The Way Forward - Hodgson Needs to Show Foresight
[spoiler=]24 Oct 2013
Bravo Roy, bravo. There were many doubters yet you’ve taken England to the World Cup. Joyous celebration ensues. The fans are happy, boozers particularly pleased and the FA ecstatic because their corporate business interests and sponsors stand to make billions from England’s participation in the World Cup next summer. Hodgson remains in his job and players like Gerrard and Lampard get one more shot at the prize.
Yes many are pleased, and in some ways rightly so, yet what happens if (when) England get knocked out next year. Will we hear the same concerns, the same complaints about the England national team? As this article will discuss, short term interests have held English football back for too long, now it is time to plan for the future.
To have overcome the pressure on their shoulders this past week was commendable for these English players. Ah but it was only Montegero and Poland, we should be beating them. This is fair yet this isn’t a computer game or statistical analysis but human beings, with emotions and complexities. The pressure on England to qualify was immense and they overcame it.
In reflection it was a very good qualification campaign. Undefeated, defensively strong (statistically) and many goals scored. It was on paper positive, yet when you watch the games it was frustrating and it was one of the easiest groups. Yet Hodgson ultimately played it well.
Now qualifcation is secured we can sit down and consider how to go about preparing for next summer. The ‘decision makers’ should consider this, what are the intentions of England next summer. Is it to win the tournament? If so how likely is this? Very slim indeed. Which begs the question, why go to Brasil next summer with the intention to win it? This may sound pessimistic and defeatist yet it is anything but. A need for foresight over short termism
What we should go to Brasil for next summer is to prepare for Russia 2018. Whoa! That is five years away, why are you thinking so long term? Because we need to start being more serious in our long term planning.
For the past decade we have gone into tournaments believing we could win them and flopped. This mentality led us to take the same group of players with the hope that “this is the one where it clicks together”.
Each time the national team exits in disappointment we ask the same questions and posit similar solutions; bring in new faces, blood the youth, change our style and approach. So what I’m saying is instead of wait for the aftermath of the tournament to make these assessments why not be proactive rather than reactive and make these decisions now. Let’s consider putting together a new approach for England’s future, now. Let's treat Brasil as a place to give players experience, players who by 2018 will be in experienced members of the team.
What does this mean? Well it means a ‘transitional’ period for the England national team. Yet don’t think this isn’t already happening. We are already seeing the emergence of players like Baines (granted not the youngest, but fresh), Sturridge (quickly becoming one of Europe’s best forwards) as well as now established players in Hart, Walker, Cahill, Jagielka, Wilshere and to an extent Welbeck (who should be considered a back up forward - not a makeshift winger).
The dynamic of the team has changed considerably from 2010 and even from 2012. Hodgson is making the transition in front of our eyes. Yet there is a problem. The mainstay issue this past decade in fact. Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard.
For some they believe that both of these players should be going to Brasil without any doubt. Firstly they have ‘earnt’ it by helping us qualify and secondly are still regarded as England’s best midfielders. The problem however is that these two have peaked several years ago and next summer is nothing but a swan song for these veterans.
They bring ‘experience’ yet their time in the national team should be put to an end before Brasil, and they should decide to do it. It would be honourable and respectful.
It is the same situation with David Beckham after 2006. He refused to retire even though many were calling for him to move on, and when McLaren took a brave approach to not pick Beckham he was lambasted. The truth was that England needed to move on from Beckham yet his refusal to retire meant unnecessary pressure on the manager trying to change things. Ultimately Beckham became a token gesture rather than an important part of the team. Personally I don't agree with making internationals gestures and celebrations of careers, which is what Beckham post 2008 was.
The same can be said now of Lampard and Gerrard, they have become centurians and now should wish the future of English their best and retire. Yet they won't and this is the concern. Same too of Ashley Cole, whose position has actually held back Baines from becoming a more established and experienced England player. This not a criticism to Cole, but at some point a manager needs to look past the short term, the next game, the qualification and the tournament and see the bigger picture.
What Hodgson needs however is the backing of the FA to support him (McLaren tried to evolve the side which cost his job and reputation). Bravery to do something different is what is required. If we take Lampard and Gerrard next summer we will feel the need to use them, to honour their reputations over their true value. A new generation of burgeoning talent
The truth is we have many talented players who need the experience in these central areas, yet while Lampard and Gerrard are there the concern is they will not get what they need to become (potential) greats.
Now you may wonder why I have not spoke of Michael Carrick, Well with Carrick I do think he should be taken to Brasil. The reason is he is, considering his age, new to the team. Just over 30 caps for England is an embarrassment yet what it means is he is a ‘fresh’ face to the side. He offers the team something different, like Baines does.
You see I am not proposing just sending our U21's across next year, instead we need a fresh approach. With Carrick holding (a job he does better than any of other England's players) he will give licence to those in front of him.
And this where the future of English football does look exciting; James Milner who has been criminally undervalued by many is an excellent player who can do well for England in central areas. And past him there is Wilshere, Chamberlain, Barkley, Cleverly, Henderson, Ravel Morrison, Loftus-Cheek, Chalobah. The players are there. Yet are they getting the best experience now to develop further, at both club and country?
The two players who could become world class of this list are Chamberlain and Barkley and it is such a shame both have struggled with injuries in their late teens. Yet Hodgson needs to prioritize his list of burgeoning talent and seek to visualise his team in 2016-2018. England don't need to play Gerrard and Lampard next summer if we are planning for 2018, taking them will only cause issues.
In other areas we are seeing talent like Zaha, Redmond, Ince and Townsend excel these past 18 months yet they need to be nurtured and played more to move up levels. The worry is that they need ‘elite’ teams to make them ‘elite’ players and the concern is they will struggle to get this experience (particularly in England – which is why some should look abroad?).
Yet the key man and leadership role needs to be handed to Wayne Rooney. Gerrard has been England’s talisman for the past decade yet Rooney has the ability to be this for England for the next four-six years. As I’ve said before, he is our Zidane and like Zidane his influence grew on the national team and he became their leader as well as maestro. Hodgson would be smart to give Rooney the captain’s role for next summer and say to him that he is the leader to nurture England’s next generation.
It is quite fitting really when you consider it was ten years ago that he emerged on the scene for England and offered so much. I believe that giving him the feeling of control, by making him England’s maestro, our roaming 10 will take his game further and will usher in a new era for English football.
So these are the positives and this has focused on England's growing attacking quality. however the concern for England’s future success is defensively.The academy systems failings
The emergence of attacking talent shows one thing for me; our Academy system is there to produce these types of players. Its not a bad thing, but it is worrying. Particularly when you consider our defensive options.
Cahill and Jagielka are average players who should not be an England defensive partnership. Yet there is simply few others to play these roles. In the long term you have Smalling, Jones, Caulker yet there are no Varane, Luiz or Bartra type defenders emerging. This comes down to the academy system.
Now I’m all for developing technically good, creative players yet academies also need to provide a balance of players in all positions. Where are up and coming keepers in a league devoid of English keepers? And what about the full backs? We develop wingers and play them at full back yet they don’t have an appreciation of defending.
This is the modern game and although they tick the box for attacking attributes they neglect an understanding of defending. The reason? English academies have placed too high a value on attacking and being on the ball that many of our players don’t know how and don’t want to defend.
Unfortunately the modern game necessitates that every player is capable of defending as much as they partake in the attacking phase. My worry for England is that we are lacking defensively and this does not bode well for our future success. Sure you can set up in a defensive tactic yet you need to have talented, intelligent and willing defenders in those systems to be effective.Perfecting the counter-press
Talking of systems, the way this blog sees England’s future development is as follows, and it takes from the German model. For the next two years England need to perfect our counter attacking style. For too long we have lacked a proper identity and because of this have failed to perfect one. This blog believes that England should seek to embark on an evolution of style and tactics.
Firstly England should seek to execute a 'counter-pressing' style which entails of a mid/deep block seeking to draw in the opposition and transition at speed. We have the players to make this work; the speed of Walcott, Townsend, Welbeck and Sturridge are built for counter attack football and we should embrace this. It needs to be perfected however and the time away in Brasil as well as the upcoming friendlies will allow Hodgson to mould this tactic.
Fans will be happy, as they are in watching Dortmund and Atletico, as the counter attack style promotes quick attacking football. This style has helped Germany become one of world football's best sides, it would not harm England to implement this in the coming two years.
After that we can start to experiment with more expansive, possession based fluid football, with the hope that a strong core of players (based on our long term planning) have become used to each other after playing together for 20-30 games. As we know from Spain, having players who are used to each other and who know the system is imperative and the national team can no longer be 'alien' to players but suit their talents and mentality. A leap of faith
We stand on the brink of the future yet at these times of existential crisis do we take a 'leap of faith' into a new unknown or rest back on what we know? Hodgson could be brave yet he has already said these 'experienced' players will go. This is a concern.
The Gerrard and Lampard debate has consumed English football for over a decade and has not helped the nation succeed. It would be best for England's future if their final contribution was to have helped England qualify for the World Cup and allow the manager to prepare for England's future. Both have served the country extremely well, they should now do the honourable thing and retire.
The future for English football does look brighter than it has these past few years, finally we can see a new generation of players who could bring something new to the national team. It will take years for them to understand and experience international football. So why wait till after Brasil to start the new journey? A brave man would make the decision to start now.[/spoiler]