"... absolutely buzzing! I can't wait to meet up with the squad and start preparing for the Euros. Thanks for all the messages ..."
Part-time footballer Jack Wilshere tweeted that earlier this month when, after 141 minutes and 83 passes, Roy Hodgson selected the midfielder for England’s Euro 2016 provisional squad. But what does that have to do with Jermain Defoe?
Look, we’ve been here before. We’re Sunderland fans. We know how this works. We also know that fans of every club in the league have heat with Hodgson for not picking one of their own. West Ham United alone has a few claims.
That said, when it comes to the five called-up strikers, Hodgson’s made a good call.
No, seriously, I tried to argue it and it didn’t work! Let’s just talk about this.
Think total playing time. Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy have played over 3000 minutes this season. Wayne Rooney has about half that with 1598. Daniel Sturridge and Marcus Rashford only have less than 900. As for Jermain Defoe, he’s played a good amount at 2236 minutes.
That’s good for the pro-Defoe argument, if we’re looking at season-long consistency. But we need more than that.
So, look at the comparative success rate for take-ons. Sturridge has won 13 of 20, that’s a 65% success rate. Kane’s won 48 from 95, that’s 50%. Vardy’s on 42% with 39 from 91. Rooney has 40% with 9 from 22, but Rashford has struggled at 25% with 9 from 34. Defoe’s 41%, and 13 from 31, is comparatively better than the Manchester United forward, but isn’t enough to justify a call-up yet.
The minutes-per-shot stat gives you an idea of which striker wants it more. Kane and Sturridge own this one – this season, both took a shot on average every 21 minutes. Vardy is next on 27 minutes, then Rooney on 32 minutes, and finally the way-off Rashford on 53 minutes. Defoe, meanwhile, on 29 minutes is comparatively on par with Leicester City’s Vardy in this respect. Again, at the very least, you’d rate Sunderland’s key striker over Rooney and Rashford.
Now, when it comes to goals scored, there’s a lot of variance; so let’s take penalties and free-kicks out of the equation. For sheer open play goals scored, who is the natural forward player here? Well, it’s Jermain Defoe. He’s had an average open-play goal scoring rate of one every 203 minutes. Harry Kane follows up on 210 minutes, then Marcus Rashford on 215, Daniel Sturridge and Jamie Vardy on 244, and finally Wayne Rooney on 399 minutes.
How about this? For minutes-per-shots on target: Sturridge and Kane average best with one every 45 minutes; Defoe ranks joint-second with Vardy on 60 minutes, whereas Rooney and Rashford both wait over 94 minutes until registering any shot on target.
However, the clinical Sturridge also ranks first for minute-per-inaccurate shot, with one on average every 56 minutes. Kane follows on 68 minutes, then Rooney on 76 minutes, and Vardy on 78. Far away from that sort of bad accuracy are Defoe and Rashford – both of whom are on over 130 minutes.
Alternatively, look at it as a percentage. Rashford bosses this one; he’s accurately hit 50% of his 16 shots this season. After him, it’s Defoe with 48% of 77 shots; then Kane and Sturridge on 47% from 159 and 42 shots respectively; Vardy has 46% from 115 shots, and finally Rooney – on an awful 34% – has accurately struck only 17 of 49 shots.
Now, is that enough to get Defoe to the Euros? You’d think so. There’s an awkward pattern of substandard statistics emerging around Captain Wayne. As for Marcus Rashford however, it’s all relative, as is usually the case when a players’ stats are based on so few games played. The teenager has had a good 11 matches, but you need to consider, it is only just that – 11 matches.
Okay, one more. Let’s look at shots-to-goals – the universal conversion stat. Again, it’s all Rashford. His 5 goals from 16 shots is an impressive 31% conversion rate. However, over the season, Vardy is the best goal converter for England, with 20% conversion and 24 goals from 115 shots. After that, you could say that Sturridge ranks next, with 7 goals from 42 shots and a conversion rate of 16%; however, Defoe’s 13 from 77 is also 16%. Kane, on 25 from 159, is only a little lower on 15%. And finally, one more time, its Rooney’s 6 from 49 – just 12%.
So what do we think now? Being the best in-form, fully-fit, accurate shot-taking open-play goal-scorer in the Premier League would normally tick a lot of boxes for an international call-up. But does that mean Jermain Defoe should replace any of the five selected strikers on the plane to France?
Again – no.
Kane, Sturridge, Vardy, Rooney, Rashford is not a bad strikers list for a provisional squad. Defoe may have 13 goals this season, but it’s not these five he should be replacing.
It’s Jack Wilshere. Or rather, Wayne Rooney should be replacing Jack Wilshere.
Look at it this way: Kane and Vardy are irreplaceable for their excellent campaigns and we already know enough to know how efficient Sturridge can be. There is nothing Defoe could have done this season to unseat any of those three strikers from their guaranteed call-ups.
As a fourth-choice centre forward, Defoe would likely not have seen a minute of game time during the competition. Yes, he has been ludicrously effective in front of goal and his conversion rate raises some questions as to why he wasn’t selected at all. However, if you have a fourth-choice forward – who may not even play – do you take the proven seasoned veteran or give a chance to a talented youngster?
Actually, that’s a tough decision. There’s a good argument for both.
What is more head-scratching however is the idea of Wayne Rooney being registered as a preferred striker because, quite frankly, he isn’t. He hasn’t been for a long time. The captain may have played more matches up front this season, but that creative midfield hole makes a much better player of him.
A better player than, say, Jack Wilshere. Or rather, the idea of what Wilshere is representing in this squad – the sorry-faced side of favouritism that comes with Roy Hodgson’s unwavering loyalty to certain players he believes he can trust. Where Fabian Delph fits into all this – and why – who knows? But when Raheem Sterling is chosen over the likes of Michail Antonio, you get the feeling that Hodgson is not selecting players based on merit.
So no; Jermain Defoe, on the balance of all his stats and performances, has no real right to play ahead of the preferred England strikers. Rashford is a good finisher and has been since he downed Manchester City in March. Sturridge is an outrageously talented centre forward. Kane and Vardy have been certainties for a long time.
However, with Wayne Rooney, his 8 goals and 6 assists is a commendable contribution to Manchester United, but it’s the work of a half-decent playmaker, not an out-and-out striker. If his goal contribution as a whole was the reason for his call-up, then why not even Troy Deeney? – he has more assists than any English striker.
What is most apparent from all this is that England have probably missed a trick here with Jermain Defoe.
Regardless of how or why he was omitted from the national squad, this is still a striker who contributed to 12 goals over 18 matches in 2016. That sort of form is the calibre of an England call-up.
And if Roy Hodgson weren’t so loyal to his squad-based status quo, it probably would’ve been.