England Can Win Trophies If They Play The English way
Before we look at a stunning England comeback in Berlin on Saturday, it’s important to put the result and both nations’ psyche on the international stage in context.
England have played in 1 International final. Germany 14. England traditionally do well in friendlies but not at tournaments, Germany mostly the opposite. The Republic of Ireland, always competitive, always tenacious, always struggling with resources beat Germany in a qualification game recently.
Now the sobering reality is out of the way, let’s take a look in-depth at the England performance, what it means and why this pundit in particular is quietly excited for the future.
Let’s be honest, Germany were in 4th gear for most, if not all of the game and anyone going to play the world champions on their own turf is going to be up for it, or at least should be so we automatically have a mental difference between the two sides approaching the game.
However I’m a huge advocate of playing high quality opposition because what you may sometimes lack in intensity, you more than make up for facing the likes of Kroos, Ozil and co. and their undoubted quality on the ball. And even at 50% an unerring ability to strike fast and strike with quality, something a Wembley friendly against a Slovenia or Austria, with respect to both nations, simply wouldn’t bring.
2-0 up and not playing well shows that when the Euros come, only a fool would write off the World Champions.
Imagine them with their first 11 out, hungry and that 2-0 could quite easily have been 3 or 4, and at that score, there is no great escape.
England’s response though was superb. Character, tenacity and belief in abundance shows us that although this side may lack some of the individual quality of sides in years gone by, there seems to be a unity and a cohesion that always escaped the golden generation for example.
The Pressing Myth
I believe this about turn from 3 or 4 years ago when we were genuinely fearful that the Premier League juggernaut would mean our beloved national team having to dig deep into the Championship or even League One for players to call up is because of a fashion change in the world’s most popular league.
If you’re a teenager or in your early 20’s, pressing high and often is a product of the Barca, Klopp or Poch philosophy. Players moulded young, sent out onto the pitch with boundless enthusiasm, huge engines and capacity for work and a simple ‘press high, press often’ approach which has seen all three of those entities have relative success.
For the Dads though, the oldies of my age and beyond, Ian Rush defending from the front, likewise Bill Nicholson’s fantastic Spurs side and virtually every one of our most successful domestic and European sides of the 70’s and 80’s which won the European Cup in 7 of 8 seasons, did this as a matter of second nature. Hustle, press, close down, work hard, force the opponents into mistakes was the English way. So I’m sorry kids, do your homework and look back at where Poch, Barca and Klopp all found their pressing game from, it was England.
So in the Premier League this season, Spurs have had success with this, and there’s no coincidence that the English players who’ve mostly been the stars of the show at White Hart Lane this season have taken to it the best, it’s what we know in England, it’s what the fans expect, it’s what has driven the very best English teams from year dot – namely hard work and graft, traits which run through our national psyche like a cuppa or the Queen. We distrust flair, but bloody hell, we can all work hard!
Leicester, Watford, Bournemouth have all added this simple but effective trait into their DNA and all have enjoyed some great results, stayed up and in Leicester’s case, like Spurs who have used it so well, they are challenging for the title. I’ve said for years that a side that works hard in a hard working league will always have a better chance of the title than a technical but leadership-lacking side, and this season it will be proven again.
So back to England, we’ve got our basic platform, work. So what next? The answer is character. Another stick that Arsenal, the most Spanish side in the Premier League, have been beaten with is that they lack personality, balls, spine. Whether this is fair or not, that’s been the perception.
Yet with Vardy, Kane, Alli, Dier and some of the new England crop, they BELIEVE they can outfight teams.
They BELIEVE that if they go 1-0 down at the KP or Lane that their togetherness and strength as a group rather than individuals will see them through, and that was translated perfectly to the Olympiastadion on Saturday. They simply didn’t know when they were beaten. Another English trait.
The English Way
The Premier League is a melting pot of nations, styles, cultures and that for me has hurt the national team for way too long. We’ve talked about copying the Ajax way, the Barca way, the Spanish way and the German way, but you know what, we won the World Cup and 90% of the European trophies we’ve amassed by playing the ENGLISH WAY, but we forgot what it was.
We’ve been laughed at as dinosaurs by those from abroad, too direct, too much hustle, not enough brain and so on, but the last 20 minutes in Berlin showed that when played properly, aggression, tenacity, quick closing down of the ball, natural width, 2 strikers playing in tandem all coming together in unison is a bloody nightmare to defend against. It’s very easy on the eye and is the antithesis of “lump it to the big man” which we are told is our only strength.
I didn’t see Kane or Vardy’s goal coming from route one.
I saw great technique on the back of the Germans being pressed and pestered until they folded.
So to every Dad and their boy or girl who play, be proud of our footballing heritage, by all means copy the best in the world, I tried to do it myself as a kid watching Van Basten and Platini, but I also know that when I was white hot on the pitch, it came from technique allied by running at pace with the ball, good physical strength and a relentless tempo which others couldn’t live with.
So when you go to coaching sessions and learn lots of different systems, positions, complications and styles, remember this, when English international and club sides play to their strengths and stay faithful to those strengths, we won trophies, lots of them.
This is the most English team I’ve seen in years, with the added benefit of playing in a global league of styles which means they shouldn’t be caught out by any system in France.
Let’s play our way, with honesty and with those fantastic English qualities, and who knows, we may just have a national side to be proud of for the years to come.