What next for Roy Hodgson’s England?
Another tournament, and another early exit. At least England are consistent. Statistically, Roy Hodgson fared better with an average Fulham side, after getting them to the final of the Europa League.
Which poses the question; do England really need a squad of world-beaters to win a major tournament? The Three Lions should be allowed to quietly go about their business as they regroup and plan for the future.
Germany, after such a disastrous European Championships in 2000, went back to basics and restructured their grass-roots. The results, as were showcased a decade later and beyond, have been impressive. A clear emphasis on small-sided games, one touch football, and interchanging at youth level, transformed the Germans’ footballing identity.
The rise of players such as Mesut Ozil, Toni Kroos, Mario Gotze and Bastian Schweinsteiger has changed their dynamics, with passing, movement and spatial awareness high on the agenda of playing strategy.
England’s footballing high-ups recognised the need to implement a similar system, and subsequently built St George’s Park, at Burton-Upon-Trent. A unique, and elite training centre to develop young coaches, schooling them on how to hone players to get the results similar to what we have seen from Germany’s approach to playing football.
Of course, Die Mannschaft are just one example. The Netherlands undoubtedly pioneered, to use the cliche; ‘the beautiful game’ back in the 1980s. Spain caught on, about the same time as Germany and other nations are trying to follow.
Cesare Prandelli attempted to implement a more stylish blueprint to Italy’s football, which has worked, however they have glossed over the fundamentals and perhaps need to implement a strategy lower down the age groups for sustainablity’s sake.
Clearly, progress is being made from within the depths of St George’s Park. Taking a microscopic view down the lower leagues of English football, Dagenham and Redbridge coach, Wayne Burnett has earned plaudits for the way his team play football. He took his coaching badges at the set-up in Burton, and is starting to reap the rewards of being introduced to a new attitude in training players. His young side finished ninth in League Two this season – two places outside a play-off spot, and Burnett is already seeing the differences.
“Look at myself, we finished ninth and that is massively successful for us considering our financial point of view,” the Daggers coach said. “But you just need to look at Keith Hill at Rochdale, Dean Smith at Walsall, Brendan Rodgers is still young – there are some real good British coaches out there.”
Rodgers is arguably a prime example of a manager that has got the best out of young English players. Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge, Jordan Henderson, John Flanagan, and Andre Wisdom are all key components of a production line that is set to go into overdrive in the next couple of seasons. Five players that can be fundamental to the next England team.
Southampton’s conveyor belt is also hot right now. Step forward Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Calum Chambers, James Ward-Prowse, Jay Rodriguez, Jack Cork and Nathaniel Clyne all of who have the potential to compete for slots in future England squads.
When you take time out to step back from the situation and analyse it from a periscopic perspective, the net is actually much wider. Take into account the likes of Chelsea’s Nathaniel Chalobah and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, apparently the closest heir to Frank Lampard at Stamford Bridge.
And then there is the Arsenal contingent. Jack Wilshere must start to replicate the performances he puts in for the Gunners. Elegant on the ball with an eye for the pass, he is also in the right place to learn and observe. Mesut Ozil, and Santi Cazorla are prime examples for him to follow, and training with those players day-in, day-out will only benefit him as a footballer who can become the ‘Xavi-like’ metronome of the England team. For now, a work-in-progress.
The same can be said of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain; a graduate of the Southampton academy. His pace suggests he would be more effective out wide, though Arsene Wenger has played him through the middle this season. An explosive turn of pace, and an ability to make incisive passes can contribute towards England’s desire to adopt a more tiki-taka approach that Spain applied with devastating effect.
Theo Walcott is an interesting option. Originally a right winger, Wenger can press ahead with turning him into a striker of the ‘false nine’ ilk, or to use apply the technical term; ‘trequartista’. He has Alexis Sanchez’s pace, and the clinical finishing ability of David Villa. He is definitely an alternative for England going forward flanked by Sterling and Lallana.
Ross Barkley has drawn comparisons to Paul Gascoigne and a young Wayne Rooney, while at Everton, and like them is capable of greatness. Club boss Roberto Martinez plays him behind the striker, and the results have been nothing short of sensational. His game is more direct than others that have been mentioned, though he does have an eye for goal, and can go by players. There may be no reason why he couldn’t play in an advanced three, interchanging at will. At just 20-years-old he has huge scope to improve any side of his game that those around him feel is the most necessary, to getting the best out of his abundant talent.
If aiming to replace John Terry and Rio Ferdinand, Hodgson should look no further than John Stones. The 20-year-old Everton centre back, has the physicality of Terry, and the cultured nature of Ferdinand rolled into one. Once Phil Jones is recognised as a centre half for Manchester United, he will be the perfect foil for Stones.
Shaw will inevitably follow the same route as Gareth Bale, steadily progressing further up the pitch. The next step in the player’s evolution is to encourage shots on goal, and even more direct, adventurous running. His left boot is made up of a mixture of dynamite and satellite navigation. He should use it more. For now, it is likely at national level that he will be deployed at left back.
On the other side, Flanagan can take over from Glen Johnson, bringing with him more balance to the rearguard. His club colleague is often criticised for not tracking back, and there are question marks over his defensive capability. A success story of the Reds youth academy, Flanagan has sparkled under Rodgers and is steadily beginning to look like the finished article.
There were signs in Brazil that England are changing the way they play. It looked however, that they were trying to adopt an attacking style for the sake of purely for the sake of it. What is clear is that this isn’t yet ingrained into their nature. Doubts, insecurities and a staunch lack of belief whether they are doing the right thing still lingers. A Sterling-inspired first 15 minutes against Italy dictated the tempo of their attack. When the Azzurri put 10 men behind the ball, England players didn’t know what to do with it around the penalty area. Indecision, hesitancy and an obvious lack of cohesion highlighted flaws in Hodgson’s game plan, despite his best intentions.
Against Uruguay the Three Lions appeared too scared to play attacking football, perhaps because they tried to in their first match and failed. Fans, players, the FA, and the media alike need to appreciate that results don’t come overnight. Liverpool under Rodgers is a classic example. It took at least six months of personnel training with each other daily in order for them to click into place.
However, thanks to St George’s Park, coaches are being trained the same way, and their methods should manifest in how the players that they coach perform every week.
Hodgson appears unsure at the moment. Perhaps he isn’t the best man to take England to the next level. Maybe the Three Lions need a coach who has been schooled in the modern, innovative and advanced methods. A Pep Guardiola? Rodgers himself? Maybe a shake-up is exactly what is required. Guardiola is at the very least flexible in his style.
Pioneering the ‘tika taka’ at Barcelona to maximum effect, he moved to Bayern Munich, took the ingredients of a brilliant squad and forged a new algorithm. One that has relied on an ability to mix up play, and be generally unpredictable. One week it is a ‘false nine’ with Thomas Muller, playing a passing game, and the next Mario Mandzukic used as a proper centre forward, with Bayern propagating a counter-attacking approach.
Germany’s strategy seems to combine a mixture of the two. They have the players who can pick a pass, drift between the lines, and rotate, yet a physical element is present. Sami Khedira, is a dominating box-to-box midfielder, who isn’t afraid to put a boot in. Bastian Schweinsteiger, slightly more cultured, offers his ability in a pivot role, but even he adapted his game. Originally a right winger, Joachim Low recognised his eye for a pass, and intelligence, turned him into a complete central midfielder.
For England, the answers could already be there. All that may be needed is a dash of creative thinking, garnished with guts, to concoct a recipe for success.