Who Will Fill “The Hole” For England?


Increasingly, national teams share a fixation with deploying a player in “the hole”, just off a central striker. This is the man to whom the team invariably looks to link play and bring further dynamic to attacking situations. Spain have David Silva. Germany have Mesut Ozil. Holland have Wesley Sneijder. However, this position, despite being one of the vogue features of modern tactical thought, still remains unfilled for England, a notion that, more than anything else, is holding the nation back.

The defensive solidity and masterful organisation that Roy Hodgson inculcated in his short pre-Euro reign served England well in Poland & Ukraine. However, so often this proved an unbalanced approach; what we perfected at one end of the pitch detracted simultaneously and proportionally from our effectiveness at the other end. Such an imbalance can be portrayed as managerial negativity, but rather it is a phenomenon born out of the English lack of a legitimate “hole” player to bring imagination and continuity to play between the lines. Hodgson doesn’t have many options in this regard.

In the recent friendly against Italy, Tom Cleverley filled the role. Despite showing glimmers of imagination and demonstrating some very neat touches, he surely cannot be relied upon at such a young age to make the void his own. Fellow United colleague Ashley Young was in fine form for England prior to the European Championships, operating sometimes out of this role, yet he spluttered and failed to impress in the major tournament games. He, too, does not possess the discipline and imagination to fulfill the role.

Hodgson, then, is left with little else. Wayne Rooney is often criticised for not producing his best form for England, but part of such a notion surely is descriptive of his inability to find his best position for England. Frequently employed just off a main forward at club level, Rooney tends to feature in a more restricted role on the national scene, which is not conducive with his playing “in the hole.” Frank Lampard no longer possesses the razor-sharp instincts nor the complex ability to find intricate passes that so define the role that England lack and, thus, he cannot be the answer.

To play “in the hole” requires a certain mix of flare and maturity, swagger and intelligence, embodied most pertinently by the worlds most recognizable exponents, such as Silva and Ozil. Perhaps the only English player suited to such criteria has not played football for thirteen months. Jack Wilshire. Maybe he is the only current player of English nationality capable of producing in “the hole.” Maybe he is the only active player capable of polishing and refining Roy Hodgson’s tactical ideas into a mode of balanced efficiency. Maybe he is the only player to fill one of England’s most worrying needs.

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