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On Player Evaluation

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It's transfer season. We haven't seen Chelsea kick a ball in anger since a certain Didier Drogba sent Manuel Neuer the wrong way at the Allianz Arena almost two months ago, and if you're anything like me you're starting to forget what real, live football matches look like. Instead, we're in full-on team building mode. Eden Hazard and Marko Marin are in already, but the Blues obviously aren't done.

That means we're all having a lot of fun casting our eyes over transfer targets from around the world and figuring out how they'd fit into the squad. In order to do so, we're having to figure out how good the likes of Andre Schurrle, Stevan Jovetic and Oscar actually are compared to what we have. That's not a trivial task, and I suspect we're taking it too lightly.

We don't have the statistics to make direct comparisons between players in the same league, let alone between a guy in the Premier League and one in Brazil. Most of us aren't able to watch games from across the world either - we have to rely on video snippets, hearsay and the supposed prices of our targets to form an evaluation of the players Chelsea are interested in.

This is obviously not ideal, but even if you're fully familiar with a player it's very difficult to put them in the context of Chelsea and the Premier League when you've only seen them elsewhere. It's very difficult to compare a youth player to a senior one simply because of the quality of their competition -- a guy blowing folks away in the FA Youth Cup looks really impressive, but if you dropped him into the senior squad he'd get destroyed (this is why fans almost always overrate prospects, incidentally).

Obviously, there are certain attributes you can be confident in. We're pretty sure, for example, that Alex Kiwomya's really, really fast. Shooting ability and close control, sure. But footballers are meant to beat other footballers, and it's very difficult to know how, say, an Oscar will do against Stoke without seeing him play against teams like Stoke. This makes scouting extremely important.

Instead of seeing a player and noting that he does well (or poorly), it's important to watch for what he does well or poorly. Building up a picture of a player's skillset allows us to envision what they'd do in different leagues and different positions. Seeing raw numbers or being impressed by an overall performance does not. You have to be able to break up a footballer into components in order to see how he'd do elsewhere. This is very difficult, and more than a little subjective on top of that.

In the Jovetic thread yesterday, a commenter mentioned that we were underrating Daniel Sturridge because we'd seen him play all the time for Chelsea, while overrating foreign talent because they play in easier leagues and we focus more on the positive side of his play (highlights, raw statistics, etc). This is an excellent point, and, I suspect, an entirely accurate one -- it's very easy to dream on those we're less familiar with while ignoring what a player like Sturridge brings to the table.

So when you're arguing about how good one player is vs. another, especially when they're playing halfway across the world from Stamford Bridge, remember that a) it's difficult to defend strong opinions about said players if you aren't particularly familiar with them and b) people who are familiar with them can reasonably have vastly differing perspectives on just how good they are and how they'd adapt to certain situations. That's part of the beauty of football.