I guess the old saying is true, the more things change, the more they stay the same. This certainly was the case with England on Wednesday. We have several bright sparks, and several dull lights, all trying to light up Wembley, arrayed against the forces of William Wallace who seems to have borrowed their tactics from the Spartans at Thermopylae.
England duly won, and it would not be be an England victory without some hype. So take a deep breath people, here we go.
The first Lion to take centre stage was the Arsenal man, Jack Wilshere. Despite having two injury ravaged seasons, he is seen as the shining light in the next generation of English footballers. Deployed in a three man midfield where he dovetailed nicely with Steven 'Hail Mary' Gerrard and Tom 'average at everything' Cleverly. I say 'dovetailed', he ran the damn show. He passed accurately, beat players and looked almost serene as he moved around the pitch. Makes you lament at the years of Barry, Parker and countless others too terrible to mention. These were players selected purely on their work rate (more on this later) who seemed to play as if wearing lead boots or possessing two club feet. Anyway back to Jack.
He has a bravery about him which ,when combined with his aforementioned skills, allows him to slalom and shimmy his way past players. This is practically unheard of in England, where dribbling is constrained to the under twos. His low centre of gravity, balance and left foot mean he will be a mainstay (injuries not withstanding) for years to come.
When he plays for Arsenal this season, it will be interesting to see where Wilshere is deployed. If he is given license to roam behind a front man he will flourish. The problem is he needs to get past Santi Cazorla, a similar type of player ,who unfortunately for Wilshere, is more experienced and scores more goals. If he is deployed in a two at the base of the midfield, he will be constrained by defensive responsibility. His attacking impetus will be curbed by his need to harass and tackle back, something that he seems to relish, but will remove his dribbling and passing from the final third of the pitch.
Welbeck is a similar 'modern' player. He has a great touch, good mobility, impressive physical presence and a wacky haircut. The common criticism, that he does not score enough goals, is rendered false when considered he spends much of his time on the left. The header ,and the volley, on Wednesday shows he has the ability to score goals at any level. All this was looking good for England, two stars of the future putting the enemy of old to the sword.
And then on 67 minutes it was back to the future. Off went the ineffectual, unfit and lethargic Rooney, to be replaced by the man mountain that is Rickie Lambert and the 'workhorse' James Milner. Former Bristol Rovers man Lambert (lets not hold it against him, we all make mistakes) scored with his first touch in an England shirt. Good on him. The former factory worker has achieved his life long dream.
But where does that leave England?
Well it leaves them with a selection dilemma, sure to be stirred up by sections of the media. If Lambert is left out of the next England squad their will be headlines of 'Cruel Roy' and 'Lambert to the Slaughter'/ 'Silence of the Lamb' ,that last one being The Sun's contribution to this debate.
Well I say keep him in. Just for the sake of keeping a certain long haired lager lout out of the side....
In all seriousness, Lambert has one major tournament in him. He will be 32 for Rio and 34 for whatever comes next. He offers some skill, a nice free kick and a physical presence and he will not descend into a raving monster at the first drop of liquor. He is unlike to be a big time Charlie and will be a positive role model for the kids and younger players. However, his role will be limited. He will not play ahead of golden boy Rooney or Defoe and will probably be behind Welbeck and Wickham. Will Roy take 5 strikers to Rio? We shall have to wait and see, but the big man may have one last chapter in the fairytale.
On the topic of work rate, it is borderline criminal that England insist on picking players due to work rate alone. Chasing the ball down is an excellent team attribute but if you spend too long doing it, you become fatigued and preformance suffers. This is where keeping the ball comes in. Milner might be able to run around, but would you bet your mortgage on him delivering the match winning cross? I thought not.
Look at the top teams in both club and world football. Barcelona, Madrid, Man Utd, Spain, Brazil, Argentina and Germany all pick players to play football. Work rate will always been topped by a flair moment. Argentina deployed Di Maria, Higuain, Palacio and Lamela in the first 11 last week and had Banega,Lavezzi, Rodriguez and Cerro on the bench. This is of course forgetting, Tevez, Ageuro, Messi et al.
England need to lose this idea that the best team is the team who works hardest. Listen to managers talk after a close defeat. If I had a pound for every time I heard something along the lines of 'We deserved to win, we work harder' or 'the lads put in a shift today', I would not be hammering the keys on my computer, but would be sunning myself with some exotic beauties on a far flung island. The team might have put in a shift but if it is all wasted energy chasing the ball, then it is about as useful as Walter White's disguise.
Removing this legacy of Reformation England would free the players to play a more explosive brand of match winning football. Actually lets just blame Martin Luther and have done with it. It was his bloody Reformation that damned us to the likes of Milner and Downing in the first place.
This is 'time loop' that England need to get out of. You can change the players, the systems and the manager but until the DNA of the country changes we will still be stuck with effort over excellence.
So, all in all it's going to be more years of disappointment. We have some great players coming through and the usual selection of grafters, big names and random call ups. We will get through the group and the come up against a team who cannot be bullied at set pieces and we will go out. However with Jack the lad and a couple of others, we may make a fist of getting to the latter stages.
Got any more like him Arsene?
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