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England national team analysis

So England have left yet another World Cup in a disappointing manner. In this blog I will offer my own opinions and analysis on England’s current debacle and their potential future outlook.

The Manager

After the 2010 World Cup there was an outcry from England fans for Fabio Capello to be replaced as England manager. Roy Hodgson has not had to endure such an outcry despite failing to guide England through their group into the second round at this years World Cup. I believe the decision the FA have taken to allow Hodgson to continue as England manager is the correct one. I do, however, understand the case against having Hodgson continue as manager.

Hodgson’s style of play tends to be boring and predictable. At times, perhaps even outdated (remember he used the 4-4-2 formation in a match last year?). I would accuse Hodgson of not allowing the young players which he chose for his World Cup side enough free will. After the draw with Ecuador in the friendly leading up to the World Cup, Hodgson criticized Ross Barkley of losing the ball on too many occasions. This was a contrasting statement to the opinion most fans and pundits had of an excellent and dangerous looking Ross Barkley throughout the match who, given his inexperience and young age, imposed himself on the match in a manner reminiscent of a player with several years more experience. Hodgson doesn’t seem to be allowing these younger players to express themselves enough. Rather than playing these youngsters in roles which suit their strengths, Hodgson seems to be playing them to fit around his system, which I believe leads to a more predictable England team. The World Cup this summer saw many teams which exceeded expectations (Costa Rica, Algeria, USA among several others). I believe the unpredictability they displayed was a significant factor in contributing towards their progression at this year’s tournament. England appear to have become far too predictable under Hodgson.

The general consensus seems to be that England have offered only two genuinely exciting performances since Hodgson assumed control; the victory in the World Cup qualification campaign against Poland, and the loss to Italy to open their World Cup finals campaign. Perhaps you might think that playing unattractive football is insignificant compared to more pressing matters such as the final result. You may think It is more of a side thought rather than a genuine issue with the England team. On the whole, I agree. But let’s be honest, watching England should not feel like you are testing your boredom endurance.

I happened to be in Brazil for England’s opening game in Manaus. Hodgson’s World Cup squad selection and the starting line-up he chose for that opening game against Italy was described over and over and over again as bold. Hodgson was praised for bringing a young squad to the World Cup. He was bold in doing so was the opinion of, what I can only describe as, what felt like every Englishman on Earth.  But why is he being praised for that? If his World Cup squad selection consisted of the under 21 England side, then that’s about as bold a selection as you could get. But in all likelihood, the under 21 England players would have performed even worse than the squad which Hodgson did take. Boldness is not a reason for appraisal before the matter is put into practice. Plus what were the alternatives to some of these younger players Roy took? Perhaps Ashley Cole. But otherwise, what did Roy do with that selection that most managers wouldn’t have done? Not much is my assessment. The majority of the squad picked itself, regardless of the individual’s age. So why then is Roy being praised? Basically, he didn’t mess up his selection. The nation praised Roy Hodgson for not making a balls-up of his selection.

The case for, and the one agreeing with the FA’s decision for Hodgson to continue, is the potential for the young squad which has emerged under Hodgson to prosper. Raheem Sterling was the most dangerous and exciting of many world class players I saw at this years World Cup. In the match against Italy, each time he got the ball, England fans were on the edge of their seat praying for him to make something positive happen, and it usually did. The Italian fans were biting their fists praying that someone, anyone, does something, anything, to stop him. There are only a handful of players in the World who are capable of providing this type of threat every time they are given the ball. If Sterling and some of the other prodigies continue to develop at their current rate, England may have reason to be optimistic for Euro 2016 and beyond. Not necessarily to win the tournament, but to get back to the point where they are at least in contention. Hodgson has worked with these youngsters comprehensively during England duties over the past year. He will have a better understanding on how to progress with them appropriately than any other manager who may have come in from out with the England coaching set-up.

When Roy Hodgson was first appointed as England manager, the reaction was of utter disbelief amongst England supporters. Harry Redknapp was widely tipped to become the manager. He was the fans choice, the analyst’s choice, and even some players announced their support for him. The FA decided to appoint Hodgson instead. This is where I believe the FA got it wrong. It would be counter-productive to sack Hodgson at this point. He has worked with the team for two years now and is in the best position to take England through the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign. The FA was correct to keep Hodgson as the nation’s manager despite our failure at the World Cup. The incorrect decision was made when he was employed instead of Redknapp.

Goalkeepers

I won’t dwell on the goalkeeping area of the England squad too much. In complete contrast to the England sides under Sven Goran Eriksson, this is the one solid area of the team whereas the other areas of the squad have question marks hanging over them.

Joe Hart is clearly a top class goalkeeper. Has showed a bit of inconsistency in more recent times and is prone to an error once in a while. But a very good goalkeeper and I cannot see anyone else assuming the goalkeeping duty any time soon.

Jack Butland didn’t make the World Cup squad but looks confident in nets and he looks like a good prospect.

Ben Foster and Fraser Forster provide  provide decent experience and enough goalkeeping ability to instil confidence if they were to be called upon in the event that Hart were to become injured.

The Defence

In terms of the outfield players there is reason to be optimistic and pessimistic. Let’s be realistic, this defence has issues. Our back line for the World Cup was Glen Johnson, Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines. Let’s start with Cahill and Jagielka, the centre backs. Their performances at the World Cup were bad. Their performances suggested a lack of capability on the grandest stage which has the entire nations fans pleading for them just to play adequately enough until better centre backs emerge. Cahill is actually good at Chelsea. He also has John Terry playing alongside him at Chelsea. He looks fazed by the opposition and often distressed without Terry there. As for Jagielka, well, let’s keep this one simple. Phil Jagielka against the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlaltan Ibrahimovic, Diego Costa, Miroslav Klose etc…are you confident in Jagielka??

Glen Johnson, the right back, is good going forward. He is decent defensively but requires good centre backs and defensive midfielder’s for assistance. He will rarely be able to cope defensively on his own during the course of a match.

The left back Leighton Baines is a good player. He had a way below average World Cup, but it’s not entirely fair to judge him on those three games. There were many factors, such as little defensive assistance from left sided midfield players, which contributed towards his relatively weak performances. He has a great cross, a good free kick and a good corner kick. Most importantly, he is consistent defensively, most of the time. He can do the job asked of him.

As for the emerging defenders, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling have more questions than answers in terms of their potential ability. John Stones looks like a good yet reckless prospect. He often plays quite risky which always has calamitous potential, particularly at major tournaments. Jon Flanagan had a good season with Liverpool last year but that is not yet enough. Too often in the past, England full backs have been touted for big things, but then become insignificant. The exact same is true for Luke Shaw. The signs so far suggest he is a very capable left back. He must build on his promising season. Despite all the hype and the transfer to Manchester United he has achieved absolutely nothing yet.

A solid defensive unit, I believe, is integral for a side to be able to compete at major tournaments. England must improve significantly in this area.

Midfield

The current and future state of the England midfield set-up is very interesting. Steven Gerrard has announced his retirement from international football this week. Many of the current young England midfield players (and the young defenders) are being touted for great success, but it’s possible that these predictions are more in hopeful yearning rather than in facts which suggest these youngsters really are the real deal. Many of these youngsters have yet to prove themselves. Barkley, Sterling, Shaw, Stones and most of the other much talked about England youngsters have simply had one, or just over one, good season. I don’t disagree that they should be credited for their excellent seasons. Each of them provided breathtaking displays at times and should be credited. But my point is, is it is not enough to assume these players will definitely become the Earth shatteringly good players that so many individuals associated with England have claimed the youngsters will become. Since the emergence of Wayne Rooney at Euro 2004, England fans, pundits and managers seem much more obsessed by the potential ability rather than the actual current ability of English youngsters that burst onto the scene. When Steven Gerrard was introduced into the national team in 2000, there wasn’t the type of reaction to his good performances as there is for the younger England players in recent years. Gerrard was viewed as a very skilled footballer who would be an excellent addition to the England squad, regardless of his age. Compare this to the emergence of Jack Wilshere. When Wilshere was introduced into the England set-up, there was much excitement around him from everyone associated directly and indirectly with the team. Wilshere was and still is a fantastic youngster, but the talking point for Wilshere tends to be what he might become not necessarily how good he is at this present moment. It was the opposite with Gerrard. I don’t think many would argue that none of the current emerging central midfielder’s have the talent that Gerrard, Scholes and Lampard possessed at similar ages. I am slightly concerned that England might be getting too carried away in their excitement for some of these youthful midfielder’s. Some of these youngsters’ lack of consistency is often overlooked as a result of momentary brilliance.

Jordan Henderson is a player who has emerged over the past two years. I like the way he keeps the ball moving. He can collect the ball deep and move it up field quickly; he can contribute in and around the opposition box and he is improving at taking set pieces. There is much work to be done, but his development does have me intrigued.

I think every England fan would love nothing more for their midfield than to see Jack Wilshere really step up his game a few notches. He does provide solid performances but not often enough.

Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling look good. They can play with both feet; they are quick and surprisingly powerful. How well these two develop may determine much for future England sides.

Alex Oxlade Chamberlain is an exciting player. He is quick and dangerous on the wing. A lethal player when he is on form. Andros Townsend is similar. Much more is needed to be seen from him however. Adam Lallana is not necessarily a youngster at 26 although he falls into the category of a player who must continue to play well beyond one good season to have a realistic future in the England team. I think he can be consistently threatening and he does appear to have good football brain. Plus he casts doubt into the minds of the opposition.

England’s strength in midfield is dependant upon the development of the younger midfield players. Gerrard is gone, Lampard might be soon also, James Milner and Michael Carrick could still play a part although only into the foreseeable future. With few veterans and leaders now available for England in midfield, it is a frightening yet exciting transition for the midfield. There is a silver lining to the important losses of Gerrard and potentially Lampard.

Forwards

Let’s start with (where else?) Wayne Rooney. For Manchester United, Wayne Rooney is world class. For England, he just isn’t. One potential reason for this, I believe, is that Rooney performs worse when expectations on him are raised. England’s expectations on Rooney are through the roof. Since Euro 2004, every major tournament has pretty much been billed as a bust if Rooney doesn’t play well, but potentially winning the thing if Rooney does play well. That is a lot of pressure for anyone to be able to cope with. He experiences pressure at Man United but much less so than for England. If my hunch here is correct, then making him the new England captain could potentially be a disastrous decision. Or perhaps it may invigorate him in a new manner. It’s difficult to tell. Wayne Rooney is one of the most complicated footballers to understand.

Daniel Sturridge is a goalscorer. Put him on the pitch, and he will very often score goals in return. Most successful squads have a similar player to Sturridge. I like him.

Danny Welbeck is a personal favourite of Hodgsons. Perhaps all the playing time Hodgson has given Welbeck will one day pay off. He does tackle well. He threatens well when he’s on form, however, I remain sceptical. I don’t have a great deal of confidence in him.

As for young England forwards, there isn’t much to discuss, which should signal warning signs. There is every possibility that there is a young England forward who will burst on to the scene (there’s that phrase again) and be ready even for part of the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign. The England under 17 team won their European competition this summer. Perhaps one of the forwards will emerge from there. Like so many other of the squad matters, only time will tell.

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