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Here’s what you’re getting terribly wrong about player comparisons

I praised N'Golo Kante and many people thought I insulted him

Never underestimate the internet…

Having watched Barcelona v Inter Milan on Wednesday night, I dipped into the stats of Liverpool’s 4-0 thrashing of Red Star Belgrade on Thursday morning to get a feel for the game.

I’d seen some praise for Fabinho on social media and, lo and behold, turns out he made nine successful tackles.

That immediately struck me as quite a lot.


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His best display in a Liverpool shirt yet

Getty - Contributor
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His best display in a Liverpool shirt yet

For comparison, I looked up N’Golo Kante’s average tackles per game in the Premier League last season — 3.3.

Concrete evidence that nine tackles is indeed, a lot.

So, for the benefit of the 70-something thousand people/bots who have bizarrely chosen to follow my Facebook page, I posted this…

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I thought nothing of it.

A few hours later, when I checked my notifications, I was surprised to see that a few people assumed I was suggesting Fabinho is a better defensive midfielder than Kante.

This made me realise that not everyone understands this type of player comparison.

My sole intention was to reinforce the idea that nine tackles in one game is significantly above average.

The broader conclusion would be that the Brazilian, after a fragmented start to his Anfield career, may yet become a key figure in Liverpool’s midfield.

Just for clarification, I think Kante is the best in the world at what he does

Getty Images - Getty
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Just for clarification, I think Kante is the best in the world at what he does

I used Kante as a comparison because he is widely-recognised as a defensive midfielder who makes a lot of tackles.

To me, it’s a compliment to be held up as the yardstick by which all others in your position are measured.

Here’s an example of something similar, this time from the BBC…

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Is the writer suggesting that Exeter’s Jayden Stockley is a better player than Harry Kane and Mohamed Salah?

No, of course not.

Kane and Salah have been used as comparisons because anyone who has paid even vague attention of football in 2018 knows they have scored lots of goals.

Stockley’s goalscoring exploits are given context.

It doesn’t need to be said that Exeter play at a much lower level than Spurs and Liverpool — we all know that.

Just as we know Fabinho is not on Kante’s level, not at this stage in their careers anyway.

And it’s irrelevant, because the purpose of the comparison is not to suggest Stockley is a better goalscorer, it’s simply to highlight the sheer volume of goals he’s scored for Exeter in 2018.

Kane would probably score 60 goals-a-season in League Two

Getty - Contributor
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Kane would probably score 60 goals-a-season in League Two

Imagine if the headline was instead: Jayden Stockley currently outscoring (insert two out-of-form League Two strikers here)

Wouldn’t be particularly informative, would it?

Dozens of players have also outscored those struggling strikers, so Stockley’s efforts would have been undersold.

It’s the same reason I used Kante as a measure for Fabinho’s tackle stats against Red Star — the Frenchman is known for his omnipresence.

If I said Fabinho made more tackles than Jonny McNon-League, it wouldn’t enhance the statistic very much, if at all.

Not Ballon d’Or worthy just yet

PA:Empics Sport
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Not Ballon d’Or worthy just yet

The internet can be a toxic and spiteful place at times.

Perhaps this is why some assumed I was reaching to take Kante down a peg.

Praise for players who represent rival clubs (I support Leeds, by the way) is rare, whereas insults and attempts to discredit opponents are far too common.

It’s about recognising what the comparison is trying to achieve.

And of course, partial responsibility lies with the writer/publisher/tweeter and their delivery.

Generally speaking, comparisons to Messi are always flalttering

Getty - Contributor
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Generally speaking, comparisons to Messi are always flalttering

Assumed knowledge is the key to it all.

I assume everyone considers Kante one of the best defensive midfielders in the world — fair enough?

The BBC assume everyone knows Kane and Salah have scored a lot of goals in recent times.

And so on and so forth.

The most important thing to remember is that not all comparisons aim to place one over the other.

Some are complimentary to both.


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