MISSING: “Have you seen my assist?” The concept of ‘robbed assists’ by Dan Soff

There’s a serious crime happening against the creators of this world. (Thankfully for you, I am not talking about the fact that you are yet to sign up to the Touchline Patreon). This crime is being committed specifically in the world of football and people are not talking about it enough. So in all my kindness, I have decided to give it more awareness. It’s a new crime, but it’s one that seems to be growing. I’m seeing more and more harrowing CCTV like footage of this alleged crime being played out on social media. The alleged crime I am talking about? ‘Robbed assists’.

I say ‘alleged crime’ as I’ve never personally seen an assist being robbed before. I’ve never seen the police handcuff a player at full time saying, “We’re going to need to take you in for questioning about what happened in the 88th minute”.

If I am to take the argument of ‘robbed assists’ at its strongest, the idea of ‘robbed assists’ are scenarios where players should score but they do not, and so they are essentially failing the creator. My issue with the premise of ‘robbed assists’ however is it promotes the idea that every creator is purported to deserve an Erling Haaland to finish the large majority of the big chances they create. If they don’t have a Haaland? Well then alert the authorities, it’s daylight robbery. 

…….So why would you steal an assist?

I’ve heard from social media that Olivier Giroud should be brought in for questioning, for crimes pursuant to ‘robbed assists’ against Ozil. I’ve heard that Reece James is not able to compete with Trent Alexander-Arnold in the assist department because of crimes committed against him by the likes of Michy Batshuayi! 

James made his come back from long-term injury last season (2019/20) against Nottingham Forest in the League Cup. Reece crossed so many great balls into the box that game, to the point where Chelsea fans walked away from the game saying that the ex-Wigan loanee should have had at least a hat-trick of assists and it was Batshuayi that ruined his dream comeback. Fans suggested that with the quality of crosses that was being put in, if a Tammy Abraham was playing then James would have gotten around 5 assists. What comforted the Chelsea fanbase that day was the idea that even with a slightly better striker than Michy Batshuayi, Reece James would clock up assists for fun, or so they thought.

Following on from that game, Abraham began to play with James and what’s interesting is that Chelsea fans then started to accuse Abraham of robbing James of assists. The same great crosses were applicable as they were with the former Standard Liege and Marseille centre forward. Yet no more goals were being scored! So now Tammy was at fault, and it didn’t stop there. Chelsea fans became like the ‘Karens’ of America.

Karens – Nosey white women calling the police on random Black people, with loads of unfounded accusations.

Accusations of robbing Reece James of assists were flying everywhere. The finger of blame was moved from being pointed at Batshuayi to Abraham. Then to Olivier Giroud and now currently, it’s on to Timo Werner.

Now if ‘robbed assists’ was a real crime then with Timo Werner, you may even go as far as calling the former Stuttgart and Leipzig striker a crime lord. Werner loves missing a big chance, that’s his trademark. If there is anyone that is robbing creators of assists then it’s him. I’d even testify in court against him. 

“He did that shit, guilty as fuck”

However, despite agreeing that there are wasteful players out there, I still find the ‘robbed assists’ term particularly hard to reconcile. When a chance is squandered it stands to reason that parties with a vested interest are disappointed, goals are the currency of score-lines. To mourn the loss of a goal makes sense to me, to mourn the loss of an assist, is interesting to say the least.

Perhaps in Reece James case it’s because Chelsea fans wanted the world to believe that James crossing ability was close in comparison to Trent’s, so they wanted to convey the fact that Reece’s lack of assists was nothing to do with him.

What’s interesting is Chelsea bought Ben Chilwell in the summer and he’s managed to get the same strikers to score from his crosses more than Reece James has. How so, one must ask? Begs the question why are they not robbing Ben Chilwell? Racismo?

When people are talking about “robbed assists”, unsurprisingly it’s a concept that is particularly used for players who need more assists. Some sort of an agenda or cause is being fought. Fans do not tend to use this term when a player is in abundance of assists. There are not a plethora of videos detailing Trent Alexander-Arnold’s robbed assists. With Alexander-Arnold you’re more likely to see Liverpool fans trying to convince the general public that Trent can actually defend. 

It doesn’t seem like a good thing as a creator if your name is being associated with the ‘robbed assist’ term, it tends to mean you are a player in lack of assists.  Searching “robbed assists” on Google was a fun exercise. I was shocked to see Kevin de Bruyne’s name appear in my search engine. Kevin should not be associated with this term, he’s too good for it. De Bruyne gets an abundance of assists. In fact, he’s credited in the game largely for the sheer amount and the quality of his assists. So why is Kevin De Bruyne’s good name being sullied with this pauper “robbed assist” concept?

I heard the story of a German Billionaire who killed himself after he lost a large proportion of his fortune. Before he took his life, he was mocked by the elite Billionaire community for being just a ‘single digit billionaire’. Imagine having so much money that being called a single digit billionaire is an insult.

Imagine having so many assists that your lack of assists is to do with the fact that you have to share the all-time Premier League assist record with Thierry Henry and you are upset that you are not the outright owner. That’s Kevin De Bruyne’s situation.

De Bruyne: “I have got two more – you guys took two away from me that I am still claiming so for me I was already above Henry.”

De Bruyne: “It is what it is. I need my team-mates, obviously I am creating for them to score, and I am grateful when they do. It is nice to have [the record] and it is nice to have it with Thierry.”

Assists are BIG currency in today’s world of football fandom. Arguments about your favourite players are won and lost on metrics like goals and assists. History has shown, that when people get desperate, they start to get creative. This happens in statistics based football arguments, where people clump goals and assists together for instance. For the benefit of underperforming attackers, to change the perception of them doing badly. Inaccuracy is the enemy of statistics and the enemy of football analysis.

What are we trying to achieve by introducing ‘robbed assists’ as a concept into our football lexicon? When fans lament that their prime creator does not have top finishers to combine with I find it interesting. Surely the better your creator is the less reliant they should be on having an elite goalscorer. Surely it’s the teams without prime creators that have to mourn wasted opportunities more, as who knows when their next opportunity will be created.

 

Ozil and Jorginho are two players where you will find videos on youtube highlighting ‘robbed assists’. Don’t get me wrong I understand using highlight clips to demonstrate that a player at least can create. In the case of Jorginho, a section of the Chelsea fanbase were alleging that Jorginho creates zero chances. In this scenario it makes sense in my opinion to show a reel of chances created by the player. This acts as a rebuttal to the notion that a player does not create chances at all. However they are not robbed assists, just chances created.

In the case of Ozil, he shouldn’t have videos with fans demonstrating that he can create. Ozil creates chances, water is wet. I don’t think anyone has ever questioned the notion that Ozil can create goals. There are, and will always be, chances created for strikers that they should be converted, that are not. A team is lucky if they have a striker that consistently buries big chances, those strikers that tend to finish  are in the minority. 

I do not believe that creators are being robbed, when the large majority of players miss big chances. The top goal-scorers in the Premier League in the past few seasons have also appeared near the top of the big chances missed charts for that season. It’s part and parcel of the game.

I find it ironic. When Ozil left Real Madrid, fans were questioning how Cristiano was going to score as many goals without him. People argued that Ozil’s wonderful vision was a big reason as to why Cristiano was netting crazy amounts. Ozil left Madrid, much to Cristiano’s dismay, but he shouldn’t have been dismayed at all. Quite frankly, Cristiano was better without him. He even scored more, putting the whole notion that he needed Ozil firmly into the mud.

Fast-forward to today and the question of who needed who is even more interesting. Cristiano continues to score even in old age with different teammates, whereas people are creating “robbed assists” videos for Ozil. All that tells me is that these brothers are starving, as a Denzel Washington portraying Malcolm X so aptly said.

Ozil was lucky to play with Cristiano Ronaldo, not the other way around. Perhaps it was Cristiano Ronaldo gifting Ozil assists and it gave him a career. In fact maybe we should start to introduce the concept of ‘gifted assists’. I’m going too far I know, Ozil is a good creator, water is still wet. As a good creator though, having the best of the best in terms of goal-scorers in front of you to showcase that fact cannot be so important for you, otherwise where is your value as a creator?

If you’re that good of a creator, why do you need the best of the best in terms of finishers? I’ve seen Chelsea fans and Arsenal fans annihilating their strikers, seemingly because they want to uplift Ozil and Reece James.

Kevin De Bruyne gets a lot of actual assists and, I am sure you can spend lonely nights trawling through his footage to also find loads of ‘robbed assists’ on top of his actual assists. Gabriel Jesus and Aguero, his Manchester City teammates have regularly been high on the big chances missed charts.

Robbed assists are not a real crime, I think the real crime is being committed by people who are creating these ‘robbed assist’ videos. You’re not helping them, it’s not a good thing that they are starving for assists so much that you are searching a backlog of games for ‘robbed assists’.

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