Player Ratings are an unusual thing. For a feature of the football landscape which, on the surface, seems so utterly useless an awful lot of people read them.
What is the appeal?
They are the ultimate in subjective viewpoint, often from a different writer each week, and have no relation to any context outside of their column. They are often influenced by factors which do not reflect the totality of a player’s 90 minute performance; be that a wonder goal to cover up a dreadful game, one vital loss of possession which sticks in the mind over a good all round performance, or even more arbitrary things such as the player’s nationality (i.e. the English Player Bonus).
However, that is not where the true value of Player Ratings lies. If done well, they can be very much worth your time. As with many things, half the problem is with the writers and half with the readers. Here is how Player Ratings can be done better, by everyone.
First of all, the writers. They should preferably be done by one writer across the course of the season. Why? If one person does them over the course of a season they achieve a better perspective due to taking the long view. Trends, patterns, and progressions emerge which allow them to better evaluate a player’s performance by placing it in the greater extended context of a whole season. As I have previously argued, football without context is nothing. This ensures that the Ratings are made with more in mind than one accidental game saving block in the 86th minute.
Also, it should go without saying that the writer must put down words which bear some resemblance to the mark out of ten actually awarded. This is crucial.
Secondly, the readers. There is no gentle way to put this, but people read Player Ratings wrong. That’s the long and short of it. There is a prevailing sense that anything less than a 7/10 is insulting, suggesting a player had a terrible game. A 5/10 is seen as diabolical. This is so, so wrong.
Player Ratings have to be read in the context of 5/10 being the average mark, the starting point from which all players are evaluated either upwards or downwards. 7/10 is not the starting point.
Here is a rough guide to what a mark means on the rare occasions I do a Player Ratings piece:
0/10 – Did not get dressed properly this morning. Came out of the tunnel with toothpaste on his face and cereal in his hair. This score is essentially impossible to ‘achieve’ as it represents complete and total failure on a molecular level. Not a footballer.
1/10 – Drastically below average. Barely aware he was on a football pitch. Present in body, but not mind. Everything he did actively damaged the team, apparently on purpose. Fans started mumbling about this player being involved in match fixing.
2/10 – Far below average. This player should not have been on the pitch. Body language was hostile. Fans turned against him. Other players obviously resented his poor application and complete inability to care. Made a game changing error, which everyone saw coming. No hope of a better performance next week.
3/10 – Below average. A lack of effort, close control, and quite obviously couldn’t be bothered. Might have created half a chance to score, but why? Who cares? A performance suggesting this player is unhappy with his lot in life.
4/10 – Slightly below average. Perhaps this player didn’t get a lot of sleep last night. Perhaps their cat died. Either way, today was not his day. His heart was in the right place, but the passes were a bit wayward. Will be back in the groove soon.
5/10 – Average. Bang average. Played sideways passes in lieu of attacking. Headed the ball out for a throw on the half way line for safety. However, did nothing that could inspire serious complaints. Substitution elicited surprise among the crowd as people remembered this player was actually on the pitch.
6/10 – Slightly above average. Pleasantly surprised himself a few times with his positive impact. A few speculative shots which went on target. Will fast become an automatic starter.
7/10 – Above average. An impressive performance demonstrating aspects of authority and class. Took control of his position and generally got the better of his opposite number. Contributed strongly in both attack and defence.
8/10 – Far above average. Took control of the game and defined it for short periods. Made a game winning contribution to the team and will, deservedly, be shown a lot on Match of the Day.
9/10 – Nearly perfect. Pretty much won the game on his own, and in style. Ended up drenched in his man of the match champagne having shown everyone how it is done. The opposition couldn’t get near him for the whole 90 minutes and their central midfielder looks like he has severe PTSD.
10/10 – Untouchable. Played football beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. Invented new geometry to string his passes through the defence. Not only did he dominate every aspect of the game, he somehow changed the historical narrative through his actions on the pitch. No one could look away. Grown men in the crowd wept with joy. An unrepeatable performance, but in this moment he was perfect.
Those marks are not cast in iron, nor do they represent a promise of any kind. They are malleable depending on the player, weather conditions, standard of opponent. Anything. It is dependent on the writer, mostly, which makes it important to find a writer you trust and to stick with them.
Player Ratings can be useful if written and read correctly.
Written by Alex Timperley who is on Twitter