This weekend sees the Premier League taking yet another international break. England will host Chile and then Germany in two friendlies before the Premier League resumes towards the end of November.
Before the last round of internationals, Jack Wilshere was praised and vilified in equal measure for comments he made regarding who should be eligible to play for England, the Arsenal midfielder taking to Twitter to explain his comments. However, he also gave a view on what an English identity was and his view of how England plays, “We have to remember what we are. We are English. We tackle hard, are tough on the pitch and are hard to beat. We have great characters. You think of Spain and you think technical but you think of England and you think they are brave and they tackle hard. We have to remember that.”
Xabi Alonso famously commented that he didn’t view tackling as a skill but as a last resort and saw it worrying that many people found tackling to be a skill to be proud of. In many match day programmes, youth and reserve team players get interviewed and list tackling as one of their strengths.
In today’s internationals and Champions League matches the emphasis on technical ability overshadows all others. It’s no surprise that the teams that win the Champions League are gifted with technical players. Last year’s final between the German heavy weights of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund served up a final of fascinating technique with plenty of players operating at the peak of their powers.
Even when Chelsea were victors, with a style many saw as defensive, there was no denying the number of technical players within that Chelsea team.
But with today’s emphasis on technique and technical players, the emergence of the Number 10 as the key player in many teams’ formations has become more prominent. Does England need to unearth such a player in order to become competitive at International level?
Look around the top teams in the Premier League, the vast majority of teams are utilising a 4-2-3-1 formation. The player behind the striker, the number 10, the free role, in between the lines, the playmaker – whatever you want to call it, needs to be a certain type of player. A player who dictates the tempo and links the midfield with the attack. Coutinho, Kagawa, Ozil, Oscar, Mata, Eriksen the list goes on and these are the ones that play in the Premier League. Does England possess such a player? Maybe it is against the English mentality to play this way.
When Wilshire described tackling hard, fighting and battling on a pitch it could be seen in a negative light. Here is, perhaps, the nearest thing England has to the type of player that seems in abundance for other nations talking not of ball retention, possession and technique but of running harder, faster and tackling everything as hard as possible.
Greg Dyke recently revealed his plans for moving England on; he does not believe the World Cup can be won next year. He wants an overhaul of coaching methods so maybe England can produce a player that can unlock the tightest defence, receive the ball under pressure, thread passes through and have the touch and vision to dictate the attacking tempo of the whole team.
The nearest England have produced in recent years is Wayne Rooney but his style is nothing like the players mentioned earlier. He is a typical “English” forward, all action, hard running, dynamic and aggressive. There is no denying he is world class on his day but he perhaps lacks the class and finesse of what other teams want a number 10 to be.
In South America, the number 10 (Maradona anyone?) is revered like no other position. In Argentina the position is known as enganche, the hook who links the team together.
Many players have been brought to the Premier League, who have played this position on the continent, only to be banished out to the wing. The systems used by managers in the hustle and bustle of the English league fail to incorporate a formation that suitably finds a role for a traditional playmaker. Modric at Spurs was pushed out wide before becoming a more orthodox central midfielder, Coutinho has played wide left, Kagawa at Manchester United is another example.
So if English teams fail to utilise these players in this position, how will an English version ever evolve?
When the country wants England to compete at the very highest level, it is time to develop players who can play this role. If just one, one world class player, emerges who could play the playmaker role and be integrated into a team that works hard, is brave and all the other typical English traits then just maybe Greg Dyke’s target of victory in 2020 doesn’t seem so ridiculous after all.
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