Time For England To Emulate Wales
I watched all of our teams play over the first match day this weekend and I have to say if England are going to copy or emulate any style to get them moving with the
kind of swagger and British style over the qualification process, then they only need look across the border to Wales and their first 10 minutes against Georgia. Tempo, pace, invention, skill, both collectively and individually which nearly broke Georgia before they had chance to break sweat.
England have an identity crisis. We’ve had commissions looking at the Spanish model, German model, any model in fact which can breathe new life into England international football, when in reality all we have to do is adhere to the old cliche and “play to our strengths”. So what are they? Do we really know what they are anymore? I don’t think we do, so let me be the one who reminds you!
When England dominated European football they did it by playing teams off the park with a high tempo. England were in first gear against Malta, yes Malta. So there’s one glaring miss from the “how to do” book of English football.
I’ve always maintained that because England is still viewed as a category A football nation, we must look at the others in that list and play like them? But I completely disagree.
When English players play with tempo, lots of pressing, aggression to win first and second balls, the reality is that it causes problems, however old fashioned or simple it may look. It works.
So if you can do that in the first 20 minutes of a game and break the spirit and will of the opponent as Wales did against Georgia, you get nice and warm, in tune with the game, your heart is beating at match tempo, and with the fire in your belly and aggression in your eyes you then go to work, you then play.
Tempo Number One
If you don’t believe its that simple then look at the three much lauded managers in the Premier League, Klopp, Pep and Poch. All of course bring a coaching and individual flair to their work but all put high tempo at number one in their priority list. Why? It unsettles teams, and that word unsettle was the foundation of English teams in Europe and good national teams for over 50 years.
It wasn’t always successful, that of course depends on a great crop of players with the individual thinking and skill to do something special, something extra ordinary on top to win and win well (Gareth Bale anyone?), but the foundation stone always remains the same, out work and out muscle the opponent and you’re half way there.
So when did we lose our way? Honestly I think its when England started to buy into the hype that suggested the Premier League was a superior product to other leagues, when the money proved that to players (in their own minds), and when the ability of clubs to spend, spend, spend, became so great that the English way of playing was diluted by so many coming from afar.
The Golden generation is proof of this. Go and look at each player who YOU would consider the main players of the golden generation and look at their individual awards, gong, pots and pans and medals. Then look at how they played for England.
The style in which their club played usually had a swagger, like Lampard’s Chelsea or Becks’ United, but when they put the white shirt of England on, they started to slow things down, look increasingly uncomfortable with the more cerebral style they had adopted and we all came away saying, “that was boring” more often than not.
That’s what happened against Malta folks, keep the ball rather than bullying, slow and cerebral rather than “these lot won’t score in a month of Sundays so lets attack attack attack”, caution rather than freedom. And it needs to change.
I think Gareth Southgate, if given the chance, will change it but it won’t be him or any manager alone unless by some miracle we were able to praise Klopp, Pep or Poch, three men with the character and belief to force change. It will take Gareth and a backroom staff, backed up by a culture of wanting to play without fear, to coach teams to play without fear and wherever players are in the country in whatever league from the Premier to League Two who will say “I’m not scared to play” is where we need to go.
Sometimes we can go round in circles looking for reasons and excuses and have root and branch reviews at the FA, amongst media and amongst fans, but what the Malta game showed was a betrayal of our football instinct, our football principles and our football history, and that ladies and gentlemen is to play fast, play strong and play without fear. This is something the dragons of Wales do, so lets watch them, doff our cap and remind ourselves of what we do best.