Demarai Gray has seemed destined for Spurs ever since he was seen talking at length to Jose Mourinho on the pitch back in July. Football Insider this week stated that Tottenham had opened talks with Leicester City for his transfer this summer.
It’s clear to see Demarai has an outrageous amount of talent. The two goals above highlight exactly what he brings to Leicester’s attack. He can beat players, has incredible pace and can strike a ball.
Demarai Gray to Spurs: The danger of using video clips
The problem with highlight reels and ‘wonderstrike’ is it offers a tiny sample of a players ability. Are they doing this on a consistent basis? Or are we seeing literally their handful of good moments over a whole season?
In a time before football twitter scouts, social media, youtube and even the internet, people would watch European football and international tournaments almost completely unaware of who many of the players were on the pitch.
This was also true for some clubs. Without a catalogue of video available on every team, players were signed players off the back of what they showed in a major tournament.
For example, Karel Poborský lit up Euro 96 putting in a string of man-of-the-match performances and scoring some outrageous goals.
On the back of these performances, he was snapped up by Manchester United with many believing they had a world-class talent on their hands. But after 18-months warming the bench, while David Beckham shone on the right flank, he was sold to Benfica.
Oh, and that goal he scored above, that was his first international goal. He didn’t score another for the Czech Republic for over three years.
Demarai Gray to Spurs: Small Sample Sizes
Gray has scored ten non-penalty goals in his five years at Leicester. And, the ‘Wonderstrike’ above against United was his only goal of the 2016/17 season. This suggests the 24-year-old winger is a scorer of great goals rather than a great goal-scorer.
Then, when you filter for the players with around 1.5 successful dribbles per 90 of his age, he is in a group with Jarrod Bowen, Che Adams, Dele Alli, and Dominic Solanke. Not really a group of players associated with frequent dribbling.
His output is far less than the likes of Adama Traore (6.9), Allan Saint-Maximin (5.8), Wilf Zaha (4.5), Felipe Anderson (3.8), and Emiliano Buendía (3.7). They would be wide players in the Premier League who you associate with running at teams with the ball.
Of course, just 609 minutes of football isn’t a good sample to make such judgements on. However, this is the entire point being made here. After five years at Leicester, he is still a bit part player capable of moments of brilliance. But those moments are few and far between.
So, why would Spurs be interested in him then?
Demarai Gray to Spurs: Danger of Recency Bias
If you made a video clip of all Gray’s Premier League performances since the restart, it would show a player creating two goals and scoring one in 197 minutes of football. That is a goal involvement every 65.7 minutes of football. Identical to Lionel Messi over his career; he must be quite the player!
As we can see above though, this is just a spike over a short period of time and not reflective of his career as a whole. In data terms, this is referred to as recency bias. This is a cognitive bias where we value recent events more than historic ones.
When you lay out Demarai Gray’s goal involvements as we have above, this is clearer to see. Three of his five goal involvements came in the handful of minutes he played towards the end of the season.
Daniel James has had the opposite season for United. His nine goal involvements in the league this season is far superior to Gray’s. However, with just one goal involvement in his last twenty-two games, the narrative around his performance will be very different compared to the start of the season, when he had three goals in his first four appearances for United.
Demarai Gray to Spurs: In Summary
None of this is to say Demarai Gray is a bad player. Or that he couldn’t have a very positive impact for Spurs as a signing. Just that the small samples and recency bias can be misleading when judging his ability.
Football is littered with examples of players struggling to impose themselves at one team and then shining at a new club. This could very well be the case with Demarai. Mourinho’s years of experience may have identified something in him he believed he can unlock in the right environment.
However, based on the data, this would come as a shock to many of the data analysts in the game.
A glossary of all the terms used in this article and throughout the site as a whole is available here. Also, click on any image in the article for full-size high definition version.
All data used in our articles is sourced from Understat, FBRef, Sofascore, Transfermarkt and 538.