Another early exit for England – So what now?

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Well here we are as a nation, hopes dashed and wondering what could have been after yet another unsuccessful World Cup finals campaign. Expectations were rightly lowered but still the disappointment is remains.

If only Wayne Rooney had started in the middle, then maybe he’d have taken his golden chance against Italy…? If only he hadn’t had his hair transplant, then maybe he would have headed just that bit lower against Uruguay…? Why didn’t we continue with the passing game that served us so well against Italy? The list goes on.

The fact is that the reasons go a lot deeper than that. Right down to the very basics of football and it’s application to the modern game. Even though I’m not a professional footballer, I have played the game at a fairly decent level. Also, like many a football fan, I’ve watched all manner of games: from Grovewood Albion on a cold January Sunday morning on the local common, to Champions League games. The following is what I’ve noticed over my many years of following this game.

Football it seems to me, is predominantly about three things. Space, positioning and decisions. Tactics are a way of exploiting those things. Now, what I’ve also concluded is that if you, as a player, or more to the point – a team – cannot manage all three of those things correctly and consistently, then it’s unlikely you’ll ever win a game of football. Not at the very top level anyway. Not in this world or the next. There is also another very important thing to consider.

Enter the England football team. Technically all very capable. Very fit and, for the most part, young men. On those levels, I don’t see them being that far, if at all, different than any other nation in the game in that respect. In the 90 degree heat of Manaus, the team were forced to slow down. Conserve energy and thus play a more calculated game. To achieve this, they had to use the space better, take up better positions and make the right decisions about passing, the types of passes to make. Making runs and the kind of runs to make and when. They had to think.

On Thursday England were in São Paulo. Much cooler, less humid and not as sapping on energy. England could play their normal game. This is where the problem lies. You see, England’s normal game as we’ve come to know it, is poor. Mainly because the players don’t seem to think that much about what they’re doing from what I can see. A German football pundit said recently that England’s tactics “belong in a museum”. As much as it burns me to say it, the man is correct. 100% spot on. The world has moved on from the 1980’s percentages based game upon which England seem to be insistent on playing.

In all fairness, Costa Rica play better football than England do. It’s not down to technique, it’s down to tactics and their application. Most of the long passes I’ve seen in this World Cup have been on the ground. England’s, in the air! The players, in particular the defense, have no ability to a) play a pass to a nearby teammate when possession is retained from opposing attackers: or b) to take the time to think about the passes they’re about to make. Add to that, the fact that the defensive positioning was absolutely woeful in each game. The winning goal for Italy in the first game, despite Wayne Rooney taking the flack, was down to Leighton Baines. The first goal against Uruguay, Glen Johnson. On both occasions the y drifted out of perfectly good positions and allowed opposition attackers time to deliver telling crosses. As for the second against the South Americans, Steven Gerrard sadly, equally guilty.

For me the signal is clear. Football is now a thinking man’s game. In fact, it always has been. England need to change their approach to football. Not only that but change the personnel also. Gerrard is clearly past his best and Baines, for me is not upto the job. The central pairing of Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill are not composed enough on the ball and should be replaced in my opinion. The youngsters, Luke Shaw, Raheem Sterling Jordan Henderson, Daniel Sturridge et al must be given more time and given the tactical nous and support to play better football at the highest level. They’re definitely capable, there’s no question. They simply haven’t been deployed in the right way. I’d like to have seen Shaw given a chance at the expense of Baines because he seems to be a more intelligent player. As for right back, Jon Flanagan could definitely do a job there for England. At Centre back, the likes of Steven Caulker and Phil Jones should be tried.

That said, there’s no point in simply throwing these guys in, just to play the same old, same old. We as a footballing nation need to move with the times. This has been said umpteen times before and still we’re in the same predicament. Perhaps it’s just the English mentality that’s to blame? If so, it’s not impossible over time and with education to change it. I’m not sure if Roy Hodgson  is the right man to take England forward. That said, he should be given the benefit of the doubt for now. Either way, one has to question his tactics if at all, the players carried them out.

In order to avoid the same outcome in years to come, England need to go back to basics. Football is a simple game but not, I believe for simple minds.

Follow me on Twitter: @ Mrbengreen

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