With changes in youth football and under Hodgson’s guidance, English football is moving in the right direction, yet will it mean success?
After three games England are top of their qualifying group for the 2014 World Cup in Brasil. 11 goals scored and one conceded is not a bad return for Roy Hodgson’s men. And yet there are still many fans who are criticising the team and manager. A 5-0 win against San Marino apparently not good enough for a nation like England. It is simply ludicrous to criticise a 5-0 win, yet this is the problem with England's fans and media; overhyped expectations which will always result in "failure".
The game last Friday against San Marino has seen England be judged and criticised for a performance which created 37 goal attempts of which 18 were on target. England also achieved 86% possession of the ball. Yet when you hear fans reactions on radio talk shows and media reports, you would imagine that England has lost. A 5-0 win against San Marino should be seen as a job well done and it is very difficult to make judgements on a performance against such opposition.
A new style suited to international football
There are lessons to learn from England’s performance on Friday. Firstly, these qualifying games are great preparation for England to develop a style of play suitable for international football. For too long England have tried to play a style which resembles the English Premier League. It has been a flawed style which does not suit the tempo of international football, especially during summer tournaments.
During the summer tournaments possession based football has become the winning formula, Spain’s success shows that. High tempo football is not conducive in a hot climate, especially with many games over a few weeks period. Spain have mastered the technical and tactical aspect of international and have been successful from it, it is a lesson which Roy Hodgson appears ready and willing to emulate.
Although San Marino are not in any way a challenge for England, they do enable the side 90 minutes to work on a possession based style of play. England’s players could work on their movements in and around the final third, we saw full backs going forward becoming wingers and it was an example of what England as a nation need to prepare their players for in order to compete in the modern game. Did they struggle at times, of course, yet it will be invaluable experience for the future.
What needs to be understood when critiquing England’s “lack of goals” was that San Marino’s tactic was only to defend. At nearly every point in the game their defensive line was between the 18 yard box and six yard box. With almost 10 players defending the area each time, the chances to score were always limited. To judge England on this game is naïve and ignorant. What is important however is that England use the game to work on new ideas and concepts of how to play. Creating 36 chances does not indicate a poor performance.
A glimpse of England's future
What should be positive for England however is that the line up against San Marino was a glimpse of England’s future, especially the side we may be seeing in 2014. Hodgson bleeded through players like Cleverley, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walker and Baines in the game in order to give them the vital experience necessary for international football.
What is important for Hodgson is that players like these who he sees as England’s future NEED to be given experience in competitive international games. For too often young players were used in friendlies which were more often meaningless. I have spoken before that if England wish to be more competitive in international football then more players need to have international experience. Stuart Pearce has spoken before that it took him and other players 20 caps before they felt comfortable playing for England.
England’s problem has been an over reliance on the “golden generation” which has resulted in the limitations of providing younger players the key experience needed. Hodgson appears to understand that his players for the future need this experience, this is pleasing for England’s future.
A second rate international side
England’s future does appear bright; players like Hart, Walker, Caulker, Rodwell, Wilshere, Oxlade-Chambelain, Shelvey, Walcott, Welbeck and Carroll all show a certain level of potential and give some optimism for England fans. A new generation offers a new start for England, yet what does this new start really offer us?
The truth is that England are a second rate international side. They a top 10 side who have the ability to progress to international tournaments, yet who cannot progress further than the quarter finals. Many have argued that England’s players are just not good enough and are simply overhyped, there is a truth to this. Yet it comes down to the style of play and cohesiveness of the players.
The domestic leagues dominance does not reflect the national side as foreign imports of both players and managers have provided the quality which has made the league so strong and which has of course limited the opportunity for domestic players to progress and gain the necessary experience.
When you look at Spain's success, their cohesiveness has come from development through the youth ranks of international football and of course the Barcelona style; the style of play, tactics and understanding between the players means Spain's style is not just worked on in international breaks but throughout the year. Germany too show more cohesion due to the development of the 4-2-3-1 throughout German football. Effectively all the players know the system and tactic which enables them to progress from club to international football.
England's players have been asked to play in a 4-4-2 for too long while playing a more fluid and varied tactic for their clubs. This has meant England have struggled and of course has limited the effectiveness of players like Gerrard and Lampard. Hodgson has implemented a 4-2-3-1 style which appears to suit the players much more. It enables players like Carrick, Gerrard and Lampard to be more effective. It gives the full backs more freedom to attack and importantly brings out the best of England's superstar Wayne Rooney, whose quality has always seen him suited to be a number 10.
Can England be a success?
What is clear about England’s players is that although Hodgson is trying to implement a style more suited to international football, England are still a far way off other nations. The game against Ukraine showed that, same as Italy in the Euro’s.
Yet if we wish to prepare our side to be a side who can progress past the quarter finals then we need to prepare and produce players capable of keeping possession and dominating games. We also need to produce more creative players who can unlock defences, yet there is much hope on players like Wilshere, Chamberlain and Cleverley. However, there are simply not enough of these type of players coming through, or perhaps being progressed into the game. More “Scholes” type players are needed.
In all honesty I cannot see England being successful due to the lack of English players in the league. The Fifa 6+5 rule is used much more stringently in Germany for instance, than in England, where “homegrown” is more ambiguous. Yet the truth is that English players not are not as good as their foreign counterparts and this comes from their development as youth footballers.
It will take at least a decade
With the new changes being implemented,English football may be at the cusp of a revolution in terms of youth development, yet it will take at least a decade to start seeing these changes coming through.
And will that mean England will be successful in Qatar? Not at all. Remember that England are very much behind most nations and so these changes will not mean guaranteed success. Yet it may mean England being more competitive and more prepared for international football.
Are we seeing a shift in style and tactics in this country? It would appear we are. Roy Hodgson appears to understand the needs for England to keep more possession and to play a more patient build up. And the high tempo, physical style of English football which was relatively successful during the 00’s has been replaced a more possession based style brought forward by Barcelona and Spain in particular. The influx of creative players in the league has seen a much more possession based style in sides like United, Chelsea, City and Arsenal. The only problem is that these creative players are not English.
For those who think ‘Arry Redknapp could have done better, I must comment.Redknapp is a classic English manager who like high tempo attacking football. It is a style which has been the cause of England’s problem, it is not the future.
I have full confidence in England and Hodgson getting to the World Cup. Yet I am do not believe we have the necessary quality and experience to win it. However, there are players under 25 years old who will be part of England’s future past the World Cup and this is positive for England.
With Joe Hart's emergence England have a genuine world class goalkeeper who can be part of the side for another decade. And in Wayne Rooney England have a player who is about to enter the peak of his career in a role which suits his talents most. For me he could be what Zidane was for France.
We may finally be at the end of England’s golden generation, a generation which offered much yet produced nothing. Yet the truth is the players were never capable of succeeding in international football because the style of play was never conducive for success.
It would appear that Hodgson is much more aware of what is necessary for England to be successful, not just for the present team, or the next crop in the coming years. The hope is that Hodgson lays down a blueprint of how England will be playing for the coming decades and based on what is seen so far, it is a style which is more suited for international football. Will we be outplayed, of course, yet without attempting to change and adapt then England will never accomplish anything.
England are a second rate side and are far behind the top nations in world football. Yet I do believe that the changes in youth football and under Hodgson’s guidance, English football is moving in the right direction. However, I do not expect success to happen anytime soon, what I do hope is that English fans are more positive about their side and that the unrealistic expectations of the side are reduced.