Lionel Messi is undoubtedly the best dribbler in the Spanish football. Since the 2005/2006 season he has completed 1400 successful dribbles, while the second on the list, Iniesta, has less than his half. The same dribble gap can be observed in the UEFA Champions League, if we consider the data of the last 7 seasons. Despite this, the total number of dribbles is not always a good representative parameter to establish if a player is a good dribbler or not, because it is also influenced by the amount of time and the quantity of dribbles a player has attempted. For this reason, other parameters such as dribble success rate (the ratio between successful and total attempted dribbles) and total attempted dribbles per 90 minutes should be taken into account.
Graph 1 shows the relationship between attempted dribbles (normalized per 90 minutes of play) and dribble success rate for the Liga players in the period during 2009/2010 to 2014/2015. Only players with more than 50 attempted dribbles per season are considered.
Messi (orange dots) results isolated form the other players. He attempts considerably more than the rest of the players and still maintains a relatively high dribble success rate. Only Neymar, Yacine Brahimi and Jefferson Montero attempt similar amount of dribbles but they achieve this with a success rate around 10% lower than Messi’s and even more, they have done it in just 1 or 2 seasons.
Meanwhile, during the 2015/2016 Liga season, Messi is having the best dribbling of his career (at least from 2009/2010 and later). As it can be seen in the first chart (green dot) he is attempting more dribbles than before and with a better success rate than ever. Graph 2 shows the change in dribble success rate for some of the best dribblers in the Liga, considering the 2014/2015 and 2015/2016 season. Messi distinguishes himself from the rest.
Graph 3 shows the development through the last 7 seasons for Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. From the respective trend lines, we can see better the tendency of dribble success rate for both players.
In order to have a better idea on how good and different Messi’s dribbling is, let’s have a look at Graph 4. It shows once again the Liga players with 50 or more attempted dribbles in the period 2009/2010 to 2014/2015, but in this case Messi is excluded.
The trend line, that shows the average relationship between dribble success rate and attempted dribbles per 90 minutes. As we can see, the trend is descending, which means that the more dribbles one player attempts, the less likely he is to succeed on it. If we build the same trend line but taking into account Messi’s numbers, we will have an ascending one. In simple words: Messi alone changes the dribble success rate trend from descending to an ascending one. We have to keep in mind that Messi here represents just 7 data points out of 492, and still he is such an outlier that he alone modifies the whole trend line.