Dundee's questionable decision to let go of Jon Aurtenetxe

 courtesy of David Young (Getty)

courtesy of David Young (Getty)

written by:  @TheGersReport   

I've been pretty critical of Neil McCann this past season.  Largely due to the fact that I was dumbfounded by his handling of Scott Allan.  While with Dundee, Allan was arguably one of the top two or three playmaking midfielders in the league & when Allan convinced McCann to let him swap out for a loan to Hibs - his impact was immediate.  

Allan featured regularly early in the season with Dundee, but after his injury - never seemed to get back in McCann's plans, beyond being an option as a substitute.  Upon returning from injury, Allan only featured in 38% of the available minutes & was used as a sub in eight of his ten remaining matches.

Remember this is Dundee...one of the worst performing teams this season.  

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And this kind of output wasn't good enough???

Now, this kind of poor asset allocation needs to be highlighted as Dundee head into the summer.  Of course, some decisions have already been made & let's just say, I continue to be baffled.

Earlier this week, the club announced that they were not re-signing full backs Jon Aurtenetxe & Kevin Holt (along with five others).  Holt & Aurtenetxe have been battling each other for playing time at left back & I guess....well, both failed? 

Of course, who knows to what extent it was the club's decision or the players' but, in the case of Aurtenetxe I wouldn't be surprised if he pushed for the exit (like Allan had done previously).

Back in October, McCann outlined his expectations in the battle between Holt & Aurtenetxe:

I like my full-backs to play with a purpose and get forward and [Aurtenetxe] does that. He has a real good pedigree and he is quality
— Neil McCann (October 2017)

McCann made these comments before Aurtenetxe made his league debut.  Soon after, he went on a stretch of ten matches in Dundee's starting eleven.  It should be noted that Dundee allowed an average of 1.0 goals in those games.  Outside that window of matches, Dundee allowed an average of 1.68 goals per game.  Aurtenetxe played in 99% of the minutes during that stretch.

Then, the minutes began to dry up & from the beginning of February until the end of the season he only played in five matches & played his last match on April 1st.  

So what happened?  This is where a stats radar can be a conversation starter.  

 Jon Aurtenetxe, 2017-18

Jon Aurtenetxe, 2017-18

The modern-day full-back has morphed into a more attack-minded, wider player. It’s totally different. It used to be that if a full-back played in an attacking way they stood out. Now, it’s completely expected, and there’s far more emphasis on the full-backs to get forward and create.
— Lee Dixon (2017)

In an interview with Charlie Eccleshare, from his excellent analysis for The Telegraph of what playing full back means in modern fitba, Dixon's explanation basically aligns with what Neil McCann wanted in a full back. McCann spoke of wanting his full back to "play with a purpose & get forward."  

What about the above radar doesn't support the fact that Aurtenetxe got forward & played with purpose?  Only Scott Allan averaged more Key Passes & Secondary Shot Assists than Aurtenetxe (stats will be explained at end of this post).  His Expected Assists per 90 was third to Allan & Roarie Deacon.

In that same Eccleshare article, former Arsenal scout, and Tottenham and Liverpool director of football Damien Comolli suggested that, "a full-back's role used to be 60 or 70 per cent about defending, and 40 or 30 per cent attacking; now those figures have reversed."

Furthermore he explained, "A full-back is expected to play short passes, to be able to dribble in the final third, to be able to participate in combination plays, and play one-twos and through balls in a small-space situation.  Before they were expected to just deliver a cross." 

You'll notice that I tried to design a radar that reflected this description of a modern full back.  The emphasis on Shot Creation Passes & xG Chain helps measure a player's ability to be part of meaningful combination plays that lead to actual shots.  Expected Assists & Scoring Chance Key Passes attempt to give a value to a player's final ball & their vision to pick out quality scoring opportunities.   

Also, I deliberately chose to exclude crosses from this radar.  Instead, I went with Completed Passes into Box.  How successful was a player at completing a pass into a dangerous area, be it via a short pass, a through-ball, or a cross?  That's the kind of result I want to measure.  I don't care if a full back gets a lot of crosses.  Of the over 5,700 crosses attempted in the Scottish Premiership only 25% of them are accurate (that's a 75% failure rate for you glass half-empty folks).  

Statistically, Aurtenetxe is not a very good crosser.  Below are all of the players who averaged 3.0 or more crosses per 90 in 2017-18:

 minimum of 810 minutes.  Stats courtesy of   InStat Football

minimum of 810 minutes.  Stats courtesy of InStat Football

Only three full backs averaged more crosses per 90 than Aurtenetxe, but you can see his accuracy rate is noticeably below the league norm of 25%.

And you know what, I don't care.  You know which full back led the league with Completed Balls into the Box?  

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Aurtenetxe averaged 4.1 Completed Balls into the Box per 90 minutes, the next best was James Tavernier with 3.2. Yes, his crossing was pretty statistically poor - but he still found ways to get his teammates the ball in dangerous areas.  

Additionally, Dundee was a team that relied heavily on set pieces to get their goals.  Of their non-penalty goals, 47% of them came from set-pieces.  Only Hamilton (45%) came as close to Dundee when it comes to being so reliant on set-pieces for goals.

Guess who Dundee's designated set-piece taker for most free kicks (non-shots) & corners was when he played?


Maybe, Aurtenetxe just wasn't good enough to be part of Neil McCann's plans moving forward.  How did he compare to the other full backs to play for Dundee this season?

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Jon Aurtenetxe 

in case you forgot...

The red radar is that of Kevin Holt, who also will not be returning to Dundee next season. You can see that for the most part his stats don't come close to matching Aurtenetxe.  His Tackle Success Rate is actually lower, but hey -  he did have more assists...so there's that.  The other radar is for 22-year old Cammy Kerr.  The right back is very much your traditional, defensive full back.  His high Tackle Success Rate is among the league's best & his high successful Dribbles per 90 suggests he can get the ball up the pitch when needed.  Beyond that, he had zero impact on Dundee's attack this season.  

So what happened???  When did Neil McCann give up on Aurtenetxe?  He went from being the #1 option at left back, during a stretch in which Dundee actually played well defensively, to only four starts in four months.  

The evidence points to one match in particular.  A March 4-0 loss to St. Johnstone may have been the catalyst for McCann giving up on Aurtenetxe. 

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At the time, McCann proclaimed:  "It was a shocking performance –probably our worst by quite a distance. It was a sore one to take." 

This was the same match which saw McCann get in a confrontation with some St. Johnstone personnel as they walked off the pitch. 

Maybe if my players showed that type of fight we wouldn’t have got that performance. I’m embarrassed by the performance and by the result. It doesn’t sit well with me and I’ve told them that.
— Neil McCann (courtesy of The Courier)

Ouch....I began to wonder if Aurtenetxe may have been a victim of this fall out & if you look at St. Johnstone's first two goals in the highlights below....well, he definitely could have done better.

Was this opening goal Aurtenetxe's fault?  No...it's just kind of a mess in general.  However, you could argue that he did have two chances to make a strong play on the ball & didn't either time.

The second goal....you probably had to look away if you have become a "Basque Jon" believer.

Aurtenetxe gets beat pretty easily to the loose ball in the box & that helps set up a clear shot on goal.  I can only imagine Neil McCann fuming watching the effort from Aurtenetxe.

Dundee played 900 minutes of league matches after this debacle;  Aurtenetxe played in 9% of those minutes.

I don't want to make any subjective guesses but...

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I think we've found the scapegoat

Aurtenetxe!


Some notes...

  • Tackling, dribbling, passes into the box & crossing data comes from InStat Football
  • All other stats come from my season long tracking of Scottish Premiership data.  Next season, Modern Football will work off a unified set of stats.
  • Key Passes refers to the passes that lead to a shot.  Secondary Shot Assists are passes to the player who gets the Key Pass.  Establishing Passes are the third shot assist.  Expected Assists measures the quality of chances that a player creates based on the xG of the shots that they set-up.  Read more here.  xG Chain credits each player who had a Key Pass, Secondary Shot Assist, or Establishing Pass as part of the build up to a shot.  The value is based on the xG of the shot created. Read more here.  This only includes the passes leading up to the shot.  I don't include the shooter as part of the xG Chain, given the goal is to credit players for their build up play.
  • Neil McCann was always among my favorite players during his time with Rangers & I very much enjoyed his time on TV.