Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughGuts and passion are no longer enough for England - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough Guts and passion are no longer enough for England - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

Guts and passion are no longer enough for England

The evidence of England’s demise as a World Football Superpower was palpably and excruciatingly apparent for all those that had eyes to see as Roy Hodgson’s ramshackle outfit toiled miserably on the pitch. Nevertheless, such obvious decrepitude was given a kind of metaphorical theme music and an inadvertent explanation for why England had sunk to quite such an ignominious nadir by a group of pundits in a BBC studio. 

Specifically, Gary Lineker and Alan Hansen had, unwittingly, identified the reason why England failed. In Lineker’s case, his rousing pre-match battle cry, vaunting ” Bags of passion, bags of heart “, neatly and eloquently expressed the principal reasons for England’s shocking deficiencies in a clumsy, inarticulate way. And then Hansen, as the game edged inexorably to it’s ultimate denoument, speculated during the Extra Time interval, that ” sometimes big hearts can take you through “. Such bon mots, drenched in blood, sweat and, most tellingly, tears, are the very stuff of English football tradition. But it is this crude ” philosophy ” that has undermined British – not exclusively English – football for generations. And every time a lesson appears to have been heeded and learned, every time the agricultural horrors of British football folklore seem to have been rejected as out-moded barbarity, uncertainty consumes the British football coaching elite as they feel exposed and defenceless without the security blanket of the tried and tested 4-4-2 and the brusque raw obduracy of the target man. The realm of tactical sophistication is an alien universe. 

Roy Hodgson is a case in point. The genuine irony of this latest underwhelming England campaign is that on this occasion, the English national team were blessed and privileged to have as their leader a bona fide tactical visionary. Hodgson, despite his ostensible devotion to a stultifying yet effective brand of 4-4-2 football that esteemed caution above creativity at West Brom and Fulham, was a student of the most recherche Italian permutations. Hodgson had experimented at Internazionale , enjoying two spells with the Serie A Goliath’s, and had concluded his adventure on the Peninsula with a mildly successful dalliance at Udinese. Therefore, Hodgson is not averse to the Italian way of doing things. It’s just that at England, Hodgson was a victim of grim circumstance. He was only confirmed in the role as England manager on 14 May and was given the unenviable task of lashing a competitive squad together in a very short – some would decry a ridiculously short – period of time. Moreover, the calibre of squad Hodgson inherited dictated the lack of any luxury when it came to finalising a tactical method: Roy fell back into the smothering comfort blanket of 4-4-2, against his better judgement. It was because Hodgson was imbued with a keen tactical nous and an encyclopaedic knowledge of tactical nuance that he plumped for 4-4-2, even though he must have known that to deploy such an antiquated and discredited formation at a modern International tournament was a debilitating anachronism. Necessity, however, compelled him to play 4-4-2 and hope for the best. Hodgson implicity understood that the players at his disposal could not have been drilled or assembled in any other way. Thus, a 4-4-2 was the ultimate football fait accompli for Engalnd and Hodgson.

Hodgson was painfully aware that if he attempted to structure England’s tactics in any other formation, the demands of and intricacies of the complex Spanish no striker system or the composed diamond motif of the Italian midfield, he risked leaving his uncomprehending and tactically illiterate English players exposed and vulnerable. They could only play in one guise. For all the optimistic hagiographies devoted to Steven Gerrard and his assumed place in the Pantheon of manipulative and influentially scheming midfield maestros, Hodgson intuitively knew that the Liverpool man’s legs were diminished: his vision clouded. Furthermore, the England manager must have been conscious that he had mollycoddled Rooney too indulgently, more in hope than expectation: Hodgson is too experienced and wily an old veteran to have possibly believed that after 10 months exile from the International jousts, Rooney would ever be incisively on his mettle for this tilt.

And as for midfield maestros, Andrea Pirlo, only fractionally Gerrard’s senior,gambolled around the pitch on Sunday night as if he had quaffed the elixir of youth( but one fortified with the experience of a sagacious old pro ), notwithstanding the gaping zones of space the English frontmen afforded the Italian midfileld genius. And that brings us, conveniently, to Rooney once again: Hodgson had detailed him to sit on Pirlo, to stifle him. But this is a very specialised role: not all professionals can execute it successfully. But Hodgson didn’t take two key factors into account. Firstly, if a striker is to be used as the farthest forward line of defence, designed exclusively to nullify a designated threat, that player must abandon all attacking ambition and concentrate so acutely on this task. And, secondly, that player must be gifted with the intelligence and ability to carry out this endeavour. Hodgson and Rooney failed on both counts.

We must conclude that Lineker and Hansen still believe in some mythical Utopia where England, by dint of claiming the invention of the Beautiful Game as their own, are doughty unconquerable heroes, smeared in blood and righteous toil, mired in the dull monotony of the pitched work ethic. They forget, however, that England, despite inventing the game, gave birth to an ugly, stunted offspring- a bastard bred from rugby and a nascent sprawl of a game that eventually evolved into what we now deem ” Association Football “, or the ” Beautiful Game “. But England didn’t transmute the inherent ugliness of the game into something profound and beautiful. Others did that; better artists, deeper thinkers. 

Or perhaps Lineker, Hansen and their ilk are stupendously blinded and still believe that ” bags of guts, buckets of blood, gallons of spurting, pulsating heart “, are enough to disfigure many more International tournaments? Fortuantely for England, Roy Hodgson has a blank canvas from which to work with as he attempts to qualify for the 2014 World Cup. And Hodgson has an eye for Beauty.

Barrie Davies

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