England’s DNA

So I thought an interesting project to finish the season on would be using analytics to select the England squad for Euro 2016. A few reasons for this – firstly the nonsense in the media about Rooney’s injury being bad for United and good for England. Then there was this quote highlighted by Tom Worville on twitter t’other day:

bigdataquoteIt’s from this piece by Noah Lorang…which in turn reminded me of tweets made by Rob Mackenzie, Head of Player ID at Tottenham t’other week:

MacRobAt the time, I just wanted to yell: “BASIC!” It’s common sense, after all, but still, in 2016, sticking to these simple practices gets you a long way in football. Rob was previously at Leicester (who Arsenal raided this week for Rob’s old colleague, Ben Wrigglesworth). It’s exactly the message I was getting when I went to see the Premier League’s previous best bargain-hunters, Everton 3 years ago.

Before I started any work around the squad, I toddled off to look at the ‘England DNA’ stuff the FA launched at the end of 2014 to go with the whole new St Georges Park set-up thang. It’s not stuff…it’s guff. My favourite section is Part 2 – ‘How we play’. It contradicts itself with almost each sentence. Take a look for your self. It really is shocking.

On that basis, I came up a basis. Some rules for my England squad. There’s no ‘fancy’ stats stuff here. It was simply me, on the laptop, in front of the telly, sipping tea and walloping Minstrels from the cheap deals in Tesco into my gob, like the professional Northerner I am.

Here’s the mess of notes I made:

Tournament Rules

Each national team has to submit a squad of 23 players, three of whom must be goalkeepers, at least ten days before the opening match of the tournament.


To win the tournament (do not ‘kin’ laugh)

To give ‘young talent’ (under 24 yrs old) as much playing time as possible in order to develop experienced ‘peak’ age (24-28 yrs old) players for World Cup 2018.

Squad Criteria

Players must have played 1700 minutes (roughly 50%) of Premier League football this season. If a player hasn’t been playing regular top level football, then he has not proved his fitness or form. Consider later how many wildcards are needed/wanted to allow a player returning from injury the chance to make the squad.

Players must be comfortable with the team formation and their positions in it. Overwhelmingly, a notional 4231 system is the choice of the Premier League this season. 442 and 433 are the next most regular line ups. There should be few (if any) ‘square pegs in round holes’.

On pitch flexibility and familiarity should be a priority. Consider picking groups of players from the same club, especially the 442 and 433 teams in order to be able to ‘change’ games during matches while retaining positional specialism.

It may become apparent during the process that the criteria is too big or too narrow. Compromise is probably going to be necessary. Hell, it might even be desirable in football management…

I have compiled a list of players who have played around 1000 minutes so far. Here they are:

Keepers: J Butland, J Hart, J Ruddy

Defenders: S Dann, S Cook, J Terry, G Cahill, R Bennett, R Shawcross, J Lescott, C Dawson, S Francis, C Smalling, J Stones, J Tomkins, M Richards, P Jagielka, A Cresswell, C Daniels, R Bertrand, D Rose, B Galloway, G Jonhson, B Jones, J Ward, K Naughton, N Clyne, K Walker, A Smith, C Jenkinson

Mids: E Dier, G Barry, M Noble, D Drinkwater, A Westwood, L Cattermole, J Cork, J Colback, C Gardner, L Britton, M Carrick, B Watson, D Gosling, D Alli, J Shelvey, R Barkley, J Milner, T Cleverley, J Henderson, J Howson, J Ward-Prowse,

Att Mids: J Puncheon, Sterling, N Redmond, A Lallana, W Routledge, M Albrighton, W Zaha, T Walcott, J Stanislas, S Sinclair, A Young

Forwards: H Kane, W Rooney, S Berahino, J Vardy, C Jerome, T Deeney, J Defoe

There’s 69 players here. The nation is low on keepers and forwards but there are talented wildcard options here that can be discussed later in the process. You’re probably looking at a group of around 75 players all told that need to be taken into consideration. They are all considered good enough by the clubs (that know them best) to be playing regular top-level football. I’m pleasantly surprised by this. You may not think so your self looking at that list of names. But moi? I’m sick to death of unfashionable players from unfashionable clubs getting overlooked.

Take a look at the objectives again. England needs to be using peak age players (in order to perform well and win) and developing new ‘peak’ age players (to perform well in the future). With that in mind, we can test how well this has been done previously by isolating the players in that 69 that are peak age now for Euro 2016 and will still be peak age for World Cup 2018:

Defs: S Cook, N Clyne, A Smith, C Jenkinson, R Bennett, C Dawson, D Rose, K Walker, C Smalling, J Tomkins, A Cresswell, R Bertrand, J Colback, J Ward,

Mids: D Drinkwater, A Westwood, J Henderson, J Cork, D Gosling, T Cleverley

Att Mids: T Walcott, J Stanislas, S Sinclair,

Hell’s bells, Carlton. There’s 24 players there and just 120-odd caps between them. More than half don’t even have a senior international appearance. Hopefully, this simple starting framework did enough to get your own noggin working on the subject. There’ll be more blatherings soon. In the mean time, have a look at the links below on the ideas raised in this ‘piece’, and then, come! Berate me on twitter @footballfactman

ANALYSE THIS: The Ageing Game



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