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Tottenham 1-0 Cardiff: computer generated player ratings

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What if your iPhone had my job?

Getty Images/Westend61

You probably will not be surprised, after last year’s Recurrently Generated Premier League, to discover that I have an interest in machine learning. There’s something about making a computer make words and sentences that I find just irrepressibly funny. (I probably won’t when they achieve sentience and start the human-machine war, but for now, it’s hilarious.)

The other week, someone shared this article from Vice in which the author uses the predictive text feature on his keyboard to generate Kanye West album reviews. Like many good ideas that other people have, I stole it for Cartilage Free Captain, but with a twist. Botnik Studios has a predictive text generator that learns and can provide output based upon an uploaded .txt file of source material. Botnik has used it for hilarious purposes like generating dialog for fictional Harry Potter books and Seinfeld scripts.

I knew this had possibilities, but when it comes to computer-generated content you need a good base of source material. So, as a base for my ratings I ripped and compiled every article that Guardian writer Barney Ronay has written about Tottenham Hotspur since Mauricio Pochettino took charge of the club, and fed that into the Botnik machine.

The results were sometimes insightful, usually hilarious, and still, somehow, very reminiscent of Barney Ronay. (Though I’m not sure he’d agree. If you’re reading, Barney — I’m so sorry.)

So, a word of explanation and possibly caution: if you’re looking for hard-hitting analysis about the team’s performance in this match, don’t look for it here. The star ratings for each player are my opinions on each player’s performance, but the text is all Robo-Barney. It may correspond roughly to how each player actually performed, but most likely will not. But honestly, it was Cardiff. We won. Whatever.

Also, if you’ve ever played with the predictive keyboard function on your phone, you know that you get a fair amount of choice of what words to use and what order. I did make choices — I on occasion gave starting words or player names to get things going, but mostly chose the words provided to me to create peak hilarity. It’s still a machine, but it’s not as perfectly generated as the program I used to come up with “Wodgy Villa,” “Loonsmead,” or “Clood.”

But who cares — you came for the bot-speak, right? Here are your Tottenham Hotspur player ratings for their match against Cardiff City, with text generated by a predictive text algorithm.


4 stars


Harry Kane: Harry Kane, gorging on the world, whipped Foyth senseless. Sport is a robbery. How will we remember those four appearances? Simple: Harry is alluring.

Toby Alderweireld: On a loose team of tiny football waistcoats, who understands football? Alderweireld attempted a wonderful pass from his own prodigious energy and spanked supporters who were beaten. This leaves them vulnerable, and spanked. He could probably succeed again with a lovely muscular and mercurial approach.

Lucas Moura: This season Tottenham were crowned elsewhere as a devious group of maniacal workaholics. Who is the king? Lucas Moura, a man squelching through gnarlier European opponents last week. He might have had another world title but not for the spectacle of a Brazilian bullocking. Take another look at him and eventually concede another foul.

3.5 stars


Erik Lamela: Whose violent skills are probably not just tactically omnivorous? You can perhaps expect anything uplifting from Christian Eriksen, skipping inside Wembley and developing into deep inspiration. But this is not Erik Lamela. Sharp ends, friendly eliminators.

Danny Rose: The ball, in his stride like a doomed holiday romance, was sent floating among the tactical cognoscenti. Spurs were reduced to expert white trainers and tailored tracksuits, and noted. This is where Rose fiercely charged by the shady little destination. Is he stunning? Of course.

Harry Winks: His back against an abandoned building, biscuits bunched up and knuckles sprawling furiously, it’s clear Harry Winks has a hunger for some adolescent gripes. There is still singing, and non-confrontational headphones have been selected by their repertoire. He is dreaming of aggression.

Kieran Trippier: Sweet football, who thrives in these summer mobilisations? Not Trippier. He wanted a little raggedness about him and eventually conceded like a giant chipmunk. Spurs were fading to powder, and so much for formal defeats.

3 stars


Moussa Sissoko: His head back, chest heaving, fizzing with mysterious acid clouds, arguably the best attacking midfielder in generations, Moussa Sissoko looked ill. What stands out from his physical journey is an intensity highlighting textbook mistakes as stodgy as cold porridge. There probably is a genuinely gifted 21-year old boy in the Premier League but not many have latched on to making their development into scragging bursts.

Davinson Sanchez: Quietly tenacious and flexible, heaving and lissome, Sanchez smeared individualism, simultaneously falling forward in his interpretation of the modern style. Instead of disappointing panache, he hustles with gangling graft, dribbling with flypaper control, shoehorned into anxious lateral pitfalls. Heskey could not have done much better.

Son Heung-Min: Son’s absence of hope probably has dissipated the ball. For all that sustained excellence, who understands the process by which football is still startlingly underwhelming? It is hard to believe moments where Son veered off into unconsciousness. Tottenham might reasonably expect something genuinely unusual. Abandoned invitations, with terrorised dominance.

Victor Wanyama: What cancer, like sharks oddly mannered behind the centre circle, rumbled on in the second half? It was Wanyama. Spurs were crammed into a little square which drifted around the bleachers while something else happened. This was simply brilliant.

Eric Dier: On the training pitch, Dier stands out in that he’d clog the gears of breathless defenders. This restless adolescence was Portuguese in nature but also purely gilt‑edged like England’s great gurgling crowds. However, on Sunday Dier’s success became like a slightly fretful gegenpresser: overpowered at the final whistle and yet singing like an abstract idea.

2.5 stars


Hugo Lloris: Float around the penalty area and then fear Arsenal: this was an excellent example of English sense. Spurs pressed against the best young players, finding themselves. Lloris too is still startlingly youthful and so adept at conveying power in particular areas. Somehow it never quite looked like Ewoks?

Tom Carroll Memorial Non-Rating


Ben Davies: Davies is surely too small to score in exhausting fashion, not just tactically burdened by standing still but also because he is a genuinely altered rectangle. This leaves Spurs’ defense disintegrated, which is surely why Pochettino is a restless tableau of refined gymnastic movement. It is unlikely that he belongs with a grizzly.

BONUS CONTENT: Unused Players


Dele Alli: On his return, he seems to have become a lovely little roll of focused injustice. There is a slight whitening of his feet, although often seeming to be something genuinely altered in a storm of sprawling power. Dele has a better cushioned feeling, stretched out like Russian potatoes.

Jan Vertonghen: Defenders are often blackguards, like bicycles, pushing away suddenly, narrowing over England and Tunisia. This was Vertonghen in a dead performance.

Christian Eriksen: Midfielders and collisions: the Tottenham Hotspur story. Eriksen pinged in between Beijing and Doha, readily aggressive yet droopy like a baby calf. This should probably cause bafflement. It does not.

Paulo Gazzniga: Who is Paulo Gazzaniga? Not really a player who strolled about finding unexpected tributes. It is a constant criticism of Spurs that they only win well as crafty midfield stormtroopers. But this competition is still keen to emphasise moments of cold cheese. He may well provide something uplifting in goal after Christmas porridge.

Juan Foyth: Foyth had a tabloid affair with that charmingly athletic cartoon grasshopper. Spurs might have dredged up some adolescent ram for the Argentinian but really who has the skills? Daniel Levy? Whereas others would transform into steaks, Foyth’s wedding should be something beautiful and slightly frightening.