Statistics used for evil: Sylla was Villa's best player?

Charlie Crowhurst

Statistics can tell us many things. They can also obfuscate the truth and tell us deceitful lies.

If I asked you who Aston Villa needed most on the pitch to lead to success, I think you'd probably say something reasonable. Fabian Delph, perhaps, or Ron Vlaar. Maybe Christian Benteke is the answer. Heck, I'd accept Brad Guzan or even Gabby Agbonlahor. Plenty of "correct" answers are available for you to choose from. 

In the past season, however, there is definitely one player who would be the wrong answer to that question: Yacouba Sylla. After a nice end-of-season stretch last year, Sylla became an albatross for the team this season. His time on the pitch was marred by routinely giving the ball to the other team. For fans we had vocal cords sore from wailing, teeth chipped from gnashing, and garments made ribbon-like by rending. Sylla was unquestionably one of Villa's worst performers this season.

But there is actually a way to make Sylla seem useful through the power of statistics. Opta crunched the numbers, and it seems as if Sylla was Villa's most talismanic player. Looking at players who made at least 10 appearances, they figured out the winning percentage of teams when those players saw the pitch. Sylla led Villa with 36.4%. 

The real takeaway here is that Aston Villa won very few matches last season, and Sylla happened to be a part of four of them. The regular players who are actually vital to the club (Vlaar, Delph, Benteke, Guzan, etc.) are obviously far better, but since they play every match they are available, they have much worse winning percentages. 

Let this be your somewhat regular reminder that statistics, in the wrong hands, are evil deceitful things. But somehow it does seem fitting that a player who was so ineffective is the winningest on the club this year. 

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