As my birthday was approaching, I had the opportunity to talk about my professional development in soccer – or “calcio”, as I prefer to call it – with a few growing companies.
The typical American stress on statistics and quantitative data tends to foster individualist strategies within such a team-based sport. Unlike many other sports in the U.S., soccer is one of the least dense (number of players over playing surface) and team-play is key. Soccer is the sport in which one player, when not supported by the team, cannot be consistently decisive. Journalistic obsessions with nominating MVPs, best players, top scorers is unnecessary for the game and fruitful for marketing.
In this case, a comparison might come handy. The NBA is arguably the most individualistic sport in the United States (OK Toronto, North America) and one of the biggest sports market in the world. However, team-play is key. Looking at statistics at this point in the final series, one can infer that LeBron James and Shawn Marion have had very similar performances (points, rebounds, FTAs). Nonetheless, Jason Kidd could be more decisive than Dwaine Wade even without scoring (game 4) and Dallas’ defensive effort is not well depicted by the sheer number of field goals allowed. Game 5 reinforced my point as James scored a triple-double, proving to be a very talented player once again, but his team was beaten in the final rush by ageing opponents.
A similar stats-bias occurs in calcio. When I used to take notes of matches, I would record fouls and shoots… but to what purpose? What can you tell by such information?
The value of the individual player is substantiated by team work. And notwithstanding the anglo-american mania for stats, soccer remains a qualitative sport. The evaluation is to be based on qualities such as vision of the game, situation-reading capabilites, more than just technical skills. No coach likes a circus juggler on a team.
Again, the cleavage is formed between the two sides of the Western world. Soccer is a European sport more than a – Northern – American one. This might help explain why BBVA (a Spanish – oops, Basque – bank, sponsor of the NBA) centers its commercials on team-play.
The social value of soccer as a team sport is hardly comparable to any other sport. Like all other games it carries a “random component” that renders it unpredictable. However, it enhances a peculiar interaction, as the individual players involved are fully dependent on the performance of the whole team. Solidarity, cooperation, and mutual respect are common values that one can witness during the games.
I’ll leave it here, but more posts will be dedicated al gioco più bello.