A Football Blog. @billyfreelancer looks at several reasons why England never seemed to get going at Brazil.
Sigh… it all looked so promising before the tournament started. Roy Hodgson’s England side were the lovable underdogs that didn’t have the daunting weight of expectation on their tired shoulders and thus could be free to play as they pleased. I mean, there was a very realistic chance of getting out of the group: Italy were getting on a bit, Uruguay’s star striker wasn’t fully fit and Costa Rica had just turned up for a laugh.
A few minutes into the opening match of the Three Lions’ campaign, traditional English optimism had peaked as it inevitably does… and that’s when it all started to go downhill. I’m sure every follower of England’s World Cup fiasco has a different theory as to why they failed to make an impression on the World stage. Similar articles just like this one will be written by angry fingers of football bloggers in the upcoming days/weeks/months, so without further ado, here are my thoughts on why England failed so catastrophically.
Point one: England do not have a world class player in their ranks. Every teams needs that individual who can alter the outcome of a game single-handedly (unless they focus on a holistic approach… I’m looking at you, you cheeky Costa Ricans). Argentina have Messi, Netherlands have Van Persie and Robben, Brazil have Neymar, Chile have Sanchez and England, England have… no-one. Raheem Sterling offered us a beacon of hope during the Italy match with his mazy runs, pace and clear desire to beat opponents, but Roy Hodgson made sure he didn’t do that in the following game (we’ll get to you later, Roy). Wayne Rooney is a liability in possession, brings no attacking purpose to the team and was possibly the worst player over the 180 minutes. Anyone who argues that Rooney is still England’s best player is deluded and belongs several years in the past when he actually used to possess an attacking threat that was feared by the opposition. Steven Gerrard, like Rooney, has lost his venom with age and now seems content to pass the ball 40 yards in a sideways direction rather than playing Pirlo-esque lofted balls to the strikers. Our most talented players do not have the adequate amount of experience playing in the national side to make a significant impact, but luckily, this is something that can be improved upon in years to come.
Secondly, the overall team effort was lacking. In order to be a world class side defensively, you must close down and put pressure on your opposition. Pressing leads to rushed decision making normally results in mistakes. For some strange reason, pressing is not something that England implemented into their tactics. Glen Johnson epitomised the attitude towards pressing momentarily before Uruguay scored their first goal against the Three Lions. The Liverpool right-back stood off Edison Cavani and gave him a few yards of space for him to execute the perfect cross to Luis Suarez when he should have rushed towards him and forced the Uruguayan to play an alternative, easier pass. Alas, this didn’t happen and England conceded before half-time. It is unclear whether England choose not to close down for fatigue reasons or if they just can’t really be bothered; you sort of get the sense it is the latter.
Another defining problem to add to the mix was Hodgson’s conservative style of play, with the main ethos being to retain the possession rather than actually attack and win the game (although in the Italy match, England did sometimes play rather offensively in untraditional fashion).
In the loss against Uruguay, England held 62% of the possession – an overwhelming majority – without actually doing anything productive with it. For some bizarre reason, Sterling was shoved out to the right wing instead of playing in the position where he persistently caused problems against Italy (behind the striker). Hodgson instead put the older, slower and all-round boring figure of Wayne Rooney in his place, meaning that Sterling had less opportunities to cause mayhem centrally in the final third of the pitch. Ross Barkley, who also possessed attacking flare, wasn’t given a starting role despite impressing in the closing stages of the Italy game. These are clearly the decisions of a man who refuses to take risks and succumbs easily to pressure. Someone who won’t drop players who are playing poorly because they are afraid to upset the apple cart and make significant changes. Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney barely offered anything in open play, yet are chosen over more deserving alternatives. We need a manager who is brave enough to make the big calls and isn’t afraid to face accountable when/if they backfire. Roy Hodgson isn’t that man.
Not much was expected at this tournament, but we at least anticipated a spirited performance, an England team that was prepared to play the beautiful game without fear of retribution from fellow countrymen. What we got was an early exit out of the competition, and we are more than likely to return to Blighty without so much as a win to show for it. We can complain about England until the cows/Hodgson’s back room staff come home, but what is needed is a solution to such problems. Greg Dyke’s proposed plans in order to ensure the prosperity of English football have already been widely discussed and rejected due to the lack of respect for those outfits in the lower divisions implied, but I do agree with the fact that something needs to change.
This something is the amount of English football players getting the required amount of experience at the top level to grow as footballers, and unfortunately many simply toss away their ambitions by joining multi-billion pound ‘franchises’ such as Manchester City (eg: Jack Rodwell, Joleon Lescott and Scott Sinclair). I believe that every English football club’s starting line up should contain at least six English players, which is something that is easier to suggest than to implement. The underlying conundrum is: should we risk the entertainment and the financial value of Premier League with its abundance of foreign superstars in order to promote the growth of home-grown individuals and thus reducing the English top tier’s appeal? The rule suggested would mean that the ‘Big Four’ would have to get rid of some of their major imports and replace them with English academy graduates/youth players. Although this would weaken the team as a result, it forces the top clubs to regularly play footballers from the home nation who would otherwise not get a game and therefore help them to grow more quickly into talented professionals.
Obviously this would require many months of debate and long winded decisions, so I shall also suggest something a bit more immediate. England need to focus on the future, and the future does not lie at the feet of Wayne Rooney or Steven Gerrard; these players, and others who are average and in their 30’s, need to go. Roy Hodgson either needs to toughen up and be prepared to drop the out-of-form big name players to be replaced with those who are actually playing well or pack his bags. The 66 year-olds decision to shift Sterling out wide and put Rooney in his place for the Uruguay match was unforgivable in my eyes and was the actions of a man who was afraid of benching the Three Lions’ golden child.
Bring the younger talent into the set up and get rid of the dead weight. This is a process Germany had to undergo after their diabolical Euro 2004 campaign. Even if we fall lower in the FIFA Rankings as a result, we need to start a rebuilding process in order to one day have a golden generation of players that can challenge for a world and continental titles.
Over to you, England…
Photo by @TrueGeordieNUFC
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