A few days on from the 1-2 defeat to Italy in Manaus gives us the opportunity to look back on the performance with a growing sense of optimism about England’s future. It must now be about developing the progression that was evident despite defeat, though sometimes it is hard not to look back in anger about previous campaigns and missed chances.
Many of the younger players coming through have a lack of experience that can work in England’s favour in more ways than one. There is an excitement to get on the ball and unleash pace and trickery on opposing players by the likes of Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley, something particularly evident in the Liverpool player’s performance in the Brazilian jungle. Importantly though they are not regarded as stars on the world stage and this bodes well for a united team ethic. The emerging talents need each other and must believe in one another, in order to uncover any chance of international success.
Elements of the team will have irritated some supporters, and defeat in the opening game makes it a tough but certainly not impossible task to get out of the group. Like many others, I was uncertain of Hodgson’s decision to start with Welbeck on the right hand side of a 4-2-3-1 setup, but for long periods he worked tirelessly for the team and had decent moments going forward. Leighton Baines struggled for the most part but wasn’t helped by the lack of protection ahead of him, something the England manager is likely to address before Thursday’s encounter with Uruguay. It shows the rather fickle nature of English football when after one game there is a clamour to question Baines and nod towards the exclusion of the retired Ashley Cole. He not only lacked a partnership with Rooney on the left hand side, but faced a flexible world class team who were always going to trouble the Everton defender.
Gerrard’s career seems to have been full of winding roads and constant spotlight, but England’s ‘wonderwall’ had to settle for the less glorious role of screening the back four. There is no denying the 34 year old’s quality and honourable intentions, but with Henderson sitting in deep beside him, there appeared to be an anonymity to his performance that would perhaps encourage a smaller amount of football people and fans to question his right to start. His usual array of passes didn’t quite pay dividends in the role he was deployed in, and as a result it is only natural to consider how Wilshere, Lallana and to extents Milner could be used with Gerrard gone. Of course there are direct comparisons between players such as Sterling or Lallana and Wilshere or Henderson, but adapting players to different formations is becoming key at this level and Gerrard shouldn’t always be considered as the foundation of the side.
As per the jury is out on Rooney and his purpose as a starting player at major international tournaments. ‘All rise’ the media calls out to the public, only to deliver a mixed verdict on the Manchester United star. His dedication is hard to criticise and everyone is fully aware of what he has the ability to do. To his credit he doesn’t actively complain about his starting position, as many should be happy to perform in whatever position they are given for their country. Excuses are made by some that he is routinely used in the wrong areas, England management naturally refute this, while others are fed up with the whole saga and the forward’s failure to make his frequent chances count. What is certain is the growing pressure to unleash the next generation of players who aren’t tainted by previous failures, a strain that was at times etched over the frustrated face of the United talisman.
In the same instance it is important that England don’t go chasing waterfalls. Excitement over the young talent and reconstruction of the national side can have the unwanted effect of the hype surrounding the so called ‘golden generation’. It is noted that the universal problem of being an opinionated football supporter is that there’s no other way and all that you can do is watch them play.
England ‘gave it a go’ in Manaus and for once the wider public may feel listened to, but importantly they attacked intelligently and played some very good technical football. A small dose of the appreciation of wider opinion is always positive but it mustn’t and won’t become an overriding sentiment for managers.
Fabio Capello for all his faults was in all likelihood restricted from fully putting his philosophies across because of the tabloid pressure to carry out things the ‘English way’. Some players may have reacted to popular opinion in the wrong way and become distanced to appreciating what Capello, a proven world class manager, was trying to construct prior to and eventually during the 2010 World Cup. Jimmy Bullard though entitled to his opinions, recently gave an interview to the Daily Mail which highlighted the difficulties the Italian had with the professionalism of certain English players (especially Bullard). The likes of Sterling, Barkley, Wilshere, Henderson, Lallana and Shaw to name a few, all seem down to earth and hungry to learn so they can usurp the previous generation’s achievements.
BBC or ITV?
Some people are forever analysing the media, the media themselves write too much for my liking about… the media. On occasions it is frustrating to see endless comments and articles surrounding pundits and commentators etc. However I must concede it has been intriguing how much (in my humble opinion) better BBC’s coverage has been than ITV’s. This isn’t regarding the pointless avatars of players or the sleeker graphics and frequent stream of information.
Love him or hate him, for many (including myself) Adrian Chiles makes for painful viewing, particularly when he is surrounded by stars such as Cannavaro and Viera who could provide interesting and relevant insight. That said he does at least show true excitement and passion, occasionally this doesn’t come across (largely down to minor language barriers) from the ex Italy and French internationals. Instead he tends to ramble on and make everything a bit of a cringe worthy joke, so that by the time they get to speak they don’t know what they’re answering. It also helps that the BBC appear to have people everywhere covering more or less every issue.
Phil Neville’s commentator performance attracted endless negativity on twitter, though in his defence I didn’t actually notice him much, and that is sometimes a positive factor in comparison with falsely excited commentators who constantly reel off stats and seem to love the sound of their own voice to extreme lengths.
He undoubtedly has poor moments and can’t always best verbalise what he is trying to get across, but I have found Alan Shearer to be a far better analyst in the company of Rio Ferdinand and Thierry Henry. They have driven him to be more aware of his own performance and have also engaged him far better than pundits such as Mark Lawrenson or Alan Hansen. Henry’s thoughtful and concise points have been refreshing, unlike many he actually does his utmost to answer questions rather than dodge them and go off on a tangent. Ferdinand has also proved knowledgeable and easier to listen to than distanced ex-Liverpool pros, who have been hanging around studios for too long to fully understand what it’s like to be a player or manager today.