Suarez: The Good, The Bad, and the Illogical
I recently read an article posted over at 7am Kickoff, which asks the question Is Luis Suarez worth £55 million? The article assesses the transfers of some of Arsenal’s greats (Henry, Bergkamp, Vieira, Overmars, etc) and compares the amount the club paid for them in the past with how much that money would equate to in today’s transfer market. The important thing is that the post considers the difference between cost and perceived value of a player in order to suggest one way of answering the above questions. It’s certainly worth a read.
Though I fine the content of the post interesting, it suggests to me more about the nature of the football fan. Such relative valuations of transfer targets are found all over the internet (twitter and blogs especially) this time of year and there’s a tendency to take the easy way out in answering them.
Fan #1: “Is Suarez worth £55 million to Arsenal?“
Fan #2: “Yes, he scored 23 goals last season.”
For some people the goal tally is enough for them to give their approval to a new signing. But some goals are worth more than others. Disagree? Consider Koscielny’s goal for Arsenal in the Newcastle game in May. If that goal was not scored, Arsenal would not have secured Champions League football this season. So that individual goal is worth UEFA prestige for the club, a chance at even greater achievement, not to mention the money the club gets just from being in the Champions League in the first place.
Already we are getting into part of a discussion some fans don’t want to approach. We’re starting to quantify parts of the beautiful game (the term “beautiful” alone being quite divisive in its specific meaning). I’m a football fan and as a football fan I love my club. To love something is to have a bias towards it, and a rather strong one at that. As a supporter of Arsenal, which I love, I may ignore some dubious policies or practices of the club leaders, if I trust those leaders. Already, I’m letting my emotions get in the way of my assessment of the club’s situation. Those who have an opposite feeling to mine may attack the manager or the board for what they are doing, but these people are also guilty of thinking with their hearts and not their heads, if you will.
The point I’m trying to get at here is that football is, at its core, all about logic and analysis. We can look at the types of goals a player like Suarez has scored and determine relative value for each, we can compare shot conversions, minutes played, successful and failed dribble attempts; we can do all of this and come up with sets of numbers that may suggest that Suarez is worth £55 million or the numbers may suggest he’s not. Science assesses our physical realities, and biology, chemistry, kinetics, physics, etc. can all be used to compare player abilities on the pitch. This is part of the logical component, the use of the rational mind to make sense of the footballing world. Clubs and managers go to quite an extent to view this type of information on players and how the club is performing in order to improve. (Suarez scored 23 goals, but if he comes to Arsenal he’ll still do a medical).
But even though football fundamentally is based on movement of bodies in space and can be viewed through the lenses of science, analysis, and rational thought, the footballing fan is not. As mentioned above, to be a fan of a club there’s an element of emotional attachment we develop. Does it really matter whether or not Arsenal win the league next season? Secure a Champions League spot? Play beautiful football? Does it really matter whether or not the club even exists? No, but I feel as though it should matter, or I feel as though it does, because I’ve allowed myself to have an emotional stake in the success of this organization. If Arsenal disappeared tomorrow the world’s problems would still exist, there would still be rich and poor, wars, economic alliances, etc. That may be the case, but I’d be personally devastated. I feel as though my club and my love or opinion of it should have value, whether or not it can be quantified.
Fan #1: “Is Suarez worth £55 million to Arsenal?“
Fan #2: “No, he’s a racist. He bites people. He’s a despicable individual who has no place at my club.”
Fan #1: “But what about how active he is in the final third? Did you know he has a [insert statistical analysis here] that suggests he’s the first or second best striker in Europe?
Fan #2: “Yeah, well… he smells and is still a racist and Arsenal isn’t about that.”
I’ve seen this argument in the last few days. We all feel a certain way about Suarez or any other player and want to feel justified in our opinion. The catch is that we don’t want other people to use facts or numbers to argue against it, especially if our opinion, as it often is, is based on emotion rather than on facts. Would being a football fan be as fun if the only way to look at the game was through numbers and statistics? Probably not, and so we’re selective in our analyses of players; we ignore parts of the bad in favour of the good (whatever we deem that to be), if it makes us feel better. Fan #2 above may change his/her opinion on Suarez as a racist if he joins the club and has a 30 goal season. Fan #1 may come to evaluate the nature of racism in the game and change his/her opinion.
Our emotions have a price, but do we want to find out what that price is?