So, four years after the last time, the inquests begin again. It was a foreign manager, we need a winter break, there’s not enough English players in the Premiership, the referee screwed us, we aren’t good enough, etc, etc, etc.
How about the fact that we were simply out thought and outplayed? On paper there is only one team in the world that I think is better than England and that is Spain. Ashley Cole is the best left back in the world, John Terry would walk into any team, Rio Ferdinand was replaced first by the arguably better Ledley King and later by the able Carragher and Upson with Michael Dawson not even getting a game despite a fantastic season. Frank Lampard is consistently a 20 goal a season midfielder and Steven Gerrard is possibly better. Rooney was supposed to set the world alight, Joe Cole hardly got a look in and we had a right wing battle between Lennon, Walcott, Wright-Phillips and Beckham (before he got injured). To put it simply – we are not short on quality.
The foreign manager? Well he has won just about everything over the last two decades and despite being in his first international tournament still clearly knows his stuff. Yes we didn’t all agree with his tactics but if he’d changed them and it had failed we’d be arguing the other side of the coin. He remains the best man for the job and better than any English candidates bar Harry Redknapp, and woe betide the FA if they steal him off Spurs!
As far as there not being enough English players around, well if they were good enough they would play. It is as simple as that. Setting a quota and making teams play a certain amount of English players will not do anything for the national team. The fact remains that the cream always rises to the top and clearly the ones that aren’t playing are not up to scratch.
I’ll grant that there is a case for a winter break. Two weeks off could work wonders in rejuvenating players for the rest of the season and any end of season international competitions. But does anyone honestly believe that the clubs in the greediest league in the world wouldn’t take advantage of the time by playing money spinning friendlies in the States, Asia and beyond? After all this is a league more obsessed with money than fair play – it isn’t so long ago that the 39th game was being touted on foreign soil, a proposal that completely undermined the system of a league where you play each team twice to ensure fairness purely for a few extra quid. No clearly a two week break would do nothing but create more games and more travel for players that I keep hearing are tired.
And yes we should have equalised against the Germans, and I maintain that being level at half time would have ensured a different game. But I’m sure that Germany were good enough to put us to the sword anyway, and if they hadn’t then one of Argentina, Spain or Holland certainly would have done the way we were playing. So it is no good blaming the ref for our premature departure- however bad the decision.
Now a lot of people blame the tactics. 4-4-2 cannot work at international level you hear. But then those same pundits dissect another game a day later and tell you how hard it is to break down two banks of four. Which is right guys? “Heskey should never have gone” is a favourite of mine. Well what links our greatest results of the last decade? 5-1 Germany, 5-1 Croatia, 4-1 Croatia, 3-0 Russia? That’s right, Heskey. He gets the best out of his strike partners whether it be Owen or Rooney. And if you want to blame a striker for our poor showing, then it has to be the mercurially talented but enduringly angry and frustrated Rooney. Our whole tactical system was based on trying to get the best out of him (though this isn’t his fault if that’s what the manager wants to do) and he undeniably fell short for one reason or another. But I’m not trying to make him a scapegoat, simply point out if you want to fault Heskey you need to look at Rooney first.
“We should have played 4-5-1” is another favourite of mine, with Gerrard playing almost as a supporting striker to Rooney. Well seeing as how well Gerrard worked in that role for Liverpool last season and the last time England played it we lost to a very average French side you won’t find me jumping on that particular bandwagon. The last time a manager caved into pressure to change formation we went to 3-5-2 against Croatia in qualifying and came away losing 2-0. Yes that’s 2-0 to the same side we hammered in a 4-4-2.
Whispers that Capello was too strict refused to go away in the tournament and that the players felt like they were in a prison. That would be a prison where you go on safari, have state of the art facilities and are allowed out to train before playing in front of thousands of people and millions more at home would it? I mean it isn’t like they couldn’t have brought DVD collections or Xbox’s and the like. I’m sure it wasn’t all fun and it got boring but if you asked any fan if they’d do it (not even bearing in mine some of these players are on 100,000k a week to train and play matches) then they’d bite your hand off for the chance. Six weeks of boredom for a shot of immortality? I could probably even handle sharing a room with the ghost of Jade Goody and being entertained each night by Jedward without it affecting my game, because like every other fan there is nothing I wouldn’t do to get on the pitch and run until I dropped against the Germans. Or anyone for that matter if I was wearing the three lions.
So what is the problem? As I said earlier we were outplayed. There is no denying that. But equally we were out thought. When things didn’t go our way we resorted to long ball football, our idea of possession football and the continental style is to knock it about the back four for a minute and then pump it long. No probing, no players drifting into space and causing the other team to worry about them between back four and midfield as Germany did so magnificently with Mesut Ozil. As they said after the game, they knew how to play us both defensively and attack-wise. When things didn’t work we had no ideas, no creativity, we didn’t once look like creating something out of nothing in all four games.
This stems from grass roots. Chopping and changing at the top does nothing but paper over the cracks and hide the bigger problem. If players are good enough to come through the ranks at clubs they will, but they need to be better educated at junior level. Play on smaller pitches and make them work to find space, play with less players to give them more touches. Two simple ideas that would benefit us far more than starting 11 a-side at under 10s, sticking the biggest player up front with the quickest and telling the fullbacks to “clear their lines” and hit the ball long to the front pair every time.
The best way to improve our fortunes in football is the same as in every other profession – education. Because if we can get our next generation of players to instinctively do what other sides already manage and simply think for themselves and try different things when things go wrong then we don’t need to have the same boring inquest every four years. This way if teams are better than us then at least The FA can say they’ve done everything they can and we might actually be able to say fair play to the opposition rather than looking to castrate the most obvious and easiest candidate at time.