Four years ago, I ran the numbers on how much distance players covered per 90 minutes of play during World Cup 2010. FIFA only releases the total distance covered (in km) in the entire tournament, but that is not helpful because some played 7 games, while others played 3. Also, some knockout round games had extra time periods, which would also skew the numbers. For example, Thomas Mueller covered the most distance in this tournament with a total of 84 km (52.20 miles) over 7 games but he did it in less minutes (682 min) than it took Javier Mascherano (720 min) to cover 81.2 km (50.46 miles).
So, armed with the two stats that FIFA does give us, a) total minutes played and b) total distance covered, I again converted it to my own measure of a player's effort. How many miles does a player cover over the course of every 90 minutes he played in World Cup 2014? Although this is obviously not an exact science, these are the guidelines I put in place to give us a more accurate measurement.
a) The player must have averaged at least 90 min a game. Obviously, if you play for just the last 10 min of a game, you can sprint around and increase your distance rate when extrapolated over 90 min. Originally, I lowered the minimum to 80 minutes, but this only changed 3-4 players mostly near the bottom of the top 15, not enough to break tradition with my 2010 system. I did not put in place a ceiling because its just too complicated to measure how tired each player is and how it impacts his distance covered. 1 player (Martin DiMichelis) averaged 110 min per game. Clearly, the Argentine defender did not finish too high in our rankings (#145).
b) The players must have played in a minimum of 3 games. This arbitrary minimum is put in place to disqualify the speciality or bench player who did not have to push himself through at least 3 games. Also, it is set at 3 because that is a full tournament for half the teams.
The math: I took each players total tournament minutes and divided by 90 to find how many 90 minute increments they played. For example, Thomas Mueller's 682 min divided by 90, comes out to 7.58. He actually played 7.58 90-minute soccer games. Then I simply divided each player's total distance in miles by how many 90 minute increments they played. So for Mueller, 52.20 miles divided by his 7.58 "games" comes out to 6.89 miles per 90 minutes played. For our findings, he ranks 15th overall.
The top 15 players in distance covered per game of Brazil WC 2014:
1) Michael Bradley (US) 4 games, 390 minutes, 33.99 total miles, 7.84 miles/90min
2) Marcelo Diaz (Chile) 4 games, 390 minutes, 32.44 total miles, 7.49 miles/90min
3) Victor Fayzulin (Russia) 3 games, 270 minutes, 22.25 miles, 7.42 miles/90min
4) Mile Jedinak (Australia) 3 games, 270 minutes, 22.00 miles, 7.33 miles/90min
5) Alexander Kokorin (Russia) 3 games, 270 minutes, 21.93 miles, 7.31 miles/90min
6) Muhamed Busic (Bosnia & H) 3 games, 270 minutes, 21.69 miles, 7.23 miles/90min
7) Charles Aranguiz (Chile) 4 games, 364 minutes, 29.20 miles, 7.22 miles/90min
8) Kevin De Bruyne (Belgium) 4 games, 390 minutes, 31.25 miles, 7.21 miles/90min
9) Koo Jacheol (South Korea) 3 games, 270 minutes, 21.56 miles, 7.19 miles/90min
10) Miralem Pjanic (Bosnia & H) 3 games, 270 minutes, 21.44 miles, 7.15 miles/90min
11) Nabil Bentaleb (Algeria) 3 games, 270 minutes, 21.31 miles, 7.10 miles/90min
12) Yuto Nagatomo (Japan) 3 games, 270 minutes, 20.94 miles, 6.98 miles/90min
13) Kyle Beckerman (US) 3 games, 270 minutes, 20.75 miles, 6.92 miles/90min
14) Alexander Samedov (Russia) 3 games, 270 minutes, 20.69 miles, 6.90 miles/90min
15) Thomas Mueller (Germany) 7 games, 682 minutes, 52.20 miles, 6.89 miles/90min
- Of the 608 players that played in the 2014 World Cup, only 176 met our criteria for this study (3 games minimum, 80 or more minutes played per game). 24 of those 176 were keepers.
- In 2010, Michael Bradley finished #2 overall with 7.41 miles/90min. (#1 then was a North Korean, An Yong Hak, with a distance of 7.50). This year, Bradley was the only player to best the 7.50 mile/90min mark. But what is absolutely shocking is how far above everyone else he is. The approximate difference between each of the scores down the entire 176 player list is around 0.01 to 0.04. Bradley is heads and shoulders above 2nd place by 0.35 miles/90min. The next time there is a gap larger is between the last field player, Thiago Silva 4.97 miles/90min and the first keeper, Maty Ryan 3.83. For all the criticism Bradley received, you cannot argue that he did not give it his full effort.
- Bradley is also the only player to make the top 15 in both 2010 and 2014. Bastian Schweinsteiger, #6 in 2010, actually averaged 7.00 miles per game over 6 games (good for 12th this year), but he only averaged 84 minutes a game.
- Countries with multiple players on this list include: Russia with 3, US with 2, Chile with 2, Bosnia and Herzegovina with 2.
- Of the 15 players, 11 were midfielders, 3 were forwards (Jacheol and 2 Russians - Kokorin and Samedov) and 1 was a defender (Nagtomo).
- #13 Kyle Beckerman's impressive distance covered asks even more questions of Klinsmann's decision to bench him vs Belgium.
- The other Americans on the list are
#16 Jermaine Jones at 6.83
#30 Geoff Cameron 6.64
#43 Clint Dempsey 6.56
#88 DeMarcus Beasley 6.14
#160 Tim Howard 2.67
Other noteworthy US players who played between 65 to 89 min a game:
- Alejandro Bedoya 71 minutes per game, 23.49 miles, 7.42 miles/90min
- Graham Zusi 65 minutes per game, 20.94 miles, 7.28 miles/90min
- Omar Gonzalez 70 minutes per game, 15.29 miles, 6.52 miles/90min
- Fabian Johnson 76 minutes per game, 21.69 miles, 6.46 miles/90min
- Matt Besler 87 minutes per game, 23.55 miles, 6.13 miles/90min
- Howard ranked #9 for the goalkeepers.
- You'd probably think that Neuer's 3.12 easily covered the most distance of all the goalkeepers seeing how he essentially played sweeper, but he actually finished 4th. It might be due to the fact that his team had possession most of the time and he had little to do.
- As for some other notable Germans, Toni Kroos finished 26th with 6.69, Lahm was 43rd at 6.56 and Hoewedes was 49th with 6.52. Along with Mueller, those 4 covered the most distances for players who played 7 games. Another reason why they won it all.
- Other notable players:
#28 Sneijder 6.65
#58 Robben 6.43
N/A James Rodriguez 6.46 (only 80 min per game)
#49 Pirlo 6.50
#64 Van Persie 6.36
#67 Iniesta 6.32
#68 Mascherano 6.31
#72 Ozil 6.25
#79 Oscar 6.17
#86 Sergio Ramos 6.15
#93 Neymar 6.11
N/A Di Maria 6.06 (only 85 min per game)
#105 Modric 5.99
#118 Benzema 5.89
#144 David Luiz 5.37
#151 Thiago Silva 4.97
- And of course, the two best players in the world - #121 Cristiano Ronaldo 5.84 and #150 Lionel Messi 5.06. Well, they're not exactly box to box midfielders, are they? Messi was 2nd to the last of all the field players. I'll cut the guy a bit of slack, he made it to the 7th game after all. Either that, or Fifa's distance numbers are wrong, therefore rendering this entire post moot.