.4522.9430.990.00
Dennis Bergkamp78770.7714.398.4122.8028.770.00
George Weah53251.7515.567.1922.7631.130.00
Paolo Rossi31733.5916.955.8022.7533.910.00
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge62458.3214.957.6422.5929.910.00
Rudi Völler61356.8914.857.5422.3929.700.00
Jürgen Klinsmann62657.7214.757.6022.3529.500.00
Nat Lofthouse53548.8614.616.9921.6029.230.00
Eric Cantona44940.7814.536.3920.9229.060.00
Allan Simonsen42937.4913.986.1220.1127.970.00
Kevin Keegan60248.7612.966.9819.9425.920.00
José Manuel Moreno40633.3313.135.7718.9126.270.00
Matthias Sindelar32527.2113.405.2218.6126.790.00
Juan Alberto Schiaffino46934.3311.715.8617.5722.291.13

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.

Rummenigge, Völler and Klinsmann finished with almost identical numbers; it’s like West Germany had an assembly line for strikers for 15 years. Another coincidence: Dennis Bergkamp was named after Denis Law and they ended up 0.14 points apart.

WingersGamesTotalPer 160Sqr RootSumOffDef
Rivaldo54354.9616.197.4123.6132.390.00
George Best52343.0313.166.5619.7226.350.00
Francisco Gento64950.6612.497.1219.6124.980.00
Tom Finney47838.6812.956.2219.1726.570.00
Ryan Giggs85460.0711.257.7519.0021.391.12
Luís Figo89862.1611.087.8818.9622.150.00
Zbigniew Boniek30325.7413.595.0718.6727.190.00
Paulo Futre43733.6512.325.8018.1224.640.00
Garrincha38428.9712.075.3817.4524.140.00
Stanley Matthews77133.336.925.7712.6913.830.00

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 they are tactically peripheral figures with a limited ability to impact the game.

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

MidfieldersGamesTotalPer 160Sqr RootSumOffDef
Johan Cruijff61888.1222.819.3932.2038.816.82
Zico40259.3023.607.7031.3041.965.25
Alfredo Di Stéfano69593.0621.429.6531.0736.376.48
Michel Platini62080.7320.838.9829.8235.925.75
Diego Maradona67685.1520.159.2329.3835.205.11
Ronaldinho68173.0817.178.5525.7228.545.93
Ruud Gullit56562.5917.727.9125.6428.546.91
Sandro Mazzola63167.8417.208.2425.4428.725.68
Socrates21726.4019.475.1424.6033.455.48
Enzo Francescoli63665.3116.438.0824.5127.675.19
Gianni Rivera73572.1015.708.4924.1925.705.69
Teófilo Cubillas20724.4818.924.9523.8732.625.22
Lothar Matthäus88879.7214.368.9323.2921.876.85
Luis Suárez61659.8615.557.7423.2825.275.82
Michael Laudrup61659.7915.537.7323.2625.995.07
Mário Coluna60157.0815.207.5622.7523.496.91
Pavel Nedvěd60557.3615.177.5722.7425.345.00
Bobby Charlton86575.2213.918.6722.5923.873.96
Zinedine Zidane78969.9714.198.3622.5522.895.49
David Beckham69560.1213.847.7621.6021.666.03
Didí44341.5415.006.4521.4523.896.12
Frank Rijkaard57150.2314.077.0921.1621.196.96
Nils Liedholm41538.5914.886.2121.0924.615.15
Enzo Scifo44339.7614.366.3120.6723.305.43
Gheorghe Hagi36032.4914.445.7020.1423.954.93
Gunnar Gren27425.7615.045.0820.1225.045.04
Roy Keane69553.5712.337.3219.6518.616.06
Paul Gascoigne50441.5713.206.4519.6421.424.97
Raymond Kopa54543.6512.816.6119.4221.653.97
Wolfgang Overath62048.1212.426.9419.3519.425.42
Paul Breitner53341.5512.476.4518.9218.246.70
Liam Brady71652.1311.657.2218.8718.295.01
Edgar Davids57741.5911.536.4517.9816.566.50
Jean Tigana56235.8110.205.9816.1814.925.47
Ernst Ocwirk21615.2711.313.9115.2220.202.41
Danny Blanchflower59331.578.525.6214.1412.824.21
Carlos Valderrama24915.319.843.9113.7514.794.84

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.

DefendersGamesTotalPer 160Sqr RootSumOffDef
Ronald Koeman75486.0918.279.2827.5527.409.14
Gaetano Scirea64853.8713.307.3420.6417.289.33
Franco Baresi71556.2912.607.5020.1014.6910.51
Franz Beckenbauer67353.5912.747.3220.0617.098.39
Matthias Sammer33229.2414.095.4119.5019.578.62
Daniel Passarella58042.4211.706.5118.2215.098.32
Giacinto Facchetti72335.607.885.9713.846.519.25
Paolo Maldini101238.586.106.2112.312.219.99
Carlos Alberto46720.306.964.5111.465.488.43
Alessandro Nesta65620.174.924.499.410.968.88
Roberto Ayala66620.314.884.519.391.748.02
Nílton Santos49215.264.963.918.870.669.27
Bobby Moore77518.303.784.288.061.615.94
Billy Wright64516.093.994.018.001.256.73

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.

GoaliesGamesTotalPer 160Sqr RootSumOffDef
Edwin van der Sar926109.8318.9810.4829.460.0537.91
Ray Clemence1047119.3918.2410.9329.170.0036.49
Oliver Kahn85191.3717.189.5626.740.0034.36
Peter Schmeichel66371.5617.278.4625.730.2234.32
Dino Zoff87888.8216.199.4225.610.0032.37
José Luis Chilavert60465.6017.388.1025.483.9230.84
Peter Shilton1186110.3914.8910.5125.400.0429.75
Ricardo Zamora21927.2619.925.2225.140.0039.83
Sepp Maier70971.3116.098.4424.540.0032.18
Amadeo Carrizo56559.2116.777.6924.460.0033.54
Lev Yashin40044.1217.656.6424.290.0035.29
Walter Zenga58859.5316.207.7223.910.0032.40
Jean-Marie Pfaff26730.5818.335.5323.860.0036.66
Rinat Dasaev53554.7016.367.4023.750.0032.52
Pat Jennings103491.1514.109.5523.650.0028.21
Ubaldo Fillol75870.5614.898.4023.290.0029.79
Gianluca Pagliuca77262.2912.917.8920.800.0025.82
Gordon Banks67254.2412.917.3620.280.0025.83

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 the 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.