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Five Steps England Must Take Towards A Brighter Future


England’s exit from Euro 2012 at the all too familiar quarter final stage posed an intriguing question. What must change for the national side to compete at major tournaments?

As Alessandro Diamanti stroked home the decisive penalty to send Italy into the semi-finals, the feeling of inevitability outweighed the feeling of disappointment.

Despite topping the group ahead of France and battling to a 0-0 draw after 120 minutes of play against the Italians, Roy Hodgson’s side were always going to fall well short of winning the competition.

In fact, there was always a feeling of holding out for a draw rather than going for a win. An odd tactic when you consider England’s record in penalty shoot-outs, although Italy’s isn’t much better.

What then must change in order for the Three Lions to improve and begin to make an impression in the latter stages of major competitions? This article will attempt to find out just that.

1. A change of football philosophy

If Euro 2012 taught us one thing about England, it is that they know how to defend. Hodgson always sets his teams out to be well disciplined and strong in defence. The main problem appeared to be that defending was all England seemed to do – there was no ball retention or an outlet upfront.  In the opening fixture against France and the quarter final against the Azzurri, the boys in white spent far too long chasing the ball. Man for man, the two mentioned outfits aren’t much if any better than England. Are Andrea Pirlo and Samir Nasri really head and shoulders above Steven Gerrard? Is Wayne Rooney a lesser player than Mario Balotelli or Karim Benzema. Of course not, in fact there are winners all the way through the England squad. Joe Hart, Joleon Lescott and James Milner have just won the English Premier League on goal difference ahead of neighbours Manchester United. The Old Trafford outfit pushed City all the way with talent such as Danny Welbeck, Ashley Young, Phil Jones and of course Rooney. Seven players involved in a pulsating title race in a league that is widely regarded as the best in the world. In addition, John Terry and Ashley Cole have just won the Champions League with Chelsea. The problem is not one of personnel, it is one of a dated football philosophy.

Possession is key in football – just ask the Spanish. They are the current World and European Champions and they are fantastic at keeping hold of the ball. If they do happen to lose possession it is only for a brief period, as they hunt in packs to retrieve it. You wouldn’t even need to take your socks off to count the number of times in the whole tournament that England managed to put together a string of ten or more passes.  Working hard and battling for each other are not enough when up against the best, they should be a given. Teams should have to work much harder than they currently do to dispossess the Three Lions and plans should already have been put in place to address this problem ahead of qualification for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

2. Grassroots level development

Sir Trevor Brooking and Gareth Southgate have been charged with the tough task of developing grassroots football in this country. The opening of St George’s Park, a state-of-the-art complex providing young players and coaches with the facilities to develop their skills, will prove vital if England are to compete with the top nations in years to come. To read more on the newly built national football centre head to

The number of players on each side in youth football is soon to be reduced in order for each player to spend more time on the ball. The best players at youth level are often the ones who are quickest, strongest or tallest. However, more often than not these attributes will even themselves out in time so the emphasis must be put on technique, quick passing and moving and ball retention.

3. Ditch 4-4-2

It would appear that the Three Lions were the only side in the tournament that opted for the ‘traditional’ 4-4-2 formation. For the most part of the Euros, Ashley Young and James Milner were mere bystanders. The need for wingers in the modern international game seems to have faded, with most sides choosing to pack the midfield in order to dictate the pace of the game. Tellingly, the four semi-finalists (Portugal, Spain, Germany and Italy) all use this tactic and have been clearly winning the midfield battle in their previous encounters. In Ashley Cole and Glen Johnson, England have two very attack-minded full backs who should be given the freedom to get forward and act as wingbacks when in attacking situations. This tactic eradicates the need for wingers and makes room for support in midfield. With an extra man in midfield, would Pirlo have dictated the game as easily as he did?

4. Look to youth

A lot has been made of Germany’s revival in the past decade, and rightly so. Many see their dismal Euro 2000 performance as the turning point, with the German’s managing just one point in the group stages – their worst return at a major tournament in the post-war era.

As a result, a mass overhaul of Germany’s academy system began, headed by Bundesliga chief executive Christian Seifert. The new regime ensured that all 36 clubs in the two Bundesliga divisions had to operate centrally regulated academies before having a licence to play in the leagues.

The side that made it to the 2010 World Cup Final with a 4-1 victory over England and an even more impressive 4-0 defeat of Argentina had an average age of less than 25. All of the 23 man squad for that particular tournament were from the Bundesliga academies. Let’s hope The FA took notice.

5. Don’t be afraid to drop ‘star players’

The final point is a difficult one and is sure to attract much debate in the wake of the Euros. This article will not argue that the likes of Rooney and Young should not have been on the plane to Poland and Ukraine, quite the opposite when you consider the season that the former Everton striker has just had. However, it would appear that certain players were never going to be dropped to the bench. Rooney missed the first two games of the tournament and scored upon his return so arguably deserved his place in the starting line-up against Italy. His performance in the quarter-final however, was poor at best and perhaps should have been brought off for Andy Carroll instead of Welbeck. Young and Milner were passengers throughout the entire tournament but Theo Walcott, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were used sparingly, while Stewart Downing was overlooked entirely. Jermaine Defoe, a match winner on his day, didn’t enter the field of play once and with Rooney looking off the pace would have provided some fresh legs and given the opposition defence something to think about.

England must now move on from the disappointment of Euro 2012 and learn from mistakes made in a bid to improve performances and results, starting with qualification for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

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