Thursday, 16 June 2016

Is Wayne Rooney's England Career At An End?

In this pre Euro 2016 post I looked at the age profile of all 23 qualifying teams in their group matches prior to the tournament and also posted the typical age graphs here.

The abilities of one peak aged player compared to another will obviously depend upon their innate talent levels.

A 27 year old Aron Gunnarsson may not be fit to wear the shirt of a 31 year old Ronaldo, but the physical advantages of having more peak aged players may tilt a contest or a compressed tournament schedule slightly towards those teams clustering around the ideal.

What is undeniable is that every participant in a sport based on both skill and physical attributes eventually reaches a point where their output no longer increases, but actively declines.

This cycle of improvement and then decline is most often illustrated in the normal curve of performance indicators, such as goals per game for strikers or a proxy, such as minutes played for players generally.

This approach is fine in a relatively large dataset, but may be much more noisy for individual players, where impact injuries, rather than wear and tear can remove large chunks of a season.

The above plot shows Alan Shearer's change in scoring input from his debut for Southampton to his final outing for Newcastle. It is inevitably noisy, but the general trendline indicates a season on season improvement until the line crosses the x axis and turns negative around the 1999-2000 season as Shearer approached 30.

June 2000 also marked Shearer's final appearance for England. So his international career ended at the point where it appears his club performances were beginning to gradually decline when measured by his goal scoring output. Shearer continued his club career until 2006.

England habitually have around 2 million eligible males between the peak age of 24 and 29 from which to source their premier international goal scorer. So it is perhaps not surprising that often their elite scorers rarely remain on the international stage much past their peak.

The populations of Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are dwarfed by England's with the peak age male population ranging from around 190,000 for Scotland down through the Republic and Wales to a mere 60,000 for Northern Ireland.

It is also the case that other sports may compete for the same pool of talent.

Therefore, a much smaller selection pool exists for England's nearest neighbours and this may partly explain both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland's less than ideal age profile from their qualification matches.

England has a selection pool that is 35 times the size of Northern Ireland's and as we can see from the table above, such countries often have to stick with their premier talent even in their declining years through lack of credible younger talent emerging.

The Republic's Robbie Keane is still a member of their Euro 2016 squad arguably over a decade since he reached his scoring peak. Scotland's Dalglish, Wales' Rush and Northern Ireland's Healy were each accruing caps 5 or 6 years beyond their best year.

Wayne Rooney is already an outlier among England's primary strikers having already played 4 years past his apparent scoring peak.

Had he played for any of the other home nations or the Republic it would perhaps be understandable if he had not yet been usurped by a less innately talented, but younger rival.

But to have survived as England's primary striker for so long, suggests either an unusual dearth of attacking talent from within a 2 million pool of resource or selection based on past, rather than present attributes.

With a lengthening queue of striking candidates, time may have finally caught up with Croxteth's child prodigy as the leader of England's front line.

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