England – learn the lessons and the future’s bright

So England travelled back from Brazil without the trophy, without a win and without too many people noticing. So where now and what can we learn from the nations that did the business.  Here’s a 5 point plan to future success:

  1. Play the English way:   English club sides have always played with a high tempo, pressing game that’s more blood and thunder than style and finesse.  Yet get those same players in an England shirt and you’ve never seen anything so limp in all your life.  Either they’re like rabbits caught in the headlights lumping the ball forward 40 yards to no-one in particular, or they’re retaining the ball at the back as if playing a 5 v 1 keep-ball training session.    Lumping the ball forward is no good because it makes a ball that was 100% yours into a 50:50 – which is plain daft.   Possession for the sake of possession is meaningless and retaining possession at the back achieves nothing other than annoying everyone watching.   Possession statistics only came into vogue because of the way Barcelona and Spain played, but goals win matches, not possession.   It’s not how much of the ball you have, it’s how you use it when you have it.  I’d much rather see a player lose the ball trying to do the right thing rather than retain it trying to do nothing.  One of the most obvious factors of success during the World Cup was tempo.  Teams doing well, played with a high tempo.  As soon as they had the ball, they looked to move it forward as quickly as possible  – not by lumping it – but by short sharp one touch football that didn’t give the opposition time to set up their defence.    We must play with a higher tempo – one touch football going forward.   We need to be brave and bold – where we’re not afraid to lose the ball if we’re trying the right thing.  It is a style of play that builds on what we see week in week out – fast,  attack committed football.   The sad thing is, that’s been the English way for years – look at Liverpool in the 70’s & 80’s and Utd in the 90’s & 00’s – that’s exactly how they played and that’s why they dominated but somewhere along the line we started to doubt ourselves and tried to become something we weren’t.
  2. Select a team, not individuals:  We have seen many experts talk about lack of players during the World Cup.   It’s an absolute nonsense.   There were more players at the World Cup playing their club football in England than any other league in the world – but only half played for the top clubs.  I mean would we really have considered any of the following small sample good enough for England – Giroud, Djourou, Schurrle, Mirallas, Coates, Fellaini, Sissoko, Cesar, Cameron, de Guzman, Lugano  – yet all of them played in the knockout stages.    We are obsessed with individual talent and we forget about the team.  We put a huge amount of pressure on individuals and never look at shape or what they’re being asked to do.   I bet all the discussion forums dissecting England’s plight are full of people picking their best players – who should be dropped and who should be brought in – but it’s like buying the ingredients to bake a cake but having recipe to put it all together and it completely misses the point.   The World Cup Final was billed as the world’s best team against the world’s best player – and you know the result.  The best teams win tournaments – not the best players.  We have to start to pick the best team and if that means better players are excluded for the good of the team then that’s the way it goes
  3. Be the fittest:   When England won the Rugby World Cup in 2003, Lawrence Dallaglio said one of the keys to victory was that they knew they were the fittest.  They knew stepping onto the field that no matter what the opposition threw at them, they’d be able to withstand it and come back for more, when their opponents would be out on their feet.  When tired bodies give way to tired minds they knew the opposition would start to make more mistakes than them.  Look at the work Dave Brailsford has done with cycling – analysing every single detail so that when the riders take to the track they know they are the fittest and fastest.   Their physical condition gave them confidence – a confidence that grew as the game or race progressed.    With the amount of money and expertise at our disposal there is no excuse for England players not being the fittest at each and every tournament we play in.     To have 6 players going down with cramp against Italy, and Stirling going down after just 62 minutes was little short of a disgrace.  Philip Neville said that Alex Ferguson would have been furious if that had happened to any of his players and rightly so.   To play our style of football England need to be the fittest team.
  4. The right management:   If we want the players to do the right thing then the management need to lead by example.  They need to be brave enough to pick the best team rather than the best players.  They need to be strong enough to stand up to journalists and supporters when things go wrong (and they will) by sticking to the plan and not giving in to pressure to select this player or that player.  They need to develop a style of play that suits our game rather than try to copy the Continentals.  They need to insist every detail in preparation is controlled and if players don’t have the focus to put in the hard work and turn up to each and every training camp then they don’t make the team – no matter who they are. It needs to be supportive rather than brutal but it just needs to be honest – “this is what we need to win the world cup and you’re either in or out”  Set the rules from the start, be brave and be bold.   One other point – ex-footballers are not often equipped to make good managers and it’s about time we started to see the FA introduce non playing managers who have the skills and potential to manager rather than the skills to play
  5. Go with expectation rather than hope:   The most successful nations expect to win.  They have no doubts that their preparations are the best, their tactics are the best and that their spirit will see them through.   Speaking with Jens Lehmann before the World Cup semi-final, he stated Germany would win the tournament – it wasn’t posturing, or bravado – it was belief.    Without that conviction, when the going gets tough you start to question yourself.   From the moment Greg Dyke mock-sliced his neck at the draw, England never believed they could win.   It was all “we’ll do our best”, “there are some great teams in this world cup”, “we’re looking really sharp in training”, “obviously we think we can win or what’s the point in being here” – but there was no conviction.   Put the foundations described above in place then tell the supporters, tell the journalists and most importantly tell the players we will win.

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