The past few days has seen players, managers, coaches, journalists, reporters and almost anybody with a television set give their views on why England produced such a disappointing World Cup campaign. This has normally brought negative views regarding previously worshipped manager Fabio Capello and complaints over over-paid lacklustre performances from England’s supposed star players.
I am putting forward my own theory, which combines these ideas but is something which is also very different and focuses on the Premier League. The complaint is not the number of foreign players in this league, as I feel that increases quality and competition rather than hinder the opportunities of potential England World Cup winners but the style of the Premier League is the point of this debate.
Having studied England’s four games from a relatively neutral perspective, it seems each player has approached the game with the same mentality as they do in their domestic games, and this has not been the case with the other nations, who have realised that the international game is so different from club football.
The majority of England’s first choice 11 play for a strong Premier League club, and are used to beating teams without having to get out of 3rd gear, and this has been shown not to be the case at international level. The fast-paced approach where the ball goes forward at every available opportunity has not prevailed in South Africa.
Argentina are a side who have excelled in this tournament, and along with having a certain Lionel Messi, a reason is because the South Americans have been impeccable at retaining possession, something which England have not. The Argentineans have kept the ball, drawn their opponents out of position and then penetrated when it’s effective.
England, on the other hand, due to the lack of a ball-playing center-half and deep-lying creative player did not do this at all, and played with this mentality of getting the ball forward as quickly as possible, with the assumption that if the ball is put forward 50 times, one of them is bound to result in a clear goal scoring opportunity which Wayne Rooney would have undoubtedly taken.
An international centre-half, unlike an average Premier League center-half, has no problem in dealing with this. It is movement and fluidity which causes these defenders to make mistakes, yet this was something that was significantly lacking throughout England’s ill-fated campaign.
Steven Gerrard, 30, in what he thought may have been his last World Cup Finals was definitely one who was guilty of taking his club mentality with him to South Africa. At Anfield, Gerrard has had to play in a Roy of the Rovers style with his somewhat poor team-mates unable to beat some even poorer outfits this season yet at international level this just simply cannot be done.
Gerrard’s desire to take the game in the way he does is a great quality at club level, yet it has been shown at international level where the pace of the game is so different from club football, Gerrard’s approach is not as effective. This suggests Gerrard should have been used further up the field alongside Rooney, which is a view demonstrated by many England fans.
However, it seems unless playing a counter-attacking game, which England rightfully chose not to because of their available talent, there needs to be an emphasis on a patient build-up and retaining possession which means there is a necessity for England’s first 11 to contain a ball-playing midfielder.
This suggests Jack Rodwell who had a terrific breakthrough season at Everton could get his international call-up sooner rather than later. Michael Carrick is another who could be considered for this role, however his consistently disappointing performances for England suggest otherwise. Tom Huddlestone is another player who could do this, yet he is currently not of international quality, although he is fortunate enough to have time on his side.
So it could be seen that England (if qualify) start their 2014 campaign with Huddlestone and Rodwell at the heart of their midfield. Rodwell’s ability to play as a center-back means he could also be used there, which would allow England to retain possession from the back in a more convincing manner than Terry did over the past few weeks.
It is likely Capello realised this in his last minute attempt to tempt Paul Scholes back into international football, as he has shown that despite his advancing years, he is still the best English midfielder when it comes to a short (and long) passing game. However Scholes’ refusal to return meant this point is academic.
My theory of why England failed means the manager and players must accept joint responsibility, and with a greater emphasis on retaining possession, rather than England’s “kick and rush” approach, the country’s World Cup campaign could have been so very different.