Safety in Numbers: Are the stats against England in France?

“A lot of football success is in the mind. You must believe that you are the best and then make sure that you are.” – Bill Shankly

“We lost because we didn’t win” – Ronaldo

The dissection of England’s Euro 2016 campaign has already begun following their imperious 1-1 draw with an unfancied Russian side ranked 29th in the world.

Ranked 11th in the world – and 6th in Europe – you’d expect England to enjoy a relatively smooth passage to at least the quarter final stage, where inevitably they will come up against Germany and lose on penalties.

However, in spite of an uncharacteristically easy qualifying campaign, England managed to preserve their record of never winning an opening match at a European Championship and are already under pressure to turn their form around. But is this underperformance really a surprise? Analysis(1) of the squads of the seven of the other bookies’ favourites to lift the trophy in Paris on 10th July suggests that perhaps it shouldn’t be.

France kicked off the tournament with a narrow 2-1 win over a battling Romanian side, Spain ground out a gritty 1-0 win over a solid Czech Republic and Croatia fought to a similar score line against Turkey.

Indeed, the only favourite nations not to win their opening games were Portugal, who could only draw with debutants Iceland, and Belgium, who lost to another favourite in Italy. The 2-0 score line flattered Italy slightly thanks to a late goal – which is also true of Germany, who beat the Ukraine in the same manner.

So what is the difference between these teams and England? The answer could be down to experience.

Much has been made of Roy Hodgson’s youthful squad and the exciting prospects of players like Jack Wilshere, Dele Alli and John Stones. However, as the joint-youngest squad out of the favourites, with an average age of 25 years and 5 months, only Germany can claim to have as youthful a squad, while the Italians – at an average age of 28 years and 6 months – are the elder statesmen of the ‘Favourite Eight’.

However, while the England squad had a combined total of 534 caps between them prior to the tournament starting, the Germans had amassed 946 – 77% more. Indeed, the England squad has the least international experience compared to its rivals, with France the closest with a total of 629 caps. Spain, with the likes of Iker Casillas (167 caps), Sergio Ramos (132 caps) and Andrés Iniesta (109 caps) boast 1,004 caps in total, while the youthful Germans boast a combined 946 caps.

While experience counts for a lot in international experience – little can match the greatest experience of all: lifting silverware. This is unfortunate too, for when analysing the trophies won by each squad member(2) England comes up short again.

During the 2015/16 season only four trophies were lifted by members of the England squad: The FA Cup, by Wayne Rooney, Marcus Rashford and Chris Smalling, and the Premier League by Jamie Vardy. This was the lowest number out of all favourite eight nations, with Belgium (5) and Portugal (7) – neither of whom won their opening games – falling behind France (13) and Croatia (14). The German, Italian and Spanish squad members, meanwhile, won an incredible 18 trophies combined each last season – thanks largely to the domestic and European dominance of teams like Bayern Munich, Juventus, Real Madrid and Barcelona, and their subsequently high representation at the European Championships.

When looking at the total number of trophies won by each squad the figures look worse than a Gareth Southgate penalty: England has a total of 36 trophies spread amongst its 23 squad members – one fifth lifted by one Wayne Rooney. This total is dwarfed by the likes of Germany (114) and Spain (155) – and even by the likes of Portugal (91) and Croatia (101).

It’s also interesting to note that the Russian squad has enjoyed more success than their English counterparts, winning a combined eight trophies in 2015/16 and a collective total of 80 over the course of their careers – albeit almost exclusively won in Russian competitions. Could this familiarity with success – and the habit of grinding out important victories – have played a part in their dramatic injury time equaliser in Marseille on Saturday?

So what does all of this tell us about England’s chances this summer? Fortunately for Three Lions fans, very little; as Leicester proved last season, football is unpredictable and this is exactly what makes it so enjoyable for fans. While managers, pundits and fans can pore over statistics to give them an idea of what to expect, the old adage that football is played on grass and not paper (or even spreadsheets) remains true. As has been pointed out by many, 2016 is scheduled to be the Year of the Underdog, following in the footsteps of unlikely winners Denmark (1992) and Greece (2004). Could this be another tournament when numbers aren’t able to tell the whole story? With England facing Wales in a crunch game today at 2pm, we will have to wait and see whether the England team is greater than the sum of its parts…


Notes to Editors

(1) All analysis of player ages, caps and trophies won conducted prior to the start of the tournament

(2) Trophies include national league championships, major national cup competitions, European titles (Champions League or Europa League) and international titles (World Cup and European Championships). League Cups, Super Cups (i.e. Community Shield), lower league championships and intercontinental titles (i.e. Club World Cup) were not counted.

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