Blog: English players play too many games? Not according to the statistics

Many suggestions were put forward as to England’s dismal failure at the World Cup, including the old chestnut about our players playing too much football. John Baines puts that theory to the test.

After watching England labour through their tussle with the mighty Macedonia, you could have been forgiven if you’d drawn back the curtains to check if the light was dimming on a fine summer’s eve. Afraid not. We’re in October, and despite the appearance that this game came at the end of a long and toiling season, most of last nights line-up have only played a handful of games since the resumption of play.

The too much football argument is one borne out of little science or substance, but usually comes up when we are trying to explain away another substandard showing at a major international tournament. So, let’s try to put some facts and figures to this theory, and see if it stands up.

Now, this is a fast and loose look at things so the statistics are fairly rugged. These figures are based on the number of games each individual player took part in, not necessarily started or come off the bench, and I’m certainly not working out the individual minutes, distance ran or anything like that. The appearances relate to all club outings, including domestic cup and European competitions.

So, let’s take the Three Lionesses starting XI from the Germany drubbing and have a look at the amount of games that the outfield players actually played. Only Frank Lampard played 50 games or more. Glen Johnson, Ashley Cole and Matthew Upson – three of the back four that were routinely outstripped by the Germans – played less than 40. In midfield, Steven Gerrard and James Milner played 49 times for their clubs that season, with Gareth Barry turning out 43 times. Up front, Wayne Rooney and Jermain Defoe played 44 and 43 times respectively. The sum total of that then is that between them they played 428 matches, at an average of just short of 43 each.

If you compare that with the Joachim Low’s side – who looked far fitter, fresher and sharper than their old foes – the figures are remarkably similar. In fact, exactly the same. Unbelievably, the German outfield ten also clocked up 428 matches.

What’s more, compare this with the ‘Team of the Tournament’, objective in anyone’s book, but good for the sake of a debate like this. Maicon, Philip Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Wesley Sneijder and Diego Forlan all ended up playing in that seasons European finals, something none of the English side did, yet still found the legs to stand out amongst a gathering of the worlds best players. Four of the players played over 50 games, none under 40, and collectively racked up 473 games, at an average of nearly four games per man extra than Capello’s men did.

Too much football? There is a perverse counter argument that they aren’t playing enough. We’ll have to start looking for some more excuses. Jabulani anyone?

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