Earlier this year, Rio Ferdinand famously missed out being selected for Euro 2012 due to “football reasons”. It created quite a stir as his omission was suspected to have had something to do with John Terry and his racial row with his brother Anton Ferdinand.
But with Terry retiring suddenly last week, rumours have resurfaced about Ferdinand returning to the national team, so much that it made Roy Hodgson regrettably announced that Ferdinand’s international career is as good as over.
How true is that? Is Rio Ferdinand really not good enough for the England team anymore?
To try and prove this statement, let us look at the statistics from the other central defenders that have been called up to the England squad and see whether they are more deserving of a place than Rio is.
Using statistical comparison from Opta Stats, I will compare Ferdinand’s overall performances so far this season to Stoke City’s Ryan Shawcross, Manchester City’s Joleon Lescott, Everton’s Phil Jagielka and Chelsea’s Gary Cahill.
While it has only been 6 games into the season, only Shawcross and Jagielka have played in all 6 games for their teams. Ferdinand, Lescott and Cahill have 4 appearances each. Ferdinand has conceded the most goals amongst all of them, with 1.5 goals conceded per game. While this can be an unfair reflection of the player because the entire team, defence and goalkeeper should be responsible for a goal being conceded, they cannot be entirely absolved from their defensive responsibilities as well.
It should also be pointed out that Cahill has played only 279 minutes so far in the Premier League this season, almost half of what Shawcross and Jagielka has played, and 80 minutes (almost the duration of an entire game) less than Ferdinand. Evidently, how much time each player gets on the pitch is seemingly not a main criteria for getting into the England squad (as of now, at least).
In terms of defending, at first glance, Shawcross seems the dominant player here, surpassing the other players in the quantity of tackles and challenges made. He has made 29 ground 50-50 challenges, 32 aerial 50-50 challenges and 16 tackles, way more than any other player shown in the table. This is probably a numerical insight into Shawcross’ impressive performances so far this season.
However, in terms of quality, Shawcross pales in comparison to Ferdinand. Ferdinand has won 94% of his 16 ground 50-50s compared to Shawcross’ 69%, he won 82% of his 11 aerial 50-50 challenges compared to Shawcross’ 66% and has a tackle success rate of 81.82%, compared to Shawcross’ 68.75%. Ferdinand has also made more interceptions than Shawcross in a shorter time period (Ferdinand has 11 successful tackles in 359 minutes, while Shawcross has 10 successful tackles in 540 minutes). In fact, Ferdinand has the best ground 50-50, aerial 50-50, tackling and interception statistics amongst the 4 other central defenders.
The inference here would be that Ferdinand is the most competent at defending as compared to those that had been picked for the national squad over him. If the criteria were based purely on defensive ability, wouldn’t Ferdinand have already been picked for the England team?
From Table 3, we can see that Ferdinand and Lescott are far superior in their passing as compared to the Shawcross, Jagielka and Cahill. Not only do they have the highest number of total accurate passes (Ferdinand made 215 accurate passes while Lescott made 222 accurate passes), their percentage of pass completion (Ferdinand has 92.67% pass completion rate and Lescott has 92.12% pass completion rate) is the highest as well. This can be rationalized from the way their teams play. Manchester United and Manchester City, being the more superior teams, they usually dominate games and keep possession better, so naturally the defenders from these teams like Ferdinand and Lescott would have a higher than average passing rate.
We should note that Shawcross, despite playing the most number of minutes, has the least number of passes (only 82 passes) and the lowest pass completion rate (only 68.33% pass completion rate). While some might say that his quality is less superior to the others, we should take into account Stoke City’s more direct style of play, where balls are being thrown forward more regularly than other teams. This can be proven in the table, as we see that Shawcross’ open play pass forwards is a whopping 73%, far greater that the other players. This could explain his misleadingly lower pass completion rate.
Nevertheless, this table has shown Ferdinand to be in equal stead, if not better, than the other players who were selected ahead of him.
While defenders are not usually renowned for their attacking prowess, it is definitely advantageous and important at times to have a defender who has a knack for scoring the odd-goals, especially in set pieces.
From the table, only Cahill and Lescott have scored so far this season. Cahill scored on his first appearance of the season in the 4-2 win over Reading while Lescott scored in the 1-1 draw against Arsenal. Jagielka scored his first goal for England (a diving header) during a 2-1 friendly victory over Italy in August this year. While Shawcross may not have scored this season, he has scored a few goals in the Premier League over the seasons, so the potential to score an odd goal is definitely there. As for Ferdinand, he has not scored in over 4 seasons in the Premier League, and expecting one from him can be considered a little miracle.
Still, I do believe that as important as scoring goals are, it is not really that significant of a criterion in determining if a defender would get in the England squad.
Lescott and Jagielka – England’s current first choice center backs?
From the statistics shown, we can see that, by and large, Ferdinand is still on par (and better in some aspects even) with the other players, especially in terms of defending and passing.
Had the decision to pick the central defenders be based solely on the statistics mentioned earlier, it would be a cardinal sin not to have included Ferdinand in the team. Furthermore, with Terry out of the picture, the central defence would not have that wealth of experience that Ferdinand can provide.
However, based on Hodgson’s quote regarding Ferdinand, it seems the biggest factors going against him are his age and fitness. At 34, Ferdinand’s persistent back problems have been a concern for the past couple of seasons, and he has had the more than occasional muscle strain or pull within the same time period as well. In all honesty, there can be no assurances of his fitness being kept consistent for a prolonged period of time. Hence, that could probably be the main factor that made Hodgson decide not to call him up.
No doubt Rio Ferdinand definitely deserves to be called up to the national squad. But his proneness to injury is probably too much of a risk for Hodgson to want to take. This is coupled with the fact that other players like Shawcross have shown through their performances this season that they at least deserve a shot at playing at center back for England.
By Ahmad Khan