PVC: Pitney vs Coxon – Are England really the world’s fourth-best side?
The recently-published FIFA World Rankings have England listed in fourth place, behind Holland, Spain and Germany, but above Uruguay, Brazil, Italy, Portugal and Argentina.
FIFA World Rankings – Top 10
Is that a fair assessment of England’s standing in international football, or are the FIFA rankings flawed?
In the first article in a new regular feature, Pubcasters Simon Pitney and Michael Coxon take opposing sides to a footballing argument and debate the case for and against.
We’ve called it Pitney vs Coxon, or PVC, if you’re into that sort of thing…
Should England be ranked fourth in the world?
Michael Coxon says YES
It seems fashionable to knock England because, well, they are a bit rubbish at times. But the recent outpouring of bile about their FIFA ranking is ridiculous because England DO deserve to be the 4th in the rankings.
Why? Well it’s certainly not because the players are better than those of Brazil or Argentina or Italy or even Uruguay, but because the results don’t lie.
We all saw the 2010 World Cup where England were outclassed by Germany and matched by USA, but you can’t base these things on a month. The rankings are based upon the last 4 years, years that have seen England steamroll two qualifying groups and along the way beat Germany, Denmark and Croatia and draw with Holland. Very few nations have had such a record in that time and it’s reflected in Capello having the highest win percentage of any England manager ever. He may not be the best but he’s effective at churning out narrow wins.
But England don’t perform like the 4th best team in the world, you say? Well, can you really measure a good performance? Unless you have a big, complicated formula taking into account possession, shots, goals, territory, refereeing decisions and Cruyff turns performed by the wingers then no, you can’t. England are effective and consistent, whereas teams like Brazil and Argentina are far more prone to the occasional defeat to a lesser team (as Bolivia’s stunning 6-1 victory of Argentina in the 2010 qualifiers illustrates).
Alternatives? Well the place finished at the World Cup only takes into account 32 teams and the ELO rankings seem to be more weighted on historical factors (not that I’m nearly qualified enough to comment). The FIFA rankings aren’t perfect, but they’re as good as we can get. And if they show England as 4th? All the better!
Simon Pitney says NO
I accept there is no perfect system for rankings – there will always be anomalies – but this doesn’t mean that I have to accept that England are the fourth best team in the world when my eyes tell me something completely different.
England under Capello have sailed untroubled through two qualifying groups and have performed reasonably well in some friendlies in recent years (Germany, Holland) – however I would argue that both of these are massively misleading. First of all, the UEFA seeding system prevents top teams ever having to face each other – lets be honest England have had two relatively easy qualifying groups with which to inflate their rankings totals – I would wager quite heavily that if they had to endure playing real top class opposition they would struggle to look so sublime – for example if they had to undergo the same process as their South American counterparts, where there is no dodging games against Argentina, Brazil and a resurgent Uruguay, I would fully expect England to lose their fair share of games. They have been protected by a system that ensures they will play mediocre teams and therefore remain “statistically” one of the worlds top teams.
As for the friendlies argument – well we have also been embarrassed by Spain and Brazil as well as losing to a French team that is some way short of the standards reached at the turn of the century. Friendlies – you win some you lose some – it doesn’t really matter.
What does matter is the nitty gritty of winning tournament games – something England failed to do with any aplomb in the most recent World Cup – despite having ,on paper, the easiest group. Once we came up against a decent German team (who we beat in an important friendly) we were completely torn to shreds – a World Cup win has to mean SO much more than a friendly.
I like Capello and I do believe England are a decent team that is probably about 10th in the world – but when was the last time England really did anything at a tournament? (Then look at all the teams around them in the rankings and ask the same question) When was the last time they came through a particularly tough qualifying group? Do you really believe that if England played Brazil, Argentina or Uruguay ten times they would win the majority of the matches? What about Portugal? Italy? I’d rather bet your mortgage than mine.
Whose side are you on? Vote now!
Which Pubcaster do you agree with? Should England be ranked fourth in the world? Register your vote using the poll below and we’ll announce the results in a future Pubcast. Also, feel free to add your thoughts and comments on the issue by using the comments box at the foot of this article.