How much can England rely on Rio Ferdinand and John Terry?

One of the many questions that hang over the England team going into this summer’s European Championship is how well their two senior centre-backs will be able to hinder the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimović and Karim Benzema. John Terry and Rio Ferdinand are coming to the beginning of the end of their careers and are facing, to varying degrees, doubts over how well they can perform at the highest level.

John Terry has experienced good and bad spells for Chelsea this season, but probably his most memorable footballing incident has been earning a thoroughly needless red card in the Champions League semi-final. Rio Ferdinand has missed many of Manchester United’s games since 2009 through injury and has made only one appearance for England since November 2010. It is fair to say that the two have had an unstable few years, and that’s before we mention the fact that John Terry faces criminal charges for the racial abuse of Rio Ferdinand’s brother – a saga that left England without a manager.

I have presented below the progression of two key defensive indicators – tackles and interceptions – from the 2005/06 season to midway through the current campaign for the two players. The statistics have been very kindly provided by the observant folk at Opta.

Like anything in life, tallies of tackles and interceptions cannot tell the full story – the full story of these players’ careers would also include a narrative of missed drug tests, teammate-alienating infidelities, a Champions League final penalty miss and the removal of the national captaincy twice for bad behaviour and once for injury between them. What these statistics do offer is another perspective into the players’ performances to supplement other examinations, perceptions, learnings and gleanings.

I have also included Jamie Carragher as an additional comparison, being a player that is similar in some ways – an English central defender of a similar age, and a staple of (until recent seasons) a top-four Premier League side – but contrasting in others – apart from a brief relapse in the summer of 2010, he has been retired from international football since 2007.

Tackles are split into those won and lost. A lost tackle is one where the ball is knocked away from the opponent to another opposition player – so still a positive event for the tackler as it would, usually, be better than not making a tackle at all.

I’ve presented the data in two ways. First, these are the tallies on a match by match basis. The numbers are adjusted to take into account the time that the player spent on the pitch – so, for example, if a player played for only 45 minutes, their numbers of tackles and interceptions for that game are doubled. A match that the player did not appear in is marked black.

Jamie Carragher – born January 1978
Rio Ferdinand – born November 1978
John Terry – born December 1980

Secondly, here are the players’ tallies per match by season (including up to mid-2011/12). Again, the time the defenders played is taken into account.

The stats seem to show declines that fit with the players ages. Jamie Carragher’s figures have diminished the most, followed by Rio Ferdinand’s with John Terry’s the least – from oldest to youngest. Carragher had been very consistent, and won and lost a lot of tackles but those, and his interceptions, have fallen away quite quickly in the past season and a half. Perhaps his decline would have arrived sooner had he not cut the extra workload of international football out of his life in 2007.

Ferdinand is more of an interceptor, Carragher’s contributions are mostly tackles and Terry is balanced between the two. Terry’s tackling has remained very steady and his number of interceptions have been considerably higher than five years ago. Ferdinand’s tackling declined over the first half of the period studied and has been steadily low since then but he has compensated with increased interceptions. The drop in the Manchester United player’s tackles could be a symptom of having previously relied on his now deteriorating pace but it appears he has successfully adapted his game to compensate with many more interceptions.

Purely on the basis of these measures, John Terry can be counted on as much as, if not more than, he ever was. Rio Ferdinand can still be relied on to win the ball, but there must be loose passes for him to pounce upon as he won’t make be making many tackles.

One Response to “How much can England rely on Rio Ferdinand and John Terry?”
  1. Len Bappin says:

    I find it hard to believe that these guys are making on average less than 2 tackles and interceptions a game… seems incredibly low. even accounting for how much good defence leads to an attacker just passing away from a pressuring defender, less than one tackle per half doesn’t feel right. there should be a question in there somewhere I guess – i.e. is that right? – but how do central defenders do so little??

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