OptaJack: Who's the real No. 10, Ballack or Ireland?

OptaJack Says -- Ballack or Ireland?

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So who's the clueless one?

The agent for former German international Michael Ballack, Michael Becker, reportedly insulted New York Red Bulls sporting director Erik Solér for the MLS club's stance regarding the position Ballack fills on the field.

"Ask Erik Solér why he thinks Ballack is a central defender or just a holding midfielder. It's a pretty exclusive point of view," Becker told Goal.com, with earlier editions of the same report including the word "clueless" in the quote.

Ballack Minutes Per Chance Created Ireland
83.2 2007-'08 80.3
48.2 2008-'09 44.6
71.7 2009-'10 69.1
83.8 2010-'11 138.3
86.6 2011-'12 80.3
Ballack Minutes Per Shot Ireland
40.4 2007-'08 91.7
50.7 2008-'09 55.1
59.2 2009-'10 111.7
97.8 2010-'11 69.1
54.7 2011-'12 88.3

Becker was equally baffled by the fact that the Red Bulls would rate Aston Villa midfielder Stephen Ireland ahead of Ballack when considering the acquisition of a creative central midfielder.

With the Red Bulls looking for an attacking midfielder during the summer — a No. 10 playmaker, as Solér himself referred to his target — we turned to Opta and their bank of match data on Ballack and Ireland.

It turns out that over the last five European seasons, the 25-year-old Irishman has outdone the 35-year-old German when it comes to creating scoring chances on a more frequent basis (Table 1). However, Ballack gets shots off more regularly (Table 2).

When it comes to goals and assists, neither has produced much of late. Ballack has two goals and two assists over the last two European seasons with Bayer Leverkusen (31 matches / 2,212 minutes), while Ireland hasn't done much better. With Aston Villa and Newcastle United, he has one goal and two assists (28 matches / 1,436 minutes).

It's also worth noting that except for the current campaign, Ballack has consistently outperformed Ireland in the categories of passing completion percentage and passing completion percentage in the opponent's half, in some cases by as many as 10 percentage points.

For a Red Bulls team that's struggled to generate consistent offense despite boasting quality players like Thierry Henry, that passing statistic could be the most significant figure of them all.