Its been suggested for quite a while now that the English national side shouldn’t be seriously considered as being among the frontrunners for major tournaments. The classic line that people bring out when the underachievements are mentioned is that England just can’t perform on the big occasions. But as a football loving nation, and one that plays host to arguably the biggest and most popular domestic League in the world, surely this current lack of ability to challenge for a European championship should be scrutinised.
An easy way out of the argument is by stating the point that England just doesn’t breed the calibre of home-grown talent akin to that of its rivals. With the likes of Aguero, Van Persie, Silva, and Modric on show in the Premier League, there’s a lot to live up to for the fans that sit and watch this talent show every week. You can pick a few world class players out such as Rooney, Hart and Ashley Cole perhaps, but in present times the English squad seems pretty devoid of such stand-out talent compared to the selection pool of Spain, Germany and Holland for example. But can we really blame poor performances on a lack of individual genius? As seen in the friendly against Holland, a stroke of magic from a player like Robben can turn a game, but over time this is not enough.
However much the individuals shine in major competitions for exceptional goals and performances, the basis for success throughout a series of games comes down to the core of the squad and of course managerial guidance. It’s common practice for the media to rave over certain players because it’s what the public like to see and gives them idols who become symbolic for their nation’s success. The fact that England don’t really have the marquee names in the starting eleven like Spain do, should mean nothing when it comes down to team play. The fact that Rooney isn’t available for a couple of games should not be seen as a major reason for failure to compete at the highest level on the international stage
The noticeable difference for large parts of the games against big teams is often the way England move around the pitch and set up. Against Holland it was particularly evident at times in the first 20 minutes, when the game was relatively boring to watch. There was a sequence of play where England had possession in their own third, but couldn’t get over the halfway line for at least a minute as they passed the ball sideways. The Dutch attack pressed England back and looked comfortable doing so, whereas one man at the other end like Welbeck will receive little or no help in making a concerted effort to pressure the opposition into giving the ball away through having to play a low percentage ball over the top.
Another apparent area that England have lacked in is creative ability in the final third. Players like Young, Rooney, even Walcott all have the quality to do what Robben did and cut inside with a door left ajar just enough to bend a shot round the defender and into the goal. However, no team can rely on this to win matches. The best sides have structured build-ups to attacks. There’s nothing wrong with counter-attacking or playing balls over the top either, but England haven’t had the penetration approaching the penalty area for some time now and struggle to break down opposition resistance in a measured way.
The lack of fluidity and cohesion, particularly in midfield areas, is a recognisable and fundamental characteristic which is lacking and sets them aside from nations who will cut some of the under-prepared teams open like a knife through proverbial butter. You can’t do this with one man, as Spain demonstrate, you need players with quick feet all on a wavelength who pass and move into the right areas, with the capacity to engineer a final ball. When England develop a group of players that can do this consistently, we might be able to spend one summer without grown men crying in their living rooms and a media circus that guff about foreign managers and captain armbands.
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