Sunday night marked the end of another disappointing tournament for the England national team. It has become a recurring trend over the years so it’s not a new feeling for England supporters.
The tournament began with lowered expectations. Getting out of the group stages seemed like an acceptable target, and that target was adequately reached by Roy Hodgson’s England. The belief then began to creep in; maybe England can win it this time? It turned out that they couldn’t. Despite expectations being reached, it’s the manner of the defeat which caused much dismay.
England went out of the European Championships via a penalty shoot out. Most fans can accept that and most probably expected it too. England went out to an Italian team who absolutely dominated them. The deficiencies and limitations of the English national team were laid bare for the whole of Europe to see. We have what’s widely seen as the best league in the world however we cannot “play football.” Italian playmaker Andrea Pirlo put on a midfielding masterclass attempting more passes than the entire England midfield. 32% possession over the 120 minutes on Sunday night showed exactly the area in which England need to vastly improve upon.
Effectively, England were dominated by a team who had been similarly dominated by the Spanish national team. This statement is testament to how far behind England are internationally. Having said this, Roy Hodgson can barely be blamed for England’s poor showing this summer. Roy Hodgson’s England was set up to get the sufficient results needed to avoid embarrassment this summer; the sort of embarrassment caused by Steve McClaren’s England in that Croatia qualifier before the previous European Championships.
The focus for England should now be on the World Cup in 2 years time and the European Championships in 4 years time, the two tournaments which Roy Hodgson has been contracted for. He must now devise a system which suits England and can work at the highest level internationally. A system which is equally adept going forward as it is defensively and a system which cannot be easily dominated; work on retaining possession is key. A popular observation was made that in the 2nd half of our quarter final game against Italy, England didn’t even touch the ball. Although that observation is quite clearly untrue, at times it felt that way.
A lot of blame for England’s deficiencies in recent years have gone to the fact that the percentage of English players is inferior to the number of Spanish players in the La Liga. Although it is problematic, I don’t see this as necessarily being a bad thing. There are enough English players at the top English clubs to compile a very talented squad. It’s testament to the talent of the English players at the top clubs for holding down a place at that club despite fierce competition from foreign imports. The pool of players may not be that great but the talent is most definitely there.
The England squad of the recent past and present have been littered with players with major honours at club level, both domestically and in Europe. The same players who have consistently failed to do it at an international level. The only logical explanation for me is mismanagement. Playing a system incompatible with the international game, not playing to the strengths of our star players. In the past there are glaring examples of this, one such example being Paul Scholes being forced to play on the left of midfield. Another such example playing Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard in a midfield two. It’s apparent that both like to get forward therefore supplementing them with an additional “sitting” midfielder would then be the next sensible move. Although understandable due to the short notice and lack of preparation Roy Hodgson had after being appointed England manager, the system we played this summer equally failed the current crop of players.
The intent to attack was curbed with a more disciplined and defensive approach. Support for the two attackers was scarce, the same attackers who were expected to chase lost causes in the shape of lofted clearances from deep within our own half. Lack of movement off the ball was apparent. Retaining position was prioritised over retaining possession. These are the sorts of things that Roy Hodgson will have to address for future tournaments if his tenure at the helm of our national team is to be seen as a success.
Blame has inevitably been put on the failings of the players this summer as opposed to the failings in the way that England were set up to play but in all honesty it seems unfair. England’s poor performances were a result of necessities in order to achieve satisfactory progress in this specific tournament. The real work starts now for Roy Hodgson. He won’t single handedly revolutionise everything but he has sufficient time to change the style in which England play to something that could be successful in future tournaments. Clearly 4-4-2, lack of ball retention and playing the long ball game will not get England anywhere near winning an international tournament.
This is what matters for England, our friends at Samsung want to know: what it is about football matters most to you? If you tell them they may shower prizes on you… http://www.samsung.com/uk/becauseitmatters/join_in/
Follow me on twitter: @RedMancunia