England: transition, tackles and touring

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I wasn’t too excited about the England v Norway game and for the first time in a long time I watched an England game with a degree of detachment. It seems like quite a few other England fans feel the same, because ticket sales were so low that Wembley Stadium wasn’t even half full, and they closed off the whole top tier. Obviously, this lack of excitement is a hangover from a massively disappointing World Cup. But the Norway was just as bad for me, and despite sitting down to watch it with low expectations, I was still disappointed. Just as in Brazil they struggled through the game without any real fight, creative ambition or passion for the shirt. I found myself thinking “Has anything changed since that game against Costa Rica?”… and here are my thoughts.

Nothing much has changed on the pitch

There were a few players that played to a decent level, Sterling particularly, Sturridge to a lesser degree, but their style of play made it hard for Rooney to play his normal game – they take his spaces and his selfless team play sees him operating in an almost supporting role. Just as at Manchester United, Rooney doesn’t get to play in his preferred position and his, and the team’s, effectiveness is reduced as a result. We shouldn’t allow that to happen to our best player. The retirement of Lampard and Gerrard has meant that England need to find a new midfield partnership, and it is looking like that’s going to be Jack Wilshere and Jordan Henderson. While Henderson’s form for Liverpool alongside Gerrard has really earned him a place in the England set-up, Jack Wilshere has been a shadow of the player who burst onto the scene a few years back and seems to be earning his call ups on reputation. He needed a big performance, but he didn’t deliver. His passing and forward runs were nowhere near where they should have been, and he seems to pull out of tackles too much for me. If you’re going to play two in midfield they both need to be able to get stuck in, and they both need to be able to create. Obviously some players will excel in one area or the other, but a basic level of aggression and willingness is a prerequisite in an England shirt. Only one of them had anything like that desire last night.

Things have changed off the pitch though

The insipid performance in Brazil has been blamed for the low attendance at the Wembley game, but I think that record low of 40,181 was indicative of something larger and more divisive in the game. For me, Team England has become an expensive, elitist and very much Southern club. You can’t expect people to shell out for travel down from Newcastle or Liverpool or Newcastle or Leeds, and then find the money  for a few beers, some dinner and a 60 quid ticket to watch the mediocrity what was on offer. Obviously, it’s never gonna happen due to the huge debts the FA built up building Wembley, but I think the England team should be a touring team – just like Germany or Spain. If that game had been at St. James or Goodison you would have had capacity crowds and an enthusiastic and vocal crowd. When a team is down and struggling for their best form, they need to the support of a crowd. They won’t ever get that at a half full Wembley.

The future is still quite bright though

With all that being said, any hope for excellence in England’s future will come from the abundance of talented youngsters knocking at Roy’s door. I was thrilled to see Everton’s John Stones handed a starting place, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Sterling, Lallana, Barkley, Shaw, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sturridge progress over the next few years. For me it’s essential we build the team around hungry youngsters who are willing to fight for the shirt and are capable of playing well within a chosen system, rather than indulging a team of talented individuals as has often seemed the case in the past.

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