Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Poor old England

In a departure for me I am going to be blogging about what strikes me as interesting at any particular time.  Today it is football but it will usually be education!

What has prompted me to write is a friend bemoaning the inclusion of one Tom Cleverly in the England team to play Germany.  I was surprised at this. As a professional he is hugely supportive, and inclusive, of all people.  Yet when it comes to football a fug descends.  I like to give people a chance and believe that if you give people time to grow, and an opportunity to fail without fear of damnation, they will often surprise you.  I cite, as an example, Cristiano Ronaldo.  When he arrived in the UK he was derided and written off as a ‘show pony’.  I remember an ‘expert’ probably Hansen, saying that the English league was different and would be much harsher so he probably wouldn’t make it.  However, he also said that United would win nothing with kids so perhaps I should not quote him!  The point is that he turned out ok.

Having argued on Facebook (it is 2013 after all) I used a stats site to show that he had, actually, performed pretty well.  Our argument centred on his inability to do something ‘special’. Whilst I would agree he is not Ronaldo he is not, as was argued, a ‘bad’ player who is not good enough.  The issue is, I believe, one of expectation.  Not one, maybe Rooney, of England’s team would make the Germany team.  As a result whilst the Germans are dreaming of winning the final we are slightly nervous about getting out of the group and hoping that if we work hard we might fluke a quarter final.  That is probably the best we can hope for.
So what has Hodgeson done?  I believe he has taken a pragmatic approach and attempted, as Jack Charlton did with Ireland, to make his team greater that the sun of its parts.  The manager clearly feels he has to play Gerrard, probably as a result of a feeling that his talismanic presence is essential for England and the fragile mentality of the players and fans.  As a result he needs a mobile, combative midfielder disciplined enough to monitor Gerrard, cover his runs, feed him the ball and always be available.  Cleverly does this extremely well. This is also the reason why Lampard and Gerrard should never pay together.  Lampard is, at heart, a selfish player.  He rarely tracks back and will only bust a gut when trying to score a goal. This was painfully obvious against Chile where the midfield of Lampard, Milner and Wilshire were given a football lesson as the Chile team danced and passed around them. The stats make dreadful reading. The midfield three only retained possession 43% of the time.  The approach of Lampard was useful, and accepted, at Chelsea as he had Makelele to cover him in his pomp.  It is now, no longer acceptable.  His MO of nine backwards passes and one speculative forward ball, invariably to the opposition, means his stats stay impressive.  Fortunately, for him, his goal scoring exploits have distracted the, less cognitively gifted, football supporter into regarding him as being better than he is. Modern football requires more than this. 

Football requires a holistic approach.  Each part contributing to make the whole better. In this reality players with less individual ‘ability’ may lose out to players who ‘fit’ better.  There are many examples of this. Giroud is far from a superb forward yet Wenger has moulded a team around him which is working really well. Well until you come up against a top team who counters that avenue and overloads the supply, as United did.  Wenger’s system would not work with a forward like Hernandez, for example.  His, natural, game of playing off the shoulder of the defender would not allow Arsenal to pivot around the centre as they currently do.  Therefore, despite having a far better return of goals Hernandez would lose out to Giroud at Arsenal.  There are plenty more examples of teams buying players who do not fit in the team and so fail, my favourite is Diego Forlan. Woeful for United and then scoring for fun in Spain.

Perhaps my assertion that modern football requires this is wrong? When I look at the truly great entertaining teams (the United of Charlton, Best and Law. Liverpool in the 80's, Holland in the seventies) they all had a player who was unassuming in his work and rarely praised. Stiles, Gillespie, Neeskens to name but three.

So, perhaps we need an honest press conference from Hodgeson to explain it to the masses.  Something like, ‘I am very pleased with Tom tonight.  As you can see from his stats he was the third most effective player on our team this evening.  This is despite my instructions to keep it simple, break up play and be a constant outlet for Steven.  Steven is not the athlete he was and, therefore, to continue to play him I need someone to do his running.  Tom does this selflessly and we thank him for it.

Perhaps then people would get off his back?

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