As the post-mortem into yet another Major Tournament quarter final exit for England continues, there’s been an awful lot of claptrap and poppycock spouted (I’m looking at you Paul Merson), so I thought I’d throw a few thoughts into the mix.
Roy Hodgson had very little time in charge of the team before Euro 2012 started and in my opinion, he should be congratulated for how he went about his business. In the most simplistic terms, there’s two main aspects to football: attacking and defending. Roy recognised that England’s defence was our biggest asset and made us hard to beat and solid at the back.
The way in which Balotelli and Cassano made Germany’s back four look completely ordinary is further evidence that England’s defensive line is actually pretty decent – and by pretty decent, I mean arguably the best in the tournament.
Of Hodgson’s six games in charge thus far, England have won four, drawn one (against a much hyped and much fancied French team) and then lost to Italy on penalties after a nil nil draw. That’s not bad, that. Admittedly it’s not sensational or tremendous or brilliant either, but it’s far from bad.
Much has been made of our lack of possession, but let’s not forget – passes don’t win matches, goals do. Having said that, there’s still no denying that England need to pass the ball better – especially in midfield. But then again, our two best passers of the ball were sat at home: Carrick & Scholes. Maybe if previous managers hadn’t lacked people skills or persistently played players out of position, we’d have had more options – at least on the bench. If you add to that Wilshere and Lampard, that’s four pretty good midfielders who all missed out for one reason or another…
Personally, I’d have also taken Joe Cole and Adam Johnson, arguably England’s two most talented players with the ball at their feet. Too much pressure was put on Rooney and Young to produce something out of nothing and essentially provide moments of magic to win us games – it would have been nice to have had more creative players available to reduce the burden on those two.
There’s no denying that Cole’s best days are behind him, but he still has that eye for a pass and that creative spark that was massively lacking. As for Johnson, next season is going to be huge for him. Is he going to go the same way as the likes of Bentley, Lennon and Wright-Phillips who’ve never fulfilled their potential either at club level or at international level, or is he going to go on to prove that he’s got what it takes to be a truly world class player? I’d love to see him have a season on loan at an Italian or Spanish club, it could be a great way for his career to develop both on and off the pitch. That probably won’t happen, though.
For those people panicking that England don’t have any good midfielders coming through, well, don’t panic. From what I’ve seen of Henri Lansbury both for England U21s and in his loan spells at Watford and Norwich, he could develop into a VERY good player. Not really sure what happened at West Ham last season – I said twelve months ago that it wasn’t the best move for him, as I didn’t think he’d be an Allardyce type player. On account of him actually being a footballer. Let’s hope he finds his feet next season.
If you also think about the likes of Cleverley, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Rodwell, Barkley, McEachran, and of course the aforementioned Wilshere, then surely it’s not too much to ask for two or three of them to stay injury free and become good, consistent performers for both their clubs and their country? I’m obviously not predicting that every single one of them will go on to be world class, but the potential is there for England to have a much improved midfield for the World Cup in 2014 and the Euros in 2016.
Aside from England, it’s been very interesting to hear (supposed) football experts, pundits and fans alike talking as if Andrea Pirlo has come out of Nowhere. I guess he has, if Nowhere is making 13 assists in a Juventus team that won Serie A without losing a single game this season. Or maybe Nowhere is being part of the Italy team that won the World Cup in 2006. Actually, Nowhere could be his decade at AC Milan where he made the best part of 400 appearances and won a couple of Champions Leagues and a couple of Serie A titles amongst others. Now, I know he neither plays in the Premier League nor for Barcelona, but come on…!
It was also intriguing to hear (supposed) football experts, pundits and fans alike suggesting that both England and Germany should have man marked Pirlo. Really? If a team only has one good player, then yes, perhaps give it a go. But if you’d have man marked Pirlo, you’d have just given the likes of Montolivo, Marchisio and De Rossi more time on the ball – not to mention Cassano who’s not adverse to dropping deep into the midfield.
But anyway. Back to Roy. As far as I’m concerned, he’s made a very strong start as England manager, but the true test is going to be over the next couple of years:
Can he build on our defensive solidity and turn us into a side capable of creating more chances, scoring more goals and progressing further in tournaments?