It’s now a few days after England’s ‘Golden Generation’ once again flopped on the biggest stage of all and the brutal yet always seemingly inevitable reality defeat has just about sunk in. Every pundit from the professionals to the armchair versions have been furiously attempting to identify a reason for the limpest of failures from this supposedly most talented of teams.
For the most part, England’s early exit is still hugely baffling. The same group of players were flawless during the qualifying campaign, preparation was superb and most key players came in to the tournament fit and off the back of strong club seasons. Yet from start to finish it all went so wrong. The likes of Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard and John Terry who have spent the last few seasons dominating European Club football appeared to almost metamorphose in to pub players overnight.
It may sound strange given the comprehensive beating Fabio Capello’s men took at the hands of the Old Enemy on Sunday, but there are very few members of the current German side who you would swap for their English equivalent. Playmaker Mesut Ozil would certainly be in with a shout, but looking at other key German players like Phillip Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger they don’t stand out as in any way superior to the likes of Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard. Yet as a unit, the Germans were simply on another level. You would do well to find a single Algerian who would even come in to contention for the England squad let alone starting line up but this certainly wasn’t the impression anyone who watched the two nations fight out a 0-0 draw would have got.
Though the players themselves must take a fair share of the blame for this, the fact remains that it is the manager’s job to get the best out of his players and Capello spectacularly failed to do this. Though is hard to disagree in the main with his team selection or man management it seems to me that the Italian’s main undoing was his devotion to a very English institution, the 4-4-2.
In years to come when the words Jabulani and Vuvuzela conjure up only blank looks rather than heated debate the 2010 World Cup may well be remembered for the death of 4-4-2. None of the sides who have impressed at this tournament have employed the time honoured system yet England have stuck by it rigidly. Brazil, Holland, Germany and Spain all operate a variation of the 4-2-3-1 formation, the Spanish even forcing David Villa to take up a wide position such is their reluctance to play two up front. We might describe Argentina’s set up as more a fluid 4-3-3 with Lionel Messi and Carlos Tevez given freedom to roam.
England struggled throughout the tournament to contain attacking midfielders, Ozil being the prime example but Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan caused problems for the USA and even Robert Koren was a threat for Slovenia. With England’s midfield set out without anyone holding in front of the defence they failed to stamp any authority on midfield and continually struggled to keep possession. In attack, the 4-4-2 should benefit from the presence of two genuine wingers to supply balls in to the box which makes England’s decision to persist with it even more unfathomable given the lack of quality of the wide men at Capello’s disposal. Steven Gerrard and Joe Cole were shoehorned in to service on the left whilst Aaron Lennon disappointed on the right.
Perhaps this is the key to the failure of many players continual failure to replicate their club form in a white shirt (or even a ‘lucky’ red one). Rooney often leads the line alone for Manchester United and Gerrard operates in behind Fernando Torres at Liverpool. Attacking midfielders at all of the big Premier League clubs are there to do exactly that, with the security of having holding players in behind them but England repeatedly get this balance wrong at international level.
Whether England were ever good enough to win this World Cup is doubtful but I feel a move to a 4-2-3-1 would have given them a much better chance. From the squad that travelled to South Africa I would have liked to have seen England line up something like this way back on June 12th.
———- Johnson———–King———- Terry ———-Cole———-
Though it would not have necessarily have facilitated the best eleven players being on the pitch it would have had players in roles they were more comfortable with and, crucially, were clearly defined. Though no full blown battling midfielders made the squad, he sheer presence of two men sitting in front of the defence would have made it much more difficult for Ozil and co to run amok and would have made it easier for England to move the ball from defence to midfield (Rio Ferdinand’s absence being keenly felt in this regard). Whether Capello remains at the helm or not, this system simply must be given a chance if England are ever to succeed against the best teams and fulfil their undoubted potential.