Euro 2012 Semi-Finals: Are Spain boring, yes/no/NEITHER.

On-line football analysis, which has to use a technical term, ‘mushroomed’ in recent years, has reached its ‘meta’ stage.

Having graduated from Andy Townsend’s tactics truck to Opta Joe, from Charles Reep banging it into the box to Jonathan Wilson’s inversion of the pyramid, via a wealth of accessible online data (from the likes of whoscored.com) and its privatised counterpart ProZone, football has been broken down into a huge trove of analysable numbers. Moneyball.

That quantative work having been done, the next and unavoidable stage is qualitative analysis. This is a familiar process, back in Aristotle’s day ‘ethics’ was simply a list of things that were good. Even Kant, that notorious complicater of the good things, was concerned simply to find out how we work out stuff that is good. So far so familiar, Opta Joe is like the Aristotle of football:

S/He collates facts for us, and classifies them with adjectives. Straightforward.

The next phase, philosophically speaking, is about qualification. But what, asks the meta-ethicist, think Wittgenstein, or AJ Ayer, Logical Positivism innit, does good mean? In the case of Opta Joe, and the above tweet, the question would be what does burly mean?

And this is the direction that football analysis has taken. The vanguard of this new movement has been, appropriately, the all conquering Spanish team: tiki-taki-ing progenitors of a thousand passes.

The People’s Republic of Twitter is divided on the issue: some think Spain are boring, at least as many think they’re great and the same number again think that even if they are it’s not their fault.

All of these people are wrong.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr David Hume:

“I cannot forbear adding to these reasonings an observation, which may, perhaps, be found of some importance. In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remark’d, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary way of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when of a sudden I am surpriz’d to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is, however, of the last consequence” (A Treatise of Human Nature).

This, admittedly rather wordy, formulation is sometimes called Hume’s Guillotine and fundamentally splits ‘ought’ sentences from ‘is’-es. Logically, Hume argues, there is no link between, for example, the hurt caused by murder and our obligation not to do it.

In the same way, it seems that there is no logical link between the number of passes Sergio Busquets gets through in a match (74 last time out) and the desirability of passes in general. Which means that it is not that you ‘ought’ to love Biscuits or ‘ought’ to think he’s dull. It’s up to you.

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