World Cup 2018: England players play less than Spain & France

By Steve SutcliffeBBC Sport
Raheem Sterling
England forward Raheem Sterling (right) made 51 appearances for Manchester City in the 2017-18 season

England's World Cup players played less club football this season than their Spain, France and Brazil counterparts.

Received wisdom suggests players in the Premier League play more than other major leagues, but Gareth Southgate's squad have played the fourth most minutes of all the nations to qualify for the finals in Russia.

Spain's squad have played almost a combined 10,000 minutes more than England's, with France about 5,000 and Brazil 4,000 ahead of England.

The data, provided by independent research group CIES Football Observatory,external-link encompasses domestic and continental competitions between 1 July 2017 and 31 May 2018.

It shows that:

  • England's 23-man squad have featured in 994 competitive games between them since last July
  • Each player has played an average of 43 matches
  • The 76,476 minutes played by England's players equates to an average of 3,325 minutes or 37 full matches per player

Which players have played the most?

Lionel Messi, Argentina
Argentina's Lionel Messi is the third highest outfield player for minutes played during 2017-18

Portugal and Sporting Lisbon goalkeeper Rui Patricio tops the 736-player list with 5,490 minutes over 61 games.

Croatia defender Duje Caleta-Car, who helped RB Salzburg to the Europa League semi-finals, has played the most games of any outfield player who will be at the World Cup.

His 5,117 minutes are 108 more than Atletico Madrid's Spanish midfielder Saul Niguez, with Argentina and Barcelona forward Lionel Messi fourth.

There are six England players in the top 100 - Kyle Walker, in 43rd, Harry Maguire, Jordan Pickford, Harry Kane, Eric Dier and Dele Alli.

Premier League players occupy 28 of the top 100 spots and there are five players from the Championship, spread across 16 nationalities.

La Liga has the next highest figure among the European leagues, with 21 players - of 10 different nationalities - while Serie A has 11 players and Ligue 1 nine.

Player name ClubCountryGamesMinutes
Rui PatricioSportingPortugal615,580
Duje Caleta–CarRB SalzburgCroatia585,117
Saul NiguezAt MadridSpain625,009
Lionel MessiBarcelonaArgentina605,008
Luis SuarezBarcelonaUruguay574,969
Sebastian CoatesSportingUruguay554,950
Adil RamiMarseilleFrance554,904
Bruno FernandesSportingPortugal604,879
Marc-Andre ter StegenBarcelonaGermany544,860

What about in the Champions League?

Jordan Henderson and Cristiano Ronaldo
Liverpool's Jordan Henderson (right) played the most Champions League minutes (868) of any England player during 2017-18

The England squad also spent less time on the pitch in the Champions League knockout stages this season compared to Brazil, Germany, Spain, France and Argentina players.

Brazil lead the way - almost 2,000 minutes more than Spain - thanks in part to Real Madrid's Marcelo and Casemiro and Liverpool's Roberto Firmino reaching the final, and Roma goalkeeper Alisson making it as far as the semis.

Portugal's tally is boosted by the input of Cristiano Ronaldo, who played every minute in Real Madrid's 13-match run to victory in Kiev - the only player to do so.

Ronaldo's 1,170 minutes on the pitch were more than England's Jesse Lingard (Manchester United), Harry Kane (Tottenham) and Danny Rose (Tottenham) combined.

Of Southgate's squad, only Liverpool's Jordan Henderson (19th) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (21st) played more than 800 minutes - the equivalent of just over nine full games.

What about the winter break argument?

Former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson told BBC Sport that Southgate's squad will face problems with fatigue in Russia.

Eriksson, who led England to three major tournaments between 2002 and 2006, was an advocate of introducing a winter break to the English season during his five years in charge.

Each of the 23 players selected by Southgate plays in the Premier League, which, in contrast to the top flights of Spain, Germany, Italy and France, does not pause for a spell during the winter.

"If you play in the Premier League, you play a lot of games," said Swede Eriksson, England's first foreign manager. "That's the biggest reason why England struggle to make a big impact in big tournaments."

However, the England squad selected by Roy Hodgson for the 2014 World Cup played almost 4,000 fewer minutes than Joachim Low's tournament-winning Germany squad.

Germany became world champions for the fourth time by beating Argentina after extra-time in the final, while England finished bottom of their group.


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