There’s making a small administrative mistake… and then there’s this.
On Thursday reports emerged from the Daily Mail that Sunderland had played striker Ji-Dong Won in four Premier League games at the start of this season, but they hadn’t received international clearance to do so. That turned out to be true, but the PL have decided to fine Sunderland and will not deduct points from the North East club. The error was found out in December and Sunderland are understood to have paid the fine in early 2014.
South Korean forward Ji, who has since been sold to Augsburg and then signed by Borussia Dortmund for the start of the 2014-15 Bundesliga season, is now at the center of a huge investigation into the Black Cats’ handling of the ordeal. The problem came when Sunderland failed to gain international clearance when he returned to his parent club last season, after Ji had spent time on loan with Augsburg in Germany.
According to reports, Sunderland’s American owner Ellis Short has fired club secretary Liz Coley after her error has left the Mackems facing a PL investigation while they’re already facing an uphill battle against relegation. However Coley is said to have left on her own accord.
Ji only played in 28 games for Sunderland in two-and-a-half years on Wearside, as he scored just twice and often came under fire from home fans.
The pacey 22-year-old forward played against Fulham, Southampton and Crystal Palace in August and then against Manchester United in October before it emerged he didn’t have international clearance.
Many will feel Sunderland did extremely well to avoid a points penalty for fielding an ineligible player. That would’ve seriously impacted their chances of staying in the Premier League, as Gus Poyet’s men already sit four points from safety with eight games to go. Sunderland’s relegation rivals down at the bottom will surely kick up a fuss over this, as they aim to get in advantage they can in the race against the drop.
For a lot of us, that meant delving into statistics and seeing what matched the eye test. Many started Googling the name “N'Golo Kante“, the dynamic disruptor who’d move to Chelsea in August.
He’s a household name now, with some personalities even arguing that he should buck the trend of Ballon d’Or nominees including only major statistic producers (There was a time when names like Fabio Cannavaro and Matthias Sammer claimed the honor, you know).
For our purposes, we’ll use a pair of advanced stats sites and the good ol’ eye test. (Of the sites we’re using, Squawka seems to skew toward high attack scores, while WhoScored tilts a bit toward the back, so life is good if a player hits both sites’ Top 50).
Before getting into our team — we promise no 10-picture, click-to-reveal-next stuff — some stats that stood out.
— Three players have had outstanding “short” seasons for different reasons.
Leicester City’s Wilfried Ndidi took a short spell to adjust to the Premier League after arriving in January, but has been the Foxes’ most influential player in their recent turnaround).
Bournemouth’s Nathan Ake essentially was the Cherries’ first-half success before heading back to Chelsea where Antonio Conte won’t move him ahead of Marcos Alonso or Victor Moses (and that’s actually understandable as you’ll see below).
Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas just doesn’t feature a ton for Conte, but in limited time his per-90 stats on Squawka trail only Eden Hazard and Alexis Sanchez.
Ander Herrera (Manchester United, 7.44, 36.64) – Long-heralded at Athletic Bilbao, Herrera is finally showing what made him so sought. One odd stat that may be explained by his willingness to run to any situation: he’s very high in average times dribbled past.
Idrissa Gana Gueye (Everton, 7.34, 20.57) – The best player in Aston Villa’s awful 2015-16, he’s been arguably as effective as N’Golo Kante. Seriously.
Matt Phillips (West Bromwich Albion) – Once the top player on a relegated QPR, Phillips is fifth in the Premier League in assists despite missing the last four matches with injury.
Christian Eriksen (Tottenham Hotspur, 7.41, 31.89) – Second in the PL in key passes, he doesn’t get the plaudits of English teammates Dele Alli and Harry Kane. The relationships are very symbiotic.
Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace, 7.44) – On an under-achieving team, Zaha’s statistics are wild. He’s the most-fouled player in the league, and attempts/completes the most dribbles in the PL. He gives the ball away a lot, too, but that happens when you’re the focal point of everything your team does in the attacking third.
Alex Iwobi (Arsenal, 30.54) – The Nigerian turns 21 in May, and has four goals and seven assists across all competitions.
“[Ibrahimovic] is a genius, he’s very intense because he wants to win everything, even football-tennis,” Herrera said to Radio MARCA.
“He assumes this role of doing or saying what he likes in front of the media because he does not care, he can say that he’ll score 30 goals or is the best because he can afford to.”
There’s certainly something to stature when it comes to saying what you feel (though on the other hand, being egotistical is rarely controversial. It’s not like Ibrahimovic is often railing on controversial soccer or social issues).
We’re sure there are plenty of players across all sports, casual and professional, who don’t understand hyper-competitive teammates, but we love a guy who doesn’t turn it down when it comes to on-the-field activities. Hopefully Ibrahimovic is the Jaromir Jagr of soccer.