The term “Big Game Player” is easy to understand. He’s the guy that steps up when his teammates and fans need him. The one who produces in finals and title deciders. He’s Tom Brady, LeBron James, Tiger Woods, and so on. However, given that it has its origins in cricket, I’m unsure whether the phrase “Flat Track Bully” translates across the pond. So just in case, here is a definition taken from football365.com:
Flat Track Bully: A habit of scoring freely in the easiest circumstances (or against the worst clubs)
It’s an interesting idea, and one that is thrown around from time to time…like when a big-name forward scores 10 goals against Sunderland, Bournemouth, and Hull, but precisely zero against Man Utd, Chelsea, and Liverpool (coughLukakucough). Now, Everton fans – I mean, Man United fans – will argue the same is true of Harry Kane (7 against Hull and Stoke) and Alexis Sanchez (8 against Hull and Sunderland), but unlike many football debates, this one is relatively easy to analyse statistically. And given this summer’s obsession with the potential transfers of some of footballs top forwards, it seems like an apt time to investigate whether any fit the mould of a so-called Flat Track Bully.
To analyse whether a player is a Flat Track Bully, or indeed, a Big Game Player, data on the league position of each opponent that the player scored a league goal against was collected and an average calculated. To use Lukaku as an example, his first 5 goals last season were: a hat-trick against Sunderland, one against Middlesbrough, and one against Crystal Palace. Sunderland finished 20th, Middlesbrough 19th, and Crystal Palace 14th. Thus, if Lukaku hadn’t scored any more goals after this point, his average would have been (20 + 20 + 20 + 19 + 14) / 5 = 18.6. The higher the average, the more the player can be considered a Flat Track Bully. The lower the average, the more the player can be considered a Big Game Player.
30 players were included in the analysis; 6 from each of the top 5 European leagues. Most of those chosen were amongst the top scorers in their league, though there were a few notable exceptions included. Three tables have been presented below. The first presents those with the lowest average. These are the Big Game Players. The second table contains the middle-of-the-pack players – neither Flat Track Bullies nor Big Game Players. And the third table – the players with the highest average – are the Flat Track Bullies. The forwards that score their goals against the weakest opposition.
Note: As the Bundesliga contains only 18 teams, league positions for these teams have been extrapolated such that they match a 20-team league. E.g. Scoring against Bayern = 1.11, scoring against RB Leipzig = 2.22, and so on.
Big Game Players
Flat Track Bullies
So there you have it. Europe’s number 1 “big game player” is none other than Mario Balotelli. The Italian forward who has been pretty much kicked out of every club he’s ever played for. And Europe’s biggest “flat track bully”? Neymar: the most expensive player to have ever walked the planet. Go figure.