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From Gazza to Gazza Bazza – the evolution of the English midfielder

“It might surprise those who have a rudimentary grasp of the rules of the game to learn that a First Division football team can try to play football without a player who can pass the ball, but it no longer surprises the rest of us: passing went out of fashion just after silk scarves and just before inflatable bananas. Managers, coaches and therefore players now favour alternate methods of moving the ball from one part of the field to another, the chief of which is a sort of wall of muscle strung across the half-way line in order to deflect the ball in the general direction of the forwards.”

Nick Hornby, Fever Pitch, 1992.

It’s not only the greatest football book ever written that loudly bemoans the fact that the playmaker is no longer part of the England set-up. Gone are the days when the visionary schemer pulled the strings for England. The squad has no Pirlo, no Iniesta, no Barry Ferguson – and that got very laboured, very quickly.

Although they have no Barry Ferguson, they’ve got the next best thing – a man who shares his name. Sort of. Gareth Barry has been part of the national side for nigh on 10 years. Admittedly, he has only begun to stake his claim to a regular place in the past 3 years, but he is now viewed as an irreplaceable asset to the team.

And whilst there is no denying that Barry is as capable as any English player of playing as the holding midfielder, to my mind there is a niggling suspicion that he shouldn’t be there. In fact, the suspicion grows into a conviction that not only is Barry far from irreplaceable, the position he occupies can go as well.

There is no need for a holding midfielder. Far better to get somebody much more exciting, a playmaker. Think Paul Gascoigne and Paul Scholes. Far better to have a player in the mould of Pirlo or Totti than a Gattuso for England.

(But to be quite honest, if there was even the slightest hint that Italy didn’t want him, I would personally pay the fees for Gattuso to come over and represent Wales. World Cup winners medals are not to be taken lightly.)

The main criticism of the England team over the past 6 years has been its aesthetic image. The moans are deafening when the ball is hit out of defence, up to the lone target man. From the match reports in the papers, on the Internet and your GCSE Physics class, you would think that the English Match Plan would be something like this:

1) Gain possession in the centre circle

2) Play it to the centre-back

3) Knock it back to the goalkeeper

4) Ohhhhh… HOOF

5) Opposition throw-in

6) Regain possession and repeat step by step.

I can’t comment on whether this is correct or not, because I normally fall asleep around the “midway point of the first half”, as it is called by the facetious commentators, and so don’t know whether the game-plan is the same the whole way through the match. (n.b. – calling commentators ‘facetious’ – pot, kettle, black?)

So clearly, the image of the friendlies played by the national team, at Wembley or overseas, is in bad shape. Can anyone think of any way to bring more fans to the game? Is there a change in formation, style or personel that can give the English team a shot in the arm? Because at the minute, they don’t seem to be playing football. They seem to be advertising Donormyl sleeping pills.

How much more exciting would it be if somebody with an intelligent, attacking mindset was played as a Number 10? How long has it been since England had a Number 10, in the truest sense of the word – a Pele, a Maradona, a Ronaldinho? Is it any coincidence that these three are all South American? They have exciting football there, something that is lacking here in Britain.

So get rid of Gareth Barry. Not to single him out because he obviously has infinitely more talent than myself and 90% of the other bloggers on the Internet, but they really don’t need him or his ilk. Launch a national campaign to bring Paul Scholes back, or make it a priority in grass-roots to bring through more attacking-minded players. Paul Gascoigne is held up as the best English playmaker of the past 20 years. Surely we can bring through somebody even half as good in the next 20?

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