Despite the prospect of their first playoff-stage match at a big international tournament since 2002, many of headlines in Sweden continue to revolve around Jimmy Durmaz and the tackle that led to a free kick and goal for Germany in the final minutes of Sweden’s second match.
Racism has changed a lot over the last decades. It used to be simple and blatant. It came in the form of simple name calling and stereotypes of players being lazy or not committed to ‘their’ country. And alot of the racism seen on Durmaz Instagram account after the Germany match has been of this old-fashioned form: calling him a terrorist because he has a beard. Ridiculous stuff like that.
But then comes the other type of racism. 2018 racism. After the organisation of a protest in Stockholm against racism and in support of Durmas I have heard the type of comment like, “good for them [the protesters] but I hope it doesn’t mean we get that clown back on the pitch. Never defends and doesn’t contribute anything. Why did Janne Andersson think we need him when its 1-1 against Germany? He just wants to dribble and go himself.”
It is this type of racism (and it is racism) that I want to address.
You see, the thing is, Jimmy Durmaz is equally good as the players he substitutes for. Here are the per minute Twelve points for Durmaz and Viktor Claesson (who he was substituted for Durmaz against Germany) for the pre-World Cup friendlies.
Claesson does defend better than Durmaz, but Durmaz is more effective going forward. From a tactical viewpoint, it makes sense to have Durmaz on the pitch. Defending is much more difficult for a team that offers no attacking threat, and with Germany really needing to win, it was a reasonable gamble by Andersson to make sure his team had a chance of grabbing a counter-attacking goal. The changes in the last 20 minutes, to bring in Durmaz and Guidetti, provided this threat.
Admittedly, Durmaz did not do particularly well during the short time he was on the pitch in that particular match.
He had already given away one foul in the same place as the one which Kroos scored, and he made two failed dribbles.
But lets get this in perspective. Giving away a foul at this position is typically not much more dangerous than giving away a corner. That is why the Twelve system assigns -22 points to his error (equivalent to giving a way a 2.2% chance). It is far short of giving away a penalty (-750 points).
These 24 minutes are, from a statistical point of view, irrelevant compared to his performances for Sweden over the years. And that’s not even mentioning the fact that it was Durmaz equaliser against France is an important part of the reason Sweden are at the World Cup in the first place.
And this is why it so important that we avoid the form of 2018 racism which claims that we should not like Durmaz based on “footballing” reasons. When we criticise a player on the pitch we have to be sure it isn’t just because he looks a bit different and has a slightly different movement when the ball is at his feet. It is the same sort of racism that leads people to criticise Pogba for not trying against Australia, despite the fact he dominated midfield in both creativity and defence.
Or it is the racism that accuses Raheem Sterling of being a bottler in front of the goal, suddenly forgetting that his genius is being so often in the right place at the right time.
It is this 2018 form of racism that is so difficult to see in ourselves, but is so easily revealed with numbers and statistics.
And this is why, if on Tuesday evening, Sweden are level with Switzerland with 20 minutes to play I want to see Claesson off and Durmaz in. Because this is 2018.