Last year the wise people at the Football Writers’ Association picked West Ham midfielder Scott Parker as their player of the year. It was a decision I found bemusing but since then, after his transfer to Tottenham, I have been relatively impressed with the Englishman’s performances. I always saw Parker as a good player who stood out in a mediocre team. At Tottenham, the experienced tackler has better company and that has helped him raise his game.
Comparing Parker’s efforts at Spurs and West Ham along with those of Denilson at Arsenal provides some interesting talking points. The following graphic has the Brazilian’s stats from 2008-09, arguably his best season at Arsenal, and 09-10. For Parker, the table contains figures from a couple of years at West Ham (08-09, 10-11) and the current one under Redknapp.
If we just look at the numbers without a context, Denilson’s stats for the 08-09 season are the best of the five columns. His duelling and tackling figures are respectable, interceptions are easily the highest, passing frequency is the highest and accuracy is second best. He’s also made an impact in terms of goals, assists, and chance creation.
Parker at Spurs comes close to these numbers and even betters Denilson, only marginally, on some like Goals Conceded/Game, Ground Duel Success, and Passing Accuracy.
Denilson suffered from injuries and didn’t have a good time in 09-10 but his numbers aren’t that bad. Certainly not in comparison with the highly rated Parker, whose stats from the award winning season are quite ordinary.
Of course, context is important and one could argue Scott Parker was fighting a valiant but losing battle in a team of no-hope-rs. That is a fair point but I am not sure if that justifies a Player of the Year award.
I think the most interesting comparison is that of Denilson’s best season with Parker’s current season in a team that is flying high (by their standards). Contextually, these two appear to be the closest.
It’s interesting to note that the Goals Conceded/Game figure is very close but in favour of the Tottenham man. He hasn’t played enough games yet so it will be interesting to see how this stands at the end of the season.
Denilson contributed a number of goals and assists that season – quite defying his reputation as a player who only passed sideways and backwards – but Parker has only managed one assist so far. Again the Englishman has the whole season to add to this but I’ll be surprised if he can match the Brazilian.
In terms of duelling and tackling success, Parker is marginally better than Denilson in Ground Duels but lags far behind in Aerial Duels and Tackles. This should come as a massive surprise to those who berated Denilson’s tackling abilities and thought signing someone like Parker would have been an improvement. Indeed, Parker could have been a massive liability in terms of Aerial Duels, which can be considered Arsenal’s Achilles’ heel.
Another interesting point worth noting is that Denilson engaged in Duels a lot more frequently than his counterpart for this comparison, but Parker has a relatively higher tackling frequency, which might have contributed his image as a battler.
In the two seasons we are discussing, Denilson had an outstanding rate of interceptions which showed his ability to read the game. Parker barely makes just more than half that number. In fact, in 08-09 Denilson managed around 4.1 interceptions per game – a figure at least 0.5 higher than the best ANY player has managed in the League in the last two seasons.
The Player of the Year winner does have a better passing accuracy at Spurs, which is again a surprise considering Denilson was known for his metronomic passes, but his frequency of passing is lower as is his chance creation rate and the Minutes/(Goal + Assist) figure. Some might say Parker is even more of a safe passer than the Brazilian!
It is also worth noting that the Tottenham midfielder is now a very experienced campaigner whereas the much-maligned Arsenal man was still a relatively young player in those days.
It is easy to discard statistics but I believe such comparison’s show why Arsene always supported Denilson and said few better were available. I don’t believe signing Parker would have helped Arsenal in any way, it certainly would not have been a massive improvement many simply assumed it would be.
The way I see it, expectations play a big part in how a player’s performance is judged. At West Ham there were no expectations and Parker stood out among a bunch of under-performing or sub-standard players. At Spurs, he is doing well in a team that will be happy to finish in the top four and has thus far only competed for one trophy. Amidst low expectations, Parker’s good performances seemed great. Once a number of people, somewhat erroneously, misread a player’s efforts without factoring in the context, the hype-machine exaggerates it to unrealistic levels and the incessantly-repeated, lazy, and mostly-unjustified opinion creates a legend of sorts.
For Denilson, at Arsenal, the expectations were much higher as a title challenge was expected on many fronts.In the context of those expectations, the Brazilian’s good and efficient performances seemed poor, bordering on useless. If Parker’s team ever makes it to that stage the opinion about his abilities will probably be just as vitriolic as the hate directed towards the Brazilian. That’s a big if though, so we might never really get a chance to find out.
Don’t get me wrong, there is no denying Scott Parker’s talents. He is a good player who is doing very well for his team. He’s also shown an excellent professional attitude all through his career. But he’s also benefited from lower expectations and hasn’t really been tested at the highest level.
I am not claiming that Denilson was a great player either. The Brazilian was an efficient player with his set of strengths and weaknesses. No one can forget images of Denilson ambling back when opponents were charging at the Arsenal goal. Such events are few and far between but they stay in the mind the longest. They linger even more when a player is not a fan favourite. Interestingly, Wilshere too had some such moments last season but they went largely unnoticed. Nevertheless, there is no denying Denilson had his set of faults that were often hard to accept.
The point here is to show how close the two players are and how wrong the media-driven assumptions can be. Personally speaking, it’s hard to see how anyone can claim Scott Parker would have been a tremendous improvement over Denilson. But if you want to try, I am all ears, or eyes in this online context.