Thursday, 26 June 2008

On and On and On About Football...

This is England; Age ain’t nothing but a number; Bo Didley…

Someone, somewhere, without a trace of malice, asked – in light of watching the Euro 2008 Championships – why England’s national team did not qualify for the tournament. Aside from the obvious failings in winning games to acquire the points to qualify, and moving away from a rant about everything that is wrong with the FA and their appointment of Steve MacClaren – the then lowest placed of all top flight English candidates in the Premier League – there are certain psychological problems in the play of the national team that the current head coach will have a hard time removing.

Firstly, let’s look at formations and personnel. England often struggle with adaptability in their play. The only successful variation away from 4-4-2 in recent years was Glenn Hoddle’s flirt with 3-5-2/5-3-2. It worked for a while, but the team was undone by the usual penalties and the coach removed by the media and his own unique religious views on karma. Talk has been around for years about the inability for England to find and use an effective natural left sided player, despite the current regular squad having at least four such players. The problem is less about the squad and the formation, but more the manner in which the team play. England play fast, attack quickly, hit the ball long and hope for an early goal, and then defend deeper and deeper. This method of play worked under Hoddle and his formation as the wing-backs allowed a release from the deep back line, and the midfield could hit balls at a young a fitter Michael Owen to run onto, and Shearer in his prime could hold a ball up better than most and wait for the deep lying team to join him in attack.

Would it work with today’s players? The defence could do with a less last-ditch person at centre back, and the full backs often do push up, but with Rooney holding the ball up and being a forward player, there isn’t a fast or reliable striker for him to play off. It would probably lead to more opportunities at goal, but also more pressure on a midfield that rarely plays as a unit. England also lack a pair of decent wide players able to cross the ball effectively, most seem to want to use pace to get to the line and then cut back, or to run with the ball and cut in. The reason that Beckham has been so effective as a wide player for so long is because of the pace with which he moves the ball on, either through cutting passes across the field, or in crossing the ball into the path of the forward players. Without this, playing Rooney as a holding player off the last defender is often ineffective as England wait too long for the midfield to move on and often past the deep lying Rooney, leaving the back line open to counter attack.

So what would work? Well, three things could help – firstly a dispensation from Fifa allowing England to use a 12th man in all competitive matches would be great. Secondly the England players learning to like each other, care about what they do and understanding that if you pass the ball to your own players and hold on to possession, you’re more likely to wear the opposition out and more likely to be able to play the full 90 minutes. Thirdly and finally, the collapse of the press in the UK to be replaced by balanced and fair reportage and a fan base that understands that a) the team they follow doesn’t have a divine right to success just by turning up and b) not attacking at full pace for the entire game, but winning doesn’t make it a failure and shouldn’t induce booing. Probably not going to happen. Every fan has an opinion, and the head coach will never please everyone – pick Gerard and Lampard together and they don’t work, you’re a coward for not making the tough choice of dropping one of them, drop one of them, you’re an idiot for not picking the best midfielders in the league.

The pool of players dwindles as friendlies are used to knit a team that should know each other and play to strengths and against weaknesses with its eyes closed, instead of giving chances to fringe players – and so we see the entire squad undone by one injury or suspension in every tournament, and the press cry foul of the number of foreigners in the domestic game, but that’s another gripe.

And, as a fan, what formation and team would I play? Well, as I have said, we all have opinions, and mine is that England should play a flat back four, three midfielders, with the wider two of the three cutting in from wide, but dropping wide to support the full backs, two forward/attacking midfielders and a lone striker – who would I use? Well, James still hasn’t found a successor and if we were able to make a composite goalkeeper from all of the strengths of the young keepers we have, but remove their weaknesses, excellent. But we can’t. James, with Green as deputy – playing a full 90 in all friendlies until he is ready to step in and has developed some vocalism to his game. Full backs: I’ve never rated A Cole defensively, and have a real problem with undisciplined players who harangue referees (see J Terry), I’d use Barry as left-back. Wes Brown still has lapses and takes too long to get into a game, so until that is sorted, why not inject some pace and attack in the shape of Richards? Full backs – until Terry has learned that shouting at a referee isn’t on, he shouldn’t be on the pitch, let alone a candidate for captain. Sol Campbell is old and too quiet – if Carragher cannot be convinced to return to the fold, then Ferdinand needs someone who is happy to sit back tuck in behind him – Woodgate could do it, if he remains fit. The three in the middle? Gerrard (right), J Cole (left) and any one of Hargreaves (when fit) and Carrick. The two sitting behind the striker would be Lampard and Rooney, and up front? Defoe misses too many, Crouch is hard to use effectively, but is good against certain opposition, and if he learns to keep his limbs in check, is a good player to throw on and upset defences. Owen is crocked too often, but still has a role when fit – the rest of the possible options are too unproven and have too much pressure when they do come on to perform that more often than not they choke.

All very good and well, but it’s just my opinion…

As I walked through the park recently a couple of women with their children strolled past, the women deep in a discussion about the rights of foetus’ and how soon an embrio becomes a person – one of the women commented that it was either within two weeks or twenty weeks ‘or something like that’ that a baby grows hair and nails. Then one of her own children walked up upset by something and wanting to tell her. “What?” she screamed, the child didn’t respond. “Well f@*k you then! If you’re going to blank me, then I ain’t gonna talk to you for the rest of the day! Move!” She continued to shout, before turning onto one of the other kids. Glad she’s so up on infant rights…

Bo Didley died!” I told Mrs Pipe, reading the news on the BBC website. No response. I repeated the comment. Still no response. Two days later Mrs Pipe says “Oh, did you see in the news that Bo Didley died?” “I told you that a few days ago” “Oooooh!” “What?” “I thought you were just making stupid noises!” Excellent….

2 comments:

pdore said...

Okay - so I'm reading your blog, but it's rough going sometimes. Maybe you can explain rugby (was it about rugby?) when you guys get here.

I thought the Amy/Bo Didley story was great though!

Monkey Pipe said...

I think given the chance, I will bore you and as many people I can with FOOTBALL explanations as I possible can!