england

Why Rooney Shouldn’t Start for England in Brazil

Rooney 2014

 

Wayne Rooney’s career has had some highs and lows. Several of his lows, have been whilst wearing the England jersey. And now with the 2014 World Cup in Brazil less than 2 months away, I take a look at Rooney’s place in the England eleven.

Tournament Experience

Rooney, now at the age of 28, has played in 4 major international tournaments. The only tournament in which he performed well, was his breakthrough tournament – Euro 2004. In Portugal, a young Rooney showed a real hunger, raw ability as well as great athleticism in helping England to the Quarter-Finals. He scored 4 goals and was named in UEFA’s team of the tournament.

 

Rooney Euro2004

 

However, his England career since has flattered to deceive on the biggest stages. His qualifying campaigns haven’t been too bad. He has been England’s top-scorer in qualifying for the last two World Cups. He hit 9 goals in qualifying for the 2010 World Cup and 7 goals in qualifying for this summer’s World Cup. But his personal performances in the major tournaments since that 2004 breakthrough have been disappointing.

In the World Cup in 2006 he was taken in the squad despite not being fit after a metatarsal injury in one of the final league games of his Manchester United season. When he was introduced to the team his performances were lacklustre and he was red carded in the Quarter-Final defeat to Portugal.

In 2010, the World Cup in South Africa actually saw Rooney criticise England fans in a rant into a TV camera as he walked off the pitch after a poor performance in drawing 0-0 to Algeria. Rooney was disappointing in the tournament and England were thrashed 4-1 by Germany in the 2nd round.

 

Rooney 2010

 

Before the European Championships of 2012, there was much debate over whether Rooney should’ve been included in England’s squad. This was due to the fact that Rooney was suspended for the first two group games. Roy Hodgson selected him and he went straight into the team when he became available.  Despite scoring the only goal in the final group game against Ukraine, Rooney’s performances in that and the Italy game in the Quarter-Finals were still underwhelming.

World Class?

I’m not suggesting Rooney should be left out of the squad altogether. Neither is this a piece to write off his talents altogether. He is a good player. He doesn’t possess the same burst of acceleration to take him away from defenders as he did so often in his excellent Euro 2004 campaign. But he remains a good player. However, I don’t go along with the Sky pundits and tabloid writers that repeatedly ram it down our throats that he is “world class”. Obviously that is a difficult term to try and define. But Rooney hasn’t performed against top opposition in a way that would actually suggest he is anywhere near the same level as Messi and Ronaldo.

At one stage, Rooney may have been considered Ronaldo’s equal at Manchester United, but Ronaldo usurped him and eventually took over his position in the team, with Rooney having to play wide to keep a place in the team. In Alex Ferguson’s last couple of seasons, he would often leave Rooney out of his line-up for big games against the best sides. So did the Premier League’s most successful manager see a player in decline?

More recently, Rooney has come under scrutiny after signing a deal for a reported £300,000 per week. For me, the only issue with that was how he, for a second time in just a few years, appears to have threatened to leave in order to engineer a massive pay-rise. But my opinions on the matter in hand aren’t affected by this. Manchester United can pay him whatever they like. And their supporters still idolise him despite his two half-hearted attempts at leaving the club.

What has been apparent this season is that Rooney has been poor in most of the games against ‘top 5′ opposition. He’s played in 8 league matches against this season’s top 5 (Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal & Everton) and scored just 1 goal.

I’d also point to games in the latter stages of the UEFA Champions League. Away to Olympiakos in February, Rooney was poor. Again in the away leg in the tie against Bayern Munich, Rooney was wasteful in possession, struggled to control the ball at times, and didn’t offer any attacking outlet for Moyes’ team, before eventually being moved back into midfield. Granted, Rooney may not have been 100% fit in this game, but if that was the case he shouldn’t have played.

My belief is that Rooney no longer does enough against good opposition, to merit the status as England’s talisman and being the automatic-pick he seems to be for the starting eleven.

The Present England

Currently, England seem to have plenty of options in terms of attacking players.

With several young players emerging as genuine talent in this season’s Premier League, Roy Hodgson has a bigger pool of quality attacking players to choose from. Daniel Sturridge, Ross Barkley, Andros Townsend, Raheem Sterling and Adam Lallana have all shown they’re capable of playing for England since the last international tournament. Add to those Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott, Jay Rodriguez and Danny Welbeck, and there is a very youthful and dynamic group of attacking players for England to choose from.

Rooney is still part of this group. Of course he should go to Brazil. In terms of actual strikers, there isn’t much real quality behind Rooney and Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge. Jermain Defoe’s transfer abroad could’ve scuppered his chances and Andy Carroll has spent most of the season injured. The only English striker to have enhanced his reputation in the last 2 years (besides Sturridge) is Ricky Lambert. So there isn’t a great deal to choose from in terms of centre-forwards.

Square Pegs, Round Holes

What I would be hoping Roy Hodgson will do, is choose a system that will give England the best chance of success, and then select the best/in-form players for each position. For too long, England sides have just tried to get all the big-name players into a team, even if it meant forcing players to play unfamiliar roles or unsettling the balance of the side.

The most criminal example of this was forcing Paul Scholes to play left midfield in a 4-4-2 to accommodate the inclusion of Frank Lampard. Also, the persistence for years in playing Gerrard and Lampard in a central midfield partnership, when other countries would have chosen one of them to play at a time, alongside a more disciplined midfielder. This approach of putting square pegs into round holes is possibly through pressure from the English press, and managers not wanting (or being brave enough) to leave out a “big name”.

If England are to get anywhere in a major international tournament, we have to place a team ethic above individual ego’s. The so-called ‘star names’ don’t all have to be in the team if form or the system being used dictates.

Not many countries in the world cup will be starting games with 2 strikers in traditional centre-forward roles. This seems to be a thing of the past in the modern game and England themselves have finally begun to adapt in the last couple of years. If Hodgson does go with a single central striker, it is likely it will be either with two wide forwards on either side (4-3-3), or with three attacking players with a bit of freedom behind the striker (4-2-3-1). Both of these systems have been used by Hodgson in the last year or so.

The question then becomes – where does this leave Wayne Rooney?

If we’re looking at having one central striker, surely we should go with the man who has been THE outstanding English striker in the Premier League this season. With 20 goals in 26 league games, that man is Daniel Sturridge. It is not only Sturridge’s goals that have impressed. His great level of confidence and self-belief is rare in England internationals. He is skilful, quick, creative and able to beat a player in a 1v1 situation.

 

Sturridge  

What would be a travesty (yet sadly I can see it happening) is Rooney playing centre-forward while Sturridge is forced to play out wide. This would be a waste of Sturridge’s talents and another case of putting square pegs into round holes to avoid making a big decision by leaving someone out.

Options

The options for Hodgson include playing Rooney wide with Sturridge up top, playing Rooney in the middle of the 3 in the 4-2-3-1, playing Rooney up top with Sturridge wide or on the bench, or leaving Rooney out.

Personally, I don’t see an argument for not playing Sturridge at the head of the attacking line-up. That leaves Rooney fighting for a place deeper in the team, or competing with Sturridge for that starting place and coming off the bench when needed. Currently, Rooney’s form isn’t so good that you would feel a huge need to have him in the starting line-up. And his ability to pick the ball up deep, turn and attack seems to have deserted him as he’s lost that dynamic edge he had earlier in his career.

So to have him in a central role at the head of an attacking midfield area, in my opinion, wouldn’t utilise the attributes he currently has. I’d rather see someone with the intelligence and fluidity of movement of an Adam Lallana, an Oxlade-Chamberlain or a Ross Barkley in that kind of a role.

To have Rooney in a wide attacking role makes even less sense. The apparent strengths that the modern England team will have, include being able to counter-attack quickly and have pacey, confident dribblers on the flanks. With the likes of Andros Townsend, Raheem Sterling, Oxlade-Chamberlain and even Danny Welbeck who is often used in a wide attacking role all available, they would all be better options for the good of the team in such a position.

Rooney’s Role

So with Rooney not in good club form (another poor display in the Easter Sunday game at Goodison Park), and with it being 10 years since his last positive impact at an international tournament, the time to leave him out of the starting line-up is now. Of course I would still take him in the squad. But I’d have him competing with Sturridge for that central striking role.

I expect to be disappointed by Hodgson not being brave enough to leave out a player that the press/media have spent years hyping up. But it would be a great signal of intent to move England forward into a new era, if Hodgson goes with a more youthful, fearless and skilful attack, all without ego and willing to put the team first.

Further ahead, Rooney will be 30 by the time the next European Championships come around. That will probably be his last chance to play in a major tournament in his prime. He shouldn’t be written off as an England regular, but as he may need to adapt his game. At present I don’t see him playing in the no.10 role he once did. He appears to me to be more of a no.9, without the quick movement between the lines and combination of strength and speed that saw him picking up the ball deep and running at defences in Euro 2004 all those years ago. Many have suggested that he would convert to be a central midfielder in his later years. That may be something he does depending on his club manager, but there would be doubts around whether he could find a new position and be competent enough with it to be international class in a new role.

So Mr Hodgson, leave Rooney out of the starting eleven, for the good of the present England team.

Advertisements

Problem Position to Embarassment of Riches

Cast your minds back a little over a decade and you will remember the English national team’s problematic left side. The left-midfield role was scarcely contested, and without much quality too. Nick Barmby and Trevor Sinclair benefitted hugely from this.

The left-back slot was just as much of a problem. After Stuart Pearce’s long reign as England’s regular number 3 came to an end, Graeme Le Saux was a natural replacement during Glenn Hoddle’s spell in charge. Hoddle’s favoured 3-5-2 formation with wing-backs on either side ensured the position was Le Saux’s to lose as it suited his game down to the ground.

Moving on, Kevin Keegan struggled to find a consistent performer at left-back. More often than not, Keegan played Phil Neville in a position which, despite claiming it as his favourite position, is not a position he was ready to play at international level at that time.

Surprise call-ups

When Sven Goran Eriksson took over in 2001, it kicked off several months of England caps being given out to any available, English, Premier League left-back. Chris Powell made 5 appearances for his country during this time and Michael Ball won a solitary cap. Gareth Barry was also trialled in this position but failed to make the position his own as he was still finding his way (and his best position) at Aston Villa in his early years as a professional.

Ashley Cole thankfully came along and made sure that number 3 shirt was his for years to come. Initially the lack of competition may have had something to do with it. But the improvement in his defending, rather than showing a reliance on pace to get himself out of trouble, in the last few years has seen him become one of the best full backs, defensively, in Europe.

Competition

Only now does Cole have real competition for his place.

The maturity of Leighton Baines over the last 12 months has been a joy to watch. He has always been a player of great quality on the ball. He showed that in his time at Wigan. At Everton, Baines has grown in confidence year after year and formed an unrivalled partnership with Steven Pienaar down the left of Everton’s improving team. He is better technically with the ball at his feet than Cole, with crossing ability to put Cole to shame. What perhaps lets Baines down in his challenge to become England’s left-back, is his lack of experience in big games. Rightly or wrongly, players at clubs taking part in the Champions League are always more likely to be picked for England. The rumoured move to Manchester United this summer didn’t materialise, but had it done, it would’ve been interesting to see how much closer Baines would be pushing Cole for that England place by now.

Cole’s understudy at Chelsea is 23 year old Englishman Ryan Bertrand. At 23, Bertrand would have no doubt been hoping to have played more 1st team football than he has done. But on the other hand, he has played in a UEFA Champions League final. And he has the winners’ medal to show it. He played that night as a left-midfielder, as he has done on several other occasions, but he’s also an adept left-back with a similar playing style to that of Ashley Cole. He’s pacey, quick to get forward and he covers the centre-backs well when needed (essential as John Terry shows no signs of getting any quicker). This season Bertrand already seems to be trusted with more game-time by club manager Roberto Di Matteo. And this trust in him by a manager who is clearly confident he is ready for top-level football should see him really improve between now and next May.

The 4th contender for the England left-back position is Arsenal’s Kieran Gibbs. The youngest of these 4 players, Gibbs has made a brilliant start to the 2012/2013 season. He appears far more confident and composed in possession. He is playing like he now believes he deserves to be playing at this high level. And last but by no means least, he will be benefitting from the addition of Steve Bould to Arsene Wenger’s coaching team. Bould was a part of Arsenal’s original famous back four and is already receiving many plaudits for the current side’s defensively solid start to the season. Gibbs will no doubt improve his education in the art of defending with Bould around. The 22 year old is already now keeping Andre Santos out of Arsenal’s team, despite the Brazilian only arriving from Fenerbahce 12 months ago. He will now be looking to add to his handful of England caps.

The future

So England have gone from throwing caps around like confetti in desperate searches for left-backs, to now having real competition of quality players in this position. And whilst these players aren’t necessarily all at the peak of their powers at present, the coming years will see the best of the three challengers to Ashley Cole’s number 3 shirt.

Pictures courtesy of Allsport, mirror.co.uk, Getty Images and arsenal.com.

Cole Uses Champions League to Pronounce World Class Quality

Ashley Cole is a player who has often been in the headlines. Whether it was for his personal relationship and its breakdown, his on-the-pitch exploits, his training ground air rifle incident, being banned from driving or his controversial move to Chelsea in 2006 he has often dominated front and back pages of the national newspapers.

He burst onto the scene as a professional footballer with Arsenal in the 2000/2001 season, profiting from an injury to Silvinho to show his promise in the Gunners’ first team. He made 228 appearances for Arsenal before eventually signing for Chelsea in August 2006, after a drawn-out affair that involved a ‘tapping-up’ meeting with Chelsea officials in January 2005.

England

He has been a regular in the England set-up since his debut in 2001 and has virtually been an automatic pick for most of the last 11 years. His time with England has also had its ups and downs for Cole. At one time he was booed by England fans at a few home matches at Wembley. And comments that came out in the media quoting Cole as saying “I hate England and the people” didn’t help his cause in 2010. But he has always performed fairly well for England. Perhaps giving his best performances in recent years as he has grown and improved as a player. His athleticism was always strength of his as a youngster, but now he has fused that with excellent positioning, one-on-one defending and timing of his tackles.

Medals

After winning 5 major trophies (excluding the Community Shield) in his 6 full seasons at Arsenal, he has surpassed that in his first 6 seasons at Chelsea with the Champions League winners triumph on Saturday being the 7th major competition’s winners medal he has picked up in that time. Whilst surprisingly he won more Premier League winners medals at Arsenal than he has thus far with Chelsea (two to one), the Champions League victory and the fact that Arsenal haven’t won a single trophy since he left should eliminate any doubt that he made the right decision to switch from North London to West London 6 years ago.

Improvement

There is also no question that Cole has improved as a player as a result of his time at Chelsea. Arsenal under Arsene Wenger are said to spend very limited time working on defending in training, which can only be to the detriment of young defenders like Cole was at the time. At Chelsea he has worked under Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti and Guus Hiddink – all known for being fantastic coaches and all known for having well-organised defences. Cole has reaped the rewards of this and has obviously been keen to improve. The young marauding left-back we saw at Arsenal is now a solid, reliable left-back who is rarely beaten, both in the air and on the ground. He still gets forward to support attacks but chooses the time to do it more effectively to ensure it doesn’t imbalance the team or leave them too exposed at the back. He has come up against the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Arjen Robben and Theo Walcott, all offering different problems, and has not been outclassed in any of those battles.

Champions League Stage for Excellence

The 2011/2012 season has been a dramatic one for Cole. Chelsea struggled for form under previous manager Andre Villas-Boas in the first half of the season. Cole found himself out of the team as Villas-Boas seemed to want to re-build the Chelsea team with younger players. A key match for Cole was the Champions League second round 1st leg away to Napoli. Cole was left on the bench, along with other experienced players, but was called upon just 12 minutes in when Jose Bosingwa limped off injured. Chelsea went down 3-1 that night in Naples but Cole made a crucial goal-line clearance to keep the score at 3-1. By the time the second leg came around, Villas-Boas had been replaced as manager by interim boss Roberto Di Matteo. The Italian restored faith in the senior professionals and they all starred in a brilliant 4-1 victory at Stamford Bridge to ensure progress to the quarter finals.

Two brilliant defensive performances against Benfica in the quarter-finals were followed by two world class performances against Barcelona in a dramatic two-legged semi-final. Cole was exceptional at Stamford Bridge as Chelsea defeated the holders 1-0 thanks to Didier Drogba’s goal. He was then faultless in the Nou Camp as ten-man Chelsea fought off wave after wave of Barcelona pressure to draw 2-2 and make the final.

In front of a worldwide audience in the UEFA Champions League Final of 2012, Ashley Cole confirmed his standing as a truly world class left-back with another master class performance at full-back. Facing the likes of Ribery, Robben and Lahm, Cole was rarely beaten, made another key goal-line clearance and was fantastic as Chelsea soaked up almost constant pressure from Bayern Munich to take the game to a penalty shoot-out. Cole showed nerves of steel to score a penalty in the shoot-out and help his side on the way to the trophy that has eluded them since Roman Abramovich began to plough his millions into the club in 2003. Whilst he is not perfect and could improve on his delivery into the box when in good positions to cross, he has developed over the years to the point where he can now be considered one of the best left-backs in world football.

Picture courtesy of fansfc.com.

Puyol Puts English Stars to Shame by Valuing Team before Ego

Recent days have seen Barcelona Captain Carlos Puyol rule himself out of contention for Spain’s Euro 2012 campaign. And whilst most people won’t think anything more of it, the Spaniard’s thought process here should be a lesson to England and some of their star players’ attitudes in previous years.

Firstly, Puyol is injured. He picked up a knee injury in a recent game against Espanyol and has been advised he will be out of action for six weeks. It may seem common sense that he would miss out on this summer’s international tournament. But when you think back to England’s World Cup campaign in 2002 it was a different story when one of the supposed “Golden Generation” picked up an injury in the months leading up to the tournament. When an Aldo Duscher (then of Deportivo La Coruna) tackle caused injury to David Beckham’s metatarsal bone in his foot, there was no suggestion in England that it might be better for a player in first-class condition to go to the tournament in his place.

Instead, the next couple of months of British media was dominated by the embarrassing long drawn-out saga of whether Beckham would be fit in time, reporting his every visit to a physio and front page headlines in tabloid newspapers wishing for his foot to recover in time. This could lead to another debate of how the British media consistently over-hype and build up players into “stars”, which then contributes to the “disaster” story of one of them being injured. But sticking with the topic, Beckham fought hard to get himself fit for the tournament. There is no criticism for this in itself, as you would expect any professional to do the same. What you would also expect though, when the time comes for the tournament squad to be announced, is that there would be a bigger emphasis placed on the team as a whole, a bit more honesty and a lot more common sense. Beckham went to Japan and South Korea and captained the squad despite being no-where near fully fit. It showed in his performances. He earned praise for scoring a penalty against Argentina in the Group Stage but bottled a challenge in the build-up to Brazil’s equalising goal against England in the Quarter-Final.

Beckham isn’t alone in terms of English players that have gone to a tournament without being 100% fit. Wayne Rooney suffered a foot injury in a match for Manchester United against Chelsea prior to the World Cup in 2006. There was a similar obsession in the media of whether he would be fit in time. In reality, it should have been obvious all along that he would go to the tournament whether he was fit or not. After being treated with new methods such as the now famous oxygen tent, he was declared in a suitable enough condition to travel and take part. Sure enough he came on as a substitute in England’s second match in the group stage and started the three games that followed. As with Beckham four years earlier, Rooney was not fit and it showed. He put in performances well below that of the level expected of him and failed to score in the tournament. He ended his tournament on an especially sour note as he was sent off during the Quarter-Final defeat to Portugal for a stamp on Ricardo Carvalho.

Both players took places in the squads in these tournaments when they would have been better filled with players in good form and fitness. They were both rushed back to full health and had no time to build up any match-fitness, which shouldn’t be confused with general fitness. Some blame should be apportioned to the manager for picking the players as well. In both cases the England Manager was Sven Goran Eriksson, who was maybe influenced by the media’s inference that the campaign would have been a failure without these individuals involved in the team. Putting so much focus on individuals rather than the team as a collective has been a big part of England’s lack of progress in the last 10 years – from selecting players on past reputation and standing in the media, to taking injured players to tournaments, and players attempting too many 60-yard ‘Hollywood’ passes in games to impress rather than retaining possession.

A quote from Carlos Puyol reads as follows:

“I think it’s impossible because when you come out of an operation there is a recovery period and I believe that those who are in better shape should go.”

He went on to clarify that he is not retiring from international football. He is just putting the team first and recognising that the Spanish team will perform better with eleven fit and able players on the pitch, rather than ten players carrying an injured player whose ego outweighs the wish for the team to succeed.

There is no suggestion that England would have gone on to win either of the tournaments in 2002 or 2006, but they would surely have performed better and stood a better chance of progressing further with a fully fit squad. Puyol should be praised for his unselfish attitude. Whilst in England, passion is praised when someone kisses the badge after scoring or throws their body into a full-blooded challenge, Puyol has shown in Spain that passion for his country to do well in ways that we may not see in England until many, many attitudes are changed.

Photograph: Halden Krog/EPA

Why Redknapp leaving for England will benefit Spurs

The speculation surrounding the vacant England managerial position still seems to point to Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp being the favourite to be approached for the job. I believe the Tottenham hierarchy should accept any FA approach to speak with Harry Redknapp as it could be the key to turning the North London club from a team challenging the top four of the Premier League into to a club challenging to win the Premier League.

At one point this season Tottenham were within touching distance of the two Manchester clubs and were in a position where you could genuinely count them as title contenders. But then they stuttered, going on a run of 5 games without a win including defeats against Arsenal, Manchester United and Everton. I put the collapse of Tottenham’s season down to several factors:

  • Injuries to Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon
  • Moving Modric out of the centre
  • Transfer activity in January
  • Lack of strength in depth
  • No ‘Plan B’

The injuries to Bale and Lennon at different times gave Tottenham a major problem. They are two key players in Tottenham’s pacey attacking style and they didn’t really have any like-for-like replacements of anywhere near similar quality to replace them with. That said, it was a mistake to move the pivotal figure of his team (Modric) out of the centre of his midfield. All this did was disrupt another position in the team, forcing a further change to the line-up, whilst also restricting the influence Modric was able to have on games from a wider starting position. Kranjcar or Rose coming in for Lennon or Bale would have been a better option and would have caused less disruption to a side that was previously in good form. With Rose replacing Bale on the left, the side could have retained the 4-4-1-1 shape and Rose’s pace could have even maintained the way in which they attacked down that flank. Similarly on the right, putting Kranjcar in for Lennon would have meant only one change to the team and would have seen a clever player in a position that he has played many times during his time in England.

You could point to the transfer activity in January as key to the failure to deal with the injuries and lack of squad depth. Spurs allowed Steven Pienaar to sign for Everton on loan late on transfer deadline day and failed to ensure they signed a replacement. As it turned out, Pienaar would undoubtedly have been the first name in Harry Redknapp’s thoughts when Lennon, and later Bale, were injured. There could also have been raised eyebrows over the decision to allow Vedran Corluka to leave on loan whilst not bringing in a replacement who could provide back-up for Kyle Walker at right back. Kaboul has deputised at right back when necessary but hasn’t looked entirely comfortable with his positioning in this role.

The lack of strength in depth at Tottenham is well documented and I’ve already hinted at two instances of this when they suffered injuries in wide areas. You could look at the manager for not looking to bring in reinforcements in the right areas. You could suggest it is down to the manager to rotate the side slightly and give game-time to fringe players to keep them at a level where they could step into the team at any moment and perform to the required standard. You could counter that with the argument that that back-up players just aren’t good enough, but then you’re back to the initial failings of the manager’s transfer activity.

All of the above points have contributed to Redknapp being exposed as not having a successful ‘Plan B’ to turn to when his thin-on-quality squad was stretched in key areas. In some games Redknapp has adopted a 4-3-3 formation with Bale and van der Vaart in floating attacking roles behind a main striker. This is not a formation Redknapp has used before and should not be confused with the 4-4-1-1 regularly used with van der Vaart behind Adebayor in attack. This change to 4-3-3 was only implemented because Aaron Lennon was still out injured Redknapp didn’t trust anyone else to step into his boots on the right of midfield without continuing to waste Luka Modric in this position. When the difficult run of fixtures began, Rafael van der Vaart was also unfit and struggling with injury. Against Manchester United and Everton, Redknapp went with a 4-4-2 formation and lost both in the absence of the Dutch creator.

As well as the injuries to Tottenham players forcing changes to their own team, there is also the suggestion that other teams had found a way to play against them. That they had found a way to counteract Spurs’ quick attacking style and attack them when the time was right. Chelsea demonstrated at Wembley in the FA Cup Semi-Final how to absorb Tottenham’s attacking play, limit them to just a few shots on target, and exploit frailties in a tired defence. Even during this game, Redknapp’s choice of substitution and tactical alteration in the second half directly led to Chelsea ceasing the initiative in the final 15 minutes and running our comfortable winners.

Tottenham need to capitalise on their improvement in the last few years and take this opportunity to develop themselves so that they can become title contendors. But to take the next step it is vital that they have a manager who is as tactically aware as they come. Someone who could mastermind victories in high-pressure games, implement suitable tactics for different opponents and positively change games with substitutions and tactical tweaks. There’s no doubting Harry Redknapp is a good manager. But as Kevin Keegan showed with Newcastle in 1996 – man management and motivational skills will get you so far, but you need that extra tactical awareness to implement a ‘Plan B’ or even a ‘Plan C’ when things aren’t going well or when teams find a way to play against you. I would suggest Redknapp has taken Tottenham as far as he can, and that they need a manager of the tactical astuteness of someone like Rafa Benitez to take them forward and compete with the best teams in England and Europe.

So whilst the uncertainty around the England job remains, Daniel Levy and the Tottenham Board would be wise to accept any approach from the FA to speak to their current manager.

Pictures courtesy of watchmeruletheworld.com and ladbrokes.com.

Why Glenn Hoddle Should Be Considered For England

27 March 2012

It has been seven weeks since Fabio Capello left his position as England manager. And to this day we are no nearer knowing who might take the reigns for the European Championships this summer and beyond. Stuart Pearce is in temporary charge but isn’t thought to be a long-term candidate for the job.

The media circus that surrounds the job, seem to give the indication that they want Harry Redknapp to take the job. But it is worth pointing out that the television pundits and newspaper editors do not speak for a nation of supporters, despite several of them trying to imply that this is the case. Redknapp’s Spurs team have struggled since the speculation began. This could have been impacted upon by the constant speculation surrounding Redknapp. But it is undoubtedly also due to a good Spurs team being hit by a couple of injuries and what could be argued as either a lack of squad depth, or Redknapp’s lack of ability to manage his resources and find the tactics to build on what had been a good Tottenham run. This may have swayed some people’s thinking and given some people food for thought, espeically at the FA where there is often a clamour for the flavour of the month – as seen at Chelsea whenever the managerial job is vacant.

One name that has been thrown into the ring this week is that of Glenn Hoddle. The man who was appointed England manager immediately after Euro ’96 and who was sacked for non-football related comments in an interview with The Times newspaper in January 1999.

Previous Reign Re-visited

Hoddle’s last England reign was a big success on the pitch. The qualification campaign for World Cup ’98 ended successfully with a heroic 0-0 draw in Rome to ensure England won the group and Italy had to qualify via the play-offs. Earlier in the campaign there were routine wins all round, confidently seeing off Poland, Georgia and Moldova twice each. The only defeat of the campaign came with a 1-0 reverse against Italy at Wembley. A game famously remembered for Matthew Le Tissier being handed a rare England start, only for his brother to leak the team news to a global audience hours before kick off. Gianfranco Zola hit the winner in that game for a very good Italy side, whilst England were missing regular goalkeeper David Seaman and Alan Shearer’s regular international partner Teddy Sheringham.

The World Cup itself, held in France, had it’s ups and downs. It started with a 2-0 win against Tunisia in sweltering heat. Next up came a 2-1 defeat to Romania, with a mistake from Graeme Le Saux allowing Dan Petrescu to score a last minute winner. Then came a match England had to win against Columbia. David Beckham and Michael Owen were handed their first starts of the tournament and Hoddle’s England won 2-0 to set up a second round match against Argentina. An entertaining match was played out in St. Etienne but the key moment in the game was David Beckham’s sending off in the 47th minute of the game. The score at the time, 2-2, was how it finished after 90 minutes and extra time. But being reduced to ten men with so much time left to play took its toll on England and reduced their attacking threat greatly. England then exited the competition after coming out second best in the penalty shoot-out that followed.

The System

The thing that sets Hoddle apart from every other England manager in recent times is the system he used for the national team. England played a 3-5-2 formation with wing-backs under Hoddle, and this helped the team keep possession of the ball with more bodies in the midfield area. Possession is much more important in international football and is something England have struggled with both before Hoddle and after, right up to the present moment in time. England were able to control more games and dictate the pace of games using this formation, taking advatage of the extra option that the third man in central midfield gave them. It didn’t hamper the attacking side of the game either, with wing-backs such as Graeme Le Saux, Gary Neville and later Darren Anderton all given licence to get forward and almost become wingers when the team attacked. There was a growing sense during the World Cup in France that England could have gone all the way to the final playing this way, hence the over-the-top backlash David Beckham recieved after the tournament for his part in the Argentina match.

Another Chance?

Many England managers of the past have been good domestic level managers but haven’t had the ability to successfully lead an international team. The difference in style between the English league and the international scene is clear to see and many managers struggle to see this. Most are either too naive in thinking England can play as we do domestically and still win something, or don’t possess the managerial ability to cope with putting together a different tactical style for the international game. I believe Glenn Hoddle is the exact opposite to the usual England manager and is actually better suited to international football as opposed to domestic football. His views, philosophy on football and wish to play a continental style makes his brand of football better suited to managing an international team than it does in the up-and-at-them domestic game.

The suggestion of Hoddle returning as England manager has seen some people ridicule his chances and ruling him out without a moment’s thought. But the statistics point to Hoddle having a win ratio of 60.7 per cent. This is only bettered by World Cup winner Sir Alf Ramsay and the under-appreciated Fabio Capello. Do the FA see him as a viable option? Only time will tell. But his international record and his on-the-pitch philosophies should make him one of the stronger candidates.

FA fail Fabio as Capello Quits

After the recent media frenzy surrounding the news of John Terry being stripped of the England captaincy, the last thing the nation needed was a further destabilising setback just four months before the European Championships 2012 gets underway. Yet Wednesday evening’s announcement that Fabio Capello’s resignation as Manager had been accepted has sent the country’s preparations for Euro 2012 back to square one.

Record

Firstly, Capello’s record as England Manager is not as bad as the British tabloids would have you believe. Fans that are capable of forming their own opinion should look to the facts. England qualified for both major tournaments that were entered under Capello’s reign.  To ensure a little perspective, this came immediately after Steve McClaren failed to ensure England qualified for Euro 2008. In 42 games in charge of England, Capello’s team won 28, drew 8 and lost 6. His England side qualified for the World Cup in 2010 with 9 straight wins followed by a 1-0 defeat to Ukraine once qualification was already assured. The team didn’t look comfortable at the main event in South Africa, with the poor form of talisman Wayne Rooney one of several reasons for England’s unconvincing performances, culminating in an emphatic 4-1 defeat at the hands of what I consider the best Germany team since their 1990 World Cup winners. Back to another qualification campaign, Capello’s England remained undefeated throughout qualifying for Euro2012 and finished top of the group again. He also masterminded a 1-0 win over world champions Spain in November 2011. So all things considered, I fail to see why the tabloid newspapers seem to have started their usual England Manager witch-hunt over the last few months.

Intervention

Capello’s frustration is perfectly understandable. As Manager of the team he should have had the final say on team decisions, including who is the captain of his team. The FA recklessly intervened and in doing so arguably undermined Capello’s authority. Capello’s comments to the Italian media where hardly offensive towards his employers. He disagreed with the decision but didn’t criticise the FA. He spoke of the common concept of “innocent until proven guilty”, which the FA ignored when deciding Terry would no longer captain England. If Terry is deemed fit and available to play for the national team, then he should be able to wear the armband too. Whenever a team goes out on the field representing England (or any nation for that matter) they should all be leaders once they cross the white line. And no doubt Terry would have continued to be a vocal leader of the team after the inevitable support that Capello would have given him going into the Euro’s this summer.

My own view is that Terry shouldn’t be in England’s starting eleven. But that is based solely on his form for Chelsea this season – his deteriorating ability to physically dominate opposing centre-forwards and his lack of pace being exploited more and more frequently as time goes on. That said, I suspect Capello was more than happy to be going into the France game to kick off England’s tournament in June with John Terry as his captain, his first-choice centre-back and his leader on the pitch. For the FA to be paying Capello a reported £6million per year salary, and then go over his head to make a decision like this that directly influences his ability to prepare what would have been his squad going into a major tournament, is absolutely ridiculous. And sadly, it encapsulates all that is wrong with the Football Association in this country.

 Change Needed

I fear that until big changes are made at the top of the organisation that runs our national game, further untimely mistakes like this will only be repeated. More respected figures, perhaps former players, that understand the game and have experience of how football works, are clearly needed and such figures need to be involved in key decision-making if future disasters like this are to be avoided.