It’s a good few days since the penalty shoot-out defeat for England. The papers, radio and television as well as the blogosphere have chipped in with their views on what went right and what went wrong. It would be remiss of me to just leave it to the experts to have their say and not have an opinion of my own.
England Were Not Lucky or Unlucky
The people who know more than I often refer to the importance of having a little bit of luck on your side and hoping that Lady Luck is smiling on you when it comes to these sort of tournaments. Who am I to question their wisdom in this matter, other than to say they are wrong.
England’s progress in the tournament was not down to luck – good or bad – at all. It was a good defensive performance that ensured that the toothless French attack had to satisfy themselves with an equaliser against the English in the first group match.
It was a poor Swedish team that eventually fell to a better organised and more promising English approach. A poor officiating decision robbed Ukraine of what turned out to be a legitimate goal, but seriously to leave it to that as the reason why they didn’t get anything out of the game is to negate the fact that they rarely posed that much of a threat to the English goal at all and once again a well drilled approach from the English proved sufficient to prosper and be effective in achieving their desired result.
Likewise against the Italians on Sunday in as much as the opposition had most of the ball they didn’t create a hatful of goalscoring opportunities and the ones they created were well defended by the English. To a large degree the Italians not only lacked cutting edge up front there was a degree to which they were content to just tire out the English and try and pierce the defence when they could. Yes it was a masterful display from Pirlo, but something in the raving about the guy missed the point that the brother’s orchestrations and promptings didn’t come up with much in terms of end product.
England didn’t lose because they failed to stop Pirlo – England lost because they didn’t score goals in regulation and extra time. England lost because they didn’t make the most of the rare opportunities that fell their way to create and finish off goalscoring opportunities. Of course England also lost because they couldn’t be clinical when it came to penalties, but that’s the nature of penalties, it’s hardly a crime to lose on that basis. It is also hardly an issue of luck if you cannot stick the ball past the keeper.
England Don’t Need To Be Like The Italians/Germans/Spanish
What also annoyed me coming out of the match were the people suggesting that what England needed was a Pirlo to control things in midfield. No. That is not what England needs. Spain don’t need it, Germany don’t need it, France don’t need it, Sweden don’t need it, Hungary don’t need it, Wales don’t need it.
What managers need and how they are assessed is on their ability to make the most of the resources they have and harness them in the best way possible to effectively win football matches. Sure that requires a mentality that can be a national thing, but really that’s a perceptive manager working in a conducive environment to allow that to take place. The Spanish don’t play like the Italians who don’t play like the Germans who don’t play like the Portuguese. Each manager has worked and understood the psyche of the key players to develop a system that is effective in winning matches.
England don’t keep possession well. That is not a recent phenomena. That is something that’s been the hallmark of England teams since there have been England teams. Even the Venables and Hoddle eras, in as much as they aspired to something better, essentially made the most of the ‘English spirit’ that was more about blood and guts, thundering into tackles, having men of stamina to hassle and harry and then get the ball forward as quickly as possible to make goalscoring chances. It has never been the English way to patiently wait with the ball passing from front to back and side to side waiting for an opportunity to emerge.
When you look at the available English players there are none who stand out as being naturally predisposed to that style of football. For example you’d expect this play to be controlled from midfield and England’s great midfielders have either been overlooked (Hoddle’s playing days), special individual players (Gascoigne) or otherwise known for their combative, lung-busting qualities that can see them break up play and rush ahead to support attacking play further up.
Looking to imitate the styles of those on the continent may not fit the English model at all, and even if it did it would take the best part of a generation of coaches and players to subscribe to that and implement that as the mantra for football from the grass roots up.
If England want to do that – that’s up to them, but in the meantime the deal is to make the most of the talent available and form a team that accentuates the strengths whilst providing sufficient cover for the weaknesses. In England’s case that is a mix of the up-tempo bombastic style using wingers and midfielders who support the strikers, whilst keeping things tight and disciplined at the back. The nature of that game suggests that a good opposition might have periods of possession, but even then they will find it hard to penetrate. Likewise the clinical attacking intent would make those better sides have to be cautious of not committing too much forward.
Coming soon, I’ll review the contributions of the England squad.