World Cup 2014: Lies, damned lies and statistics
Roy Hodgson has no time for match stats. As England’s manager gears up for the World Cup, he is interested in fitness and humidity
Roy Hodgson enjoyed watching Chelsea’s recent win at Anfield, and Real Madrid's victories against Bayern Munich. Not, it should be added, because he is a Chelsea fan, anti-Liverpool, or prefers Carlo Ancelotti to Pep Guardiola. In these matters he is strictly neutral.
No, he is “really happy that in the last couple of weeks the nonsense of statistics is being proven once and for all”. Hodgson is not a great believer in those numbers that appear on the screen at Champions League matches, and in various media outlets, showing possession ratios, how far players have run and so on. As far as he is concerned “there are two truisms". Who won and "there’s no one way to play football."
Hodgson explains: "You don’t play a certain type of football. You play the football that enables you win with the players at your disposal. So, if your goalkeeper can kick the ball miles and you’ve got a centre-forward that, every time he kicks it, he smashes the ball in the net, I would suggest to you that your goalkeeper never throws the ball out.
"People talk about passing statistics, someone 'has an 85 per cent success rate against 94 per cent success rate'. But Steven Gerrard will always have a worse passing statistic than [Crystal Palace's] Kagisho Dikgacoi because Dikgacoi only passes the ball five yards back whereas Gerrard occasionally tries difficult passing.
"It’s a compete nonsense. The players know what I think about them. No player is ever going to hear from me: ‘Your passing percentage rate wasn’t high enough.’ What they’re more likely to hear from me is 'you're not passing the ball forwards enough. You're passing it backwards and square too much'."
The one set of statistics Hodgson does take notice of are the fitness ones. All players will be given individual programmes in the build-up to the World Cup to ensure those that need extra work because they lack match fitness (like Phil Jagielka perhaps), get it, while those who have had a demanding season (like Gerrard) get adequate rest.
The same will apply during the tournament with Hodgson very aware that England will have to adapt their approach to the humid conditions, and probably rotate players.
"We don't know what the English game is these days. We see different types of English games. We've just seen two of the top teams in Liverpool and Chelsea have very different styles, but we are conscious of the climate and the toll that will take on players. There is even more reason to have a squad that gives you potential to make changes. You might choose your best XI, but whether that can play right the way though is a big doubt
"We will have to give it a lot of thought to the traditional flying around up front to try to pressure players who have so much time and space that they're not going to be pressurised anyway. The midfield down into the defensive unit, that's where we want to be compact." But, he added, there may be times when England are losing and will have to press regardless of the conditions.
After two years in the job this is Hodgson's England, which means, unlike at Euro 2012, he will be held responsible if England do lose. Does that bring more pressure?
"Maybe. I felt quite a lot of pressure last time to be honest. There were a lot of people wanting us to do well at the Euros, so I don't remember having the feeling that, 'I don't need to be too bothered here, because it's not my team and I've got a bit of leeway'.
"I think I will feel a bit more pressure but the most important thing is that we feel comfortable, that we feel that there is a lot of good will towards the team from the general public. I think we have seen the emergence of a new generation of players who are on the cusp maybe of becoming something, so I think there are a lot of things to be positive about. There is new blood and we have a chance. In 2012, there was cynicism it, now I think it is better.
"I would like to think that the England team at the moment is in some form of progression. We are hopefully getting better as some of these younger players continue to improve but it doesn't take away from the fact we are going to a very important tournament and there's a lot of hope and expectation that this team can do well. You can't deny that and just point to the future, because you need to be performing now as well. And what's more, if these players can't produce some sort of performance now that we can take some hope from, what is to say they are going to do it in two years' time? Because it's not something you turn on or off, it's either there or it isn't."
The moment he is most looking forward to is "the first victory, and I hope it is the first game so we are off and running. There are 32 teams and some people say some teams are unbeatable and some teams you cannot lose to. But I am a football manager and [I know] you can beat all of them, and you can lose to all of them."
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