Technical v Mental Attributes: An Experiment

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For years playing Football Manager I have scouted and searched players, seen so many come and go through each team I create over the past editions. More often than not the players fail to live up to mine, and my scouts, expectations. Years of battling away at a lower level club, trying to build them up towards the top have you searching far and wide for the right kind of player. That led me to think, how can we judge the best player to improve our side? How can we avoid wasting time and money, when at a low level there may not be much of either? Many, including myself, trust the scout staring system, but it is based on a number of factors such as club reputation and scout attributes that it may give a false indication of the players’ ability. Some search the stats and this is a method I would recommend but it takes time and if I need a player on deadline day then I need to act fast.

Attributes. In the early days this was always my way to judge a player. It’s simple, the higher the number for finishing the better the player will be at scoring, right? But what about composure, if he loses his head in a one on one then all the finishing points in the world won’t help. Same goes for a central defender, high attributes for positioning is ideal right? If your player is in the right place when the cross comes in then he has a better chance of dealing with the problem. Unless that is he has a heading attribute of eight. Getting the right balance between Technical and Mental obviously makes sense, the more high attributes the better the player. Spending much of my career outside the top level, however, has left these players out of my reach. It begs the question though, when searching, what is more important, technique or mental strength? As soon as you filter out realistic searches, the players with 15+ for everything disappear, but what should we focus on?

The premise: run an experiment to see what is more important to a players performance, high technical or mental attributes.

The method: using the editor I will create new players, four with increased mental attributes and four with increase technical attributes. I will then test run two seasons, one with the four technical players and one with the four mental players. The players will be separated into positions over the pitch and specialise in specific roles. The positions and roles selected will be as follows:
Central defender on defend role; Fullback on support role; central midfielder on defend; and advanced forward attack. These roles were selected as they had a good balance between technical and mental attributes.

Each player would have identical current/potential ability, reputation and foot rating. They were copied from Charlton Athletic player Jake Forster-Caskey. It was a fairly arbitrary selection but under the following considerations. Charlton are at a level I believe the created players will comfortably perform at without being picked up by larger clubs and Forster-Caskey is a good age for the test, 22.

Each player will be an expert in their specific position but no other. I allocated 20 points for each player and selected that they prefer to play on the left as this matches their best-footed rating.

I then left the personal data as it was for the original player for each newly created footballer.

Finally, I gave the players their on the field attributes, as described below.

Technical players:

All players were given a value of 10 for each mental attribute in the editor. Some of these values translated into the game as 9’s depending on the position of the player. Similarly, the 15’s I entered were translated to 14 as the game started.

Central Defender was given values of 10 for each technical component apart from heading, marking and tackling where he was allocated 15.

Fullback Support was given values of 10 for each technical apart from crossing, marking, passing and tackling which were all given 15.

Central Midfield Defend was given 10’s for each technical attribute apart from first touch, heading, marking, passing and tackling.

Advanced Forward was given 10’s for everything except for dribbling, finishing, first touch, heading and passing.

Mental Players:

All players were given a value of 10 for each technical attribute in the editor. Again some of these values translated into the game as 9’s depending on the position of the player.

Central Defender was given values of 10 for all mental attributes apart from anticipation, decisions and positioning. There are other important mental attributes for this role but as the technical player only had three attributes of 15 then this was only fair. These were the three attributes I saw were the most important to a CD.

Fullback Support was given 10’s for all mental with the exception of anticipation, concentration, positioning and work rate. Again to match the four increased attributes for the technical player.

Centre Midfield Defend was given 10 for all mental apart from concentration, decisions, determination, positioning and teamwork.

Advanced forward received increased attributes for anticipation, composure, decisions, determination and work rate.

Physical attributes:

All players were given a base physical attribute of 12 but increased ones to reflect their individual position. 15 attributes were given for the following areas: CD (jumping reach and strength) CM (fitness and stamina) FB (acceleration, fitness and stamina) AF (acceleration and balance. Both Mental and Technical players received the same values.

Predictions:

I am expecting there to be some noticeable difference in the statistics for the technical and mental players. Having tested four separate positions I should get a broad set of results indicating which attributes are more important. The results of the team are not so important, I’ll take a cursory glance at it and bare weight to them if there is a serious difference. The reasoning for this is that each game of Football Manager is different, one could play the same match and line up a number of times and obtain differing results.

Over the course of the season, I am expecting the technical players to have a better success rate for tackling, passing, crossing where as the mental should be better at positioning.

Analysis:

Central Defence
In this position, the key statistics that we will be comparing should include tackling, heading and interceptions.

The above data gives a surprising result as there is no real strength to the mental CD. They have better positioning, anticipation and decision making attributes so I would expect them to have a high statistic for interceptions, yet it is the same result as the technical player. The mental player has a slightly better success rate for heading the ball, possibly due to his anticipation, however, he attempted less per game than the technical player. Tackling is the real stand out set of data. In a post game analysis of a match, the tackling figure is quite low compared to interceptions or headers. The technical player, however, won double the number of tackles per game than the mental player. Where all the other stats have been similar this is a noticeable difference and shows that the tackling attribute far outweighs any mental one when it comes to the art of the tackle. Over the league season, the technical defence conceded five goals fewer than the mental, at just over one per game. The mental side conceded one every 62 minutes of play, almost 1.5 times quicker. The mental player conceded fewer fouls per game than his technical counterpart, showing his better positioning and anticipation.

Fullback
This position has more involvement in both defensive and attacking phases of play. I set the role as support so was not expecting to have much attacking return but still need the players to make an impact at times. First and foremost though they are a defender so I’ll be using that as a bench mark.

As with the Central Defenders, there is little difference in the statistics for heading. The technical player, who has the better attribute rating does perform better over the season but the mental attributes for his counterpart were enough to remain competitive. In a similar way, the mental defender performed better on interceptions, however, it was not a significant difference. The major differences between the two players were once again seen in the tackling statistics. The technical player was considerably more adept at tackling than the mental player. He attempted almost one tackle more per game, winning almost 10% more. This is a significant difference as it is these fine margins which could stop a goal during the build up. So what about the other side of the fullbacks game, the support when attacking. Well as you can see there again is very little difference. Despite the increase in crossing attributes, there was little difference seen in the completed crosses or assists. In fact, it was the mental player who had double the amount of assists over the season with four. Even with a far superior passing attribute, the technical player had only 2% better pass completion over the season.

Central midfield (defend)
The defensive side of central midfield must foremost be a shield for the back line, mopping up loose passes and breaking down play quickly before an attack can build momentum. Some like their CMd to be a playmaker and while this wasn’t an aim for the experiment I will look into these statistics as it is still important that all players can pass and assist the team going forward.

Starting with the defensive aspects of play there is, as with the previous players, better results for tackling from the technical player. His extra attribute weighting for tacking allowed him to make a tackle every 30 minutes compared to 43 mintes with the mental player. He was however only slightly more successful in these tackles, winning 2% more over the season. One possible reason for the mental players’ lower tackle rate could be his slightly better interception statistics. The mental player made an interception in just over every eight minutes, compared to the technical player being every nine. One point to note from the previous positions was that there was a notable difference in heading statistics. The mental player won more headers per minute than the technical player. He won a header every 19 minutes compared to every 21.5 for the technical player. The mental player also won 10% more headers attempted than the technical player, showing that his positioning attribute helped over the heading attribute.
There was no major difference in discipline with both players making a foul every 35 minutes and being dismissed once over the season. The only difference was that the mental player picked up five more yellow cards in fewer minutes.
Going forward the mental player performed better scoring 3 goals and assisted 4 times compared to the technical players’ 1 goal and 2 assists. Pass completion for both players was similar but the mental player had more shots on target per shot taken.

Advanced forward
The advanced forward is the main goal scorer for the side and so this will be the main statistic used to judge. I will also look into headers and dribbles as the technical player has higher attributes for these and they are important for the role. Assists also will be an indication of player performance.

Both players had a similar amount of game time, with the technical player featured in around 200 minutes more. Over that time, however, he scored three fewer goals than the mental player. The mental player scored on average a goal every 160 minutes, so better than one in every two games. The technical player, however, scored once every 213 minutes, more than every two games. The mental player also provided three times the amount of assists, 6 compared to the technical players 2. Shots on target ratio were similar, the technical player out performing his counterpart by 3% over the season.
Dribbling was an area where the technical player stood out as he used his higher attribute rating to complete a dribble every 41 minutes, compared to every 66 for the mental player. Heading, however, there was little difference considering that the attributes were a lot higher for the technical player. The mental player outperformed the technical one over the course of the season.

Conclusion

So if you’re short of cash or have a low reputation which attributes should be your priority for each position?

Central defence
The only significant difference during the season was the amount of tackles made and the success rate. It seems that a high rating for tackling is the most important attribute for a defender. Statistics for heading came out almost identical over the season. The mental attributes were slightly more successful in winning headers so things such as positioning and anticipation are important, but not by much. Interceptions are where I expected to see a difference as there were no attributes which favoured the technical player, however, the result was identical over the season.

Fullback
As with the CD above, there was a significant difference in tackling statistics. The technical player used his higher attribute rating to great effect and completed almost one tackle per game more than the mental player (2.93 per 90 compared to 2.05). Passing and crossing did not make much of a difference given the gap in attribute and in fact, the mental player scored higher in some of these areas. Interceptions were higher for the mental player who made 0.71 more per 90 minutes so anticipation and positioning should be something to consider when assessing your options.

Central midfield
Again we saw a higher number of tackles from the technical player so this is important. As with the full back, there was a significant difference in interceptions and so finding a player with higher concentration and positioning could be key in the defensive areas outside of centre back. The mental player achieved a better heading success showing that a lower rating in heading attribute can be compensated by strong mental ones.

Advanced forward
The statistics are more in favour of mental attributes when it comes to putting the ball in the net. A goal every 160 minutes compared to 213 minutes for the technical player speaks volumes about the importance of composure and decisions. Despite having only a rating of 9 for finishing the mental player was able to come out on top and even provided three times the number of assists in less game time. The only weakness shown was a lower number of dribbles attempted, but given his low attribute, this is likely a good thing.

So in summary, what is it better to focus on, Technical or Mental attributes? It does depend on the job you need doing but it seems from the above that mental attributes can perform as good a job, if not better as the technical one with the exception of tackling. When looking for a defensive player this needs to be included.

Thank you for taking time to either read the whole piece or at least the summary. If you have any thoughts to add or would like to continue the conversation please comment below or find me on twitter on @accordingtofm

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