We Need to Talk about Roy Kent

There was some suggestion on the Nelson Road twitter account (go on and mash that follow button) that this week’s #TacticalThursday piece was going to assess AFC Richmond’s best hopes for shutting down Jamie Tartt against Manchester City in the last match of the season. But as I dug deeper into the numbers I began to notice a startling trend. As much as it absolutely destroys me to say this — I mean really, truly, I’m sick to my stomach because he’s such a colossal prick — Trent Crimm is right.

We need to talk about Roy Kent.

There’s been growing concern about the underlying numbers, and the nerdiest and coldest of my analytics peers (my god the happy hours are dull) have actually been calling for his benching for a while now. Between having more insight on his influence behind closed doors and just generally believing that numbers only paint part of the picture, I’ve been reticent to jump on board that bandwagon. But alas, after the last match, Ted Lasso may now have all the evidence he needs to justify sitting the skipper. 

A few weeks ago, Richmond won at Everton for the first time in 60 years, a match in which Kent famously played “like a man possessed.” He scored the game winner, the only goal of an otherwise lopsided event. The Greyhounds were under siege for 90 minutes and then Kent miraculously punched one over the goal line from, well, the goal line.

Roy Kent xG vs. Everton
Certain shots are unmissable.

It’s an already-legendary moment from a man who is already a legend. And truly, he was everywhere, the Roy Kent of old, putting his stamp on the match in the type of throwback performance his side needed in that exact moment.

The heat map of a man possessed.

But analytics can be tricky. I’d argue we’re a long way from completely understanding what the numbers are trying to tell us. To look at that heat map, you’d think Roy Kent was dominant offensively, when in fact that xG shot chart quite literally represents the entirety of his impact in attack. His only shot was a goal, and perfect on the day is the pinnacle of most careers. But Richmond need much more than that from their captain to survive this campaign.

Things peaked (nadir-ed?) last match in a way that was finally visible to the naked eye. Playing against a side whose name I won’t even bother to say out loud (totally because I don’t want to and definitely not because I don’t know it, I totally know it), Roy Kent was borderline invisible and there were whole stretches of the game when I forgot he was even out there. Not exactly what you want from your #6.

To illustrate the point, here’s a look at the entirety of Richmond’s actions throughout the game, both in attack and defense.

Extremely straightforward data visualization.

Now let’s strip out everything but Roy Kent’s actions. It’s a shocking (and sad) state of affairs. Here are all four — yes, FOUR — of his defensive actions:

Kent’s FOUR defensive actions.

Woof. And all of his actions in attack:

Reminder, this is a legendary midfielder.

Sweet baby Jesus, what a trainwreck. I’m a particular fan of the long balls straight toward the keeper, which are guaranteed to result in a turnover or a hospital visit for your striker. I used to think he was doing that on purpose, but now that Tartt is gone I’m less certain. A player with Kent’s experience knows this, of course. Either he can’t will his body to do what he wants or he’s not mentally sharp enough not to pull the trigger on the right passes anymore. Unfortunately the result is the same, and it’s a major problem for Richmond heading into their final — and most important — match of the campaign.

As of this writing, there are still 10,000 seats unsold for Richmond’s final home match against Manchester City. That’s 40% of capacity. There are whispers of front office dissent and backstabbing. Mannion is lurking. Even Lasso’s right hand man is doing press hits back in the States, evidently on the hunt for the next gig. With relegation looming over Nelson Road for the first time in years, the stakes could not possibly be higher. 

To paraphrase the great Jack Ryan, “I’m an analyst. I don’t manage people. I write reports!” I would never suggest a personnel change to the manager of a Premier League football club, especially one as storied as AFC Richmond. So I guess I’ll just have to let the numbers do it for me.

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