Tag Archives: Brazil

Space Cadet Hodgson steers his team of astronauts to the World Cup Finals

18 Oct

So, congratulations to Roy’s boys.  Obviously last night’s qualification is all just laying the groundwork for when Adnan Januzaj links up with the squad in 2018.   But let’s crack open the Babycham and enjoy a small celebration in the meantime anyway.  We’re off to Brazil!

Judging by the lack of dancing in the fountains of Trafalgar Square on Tuesday night, England fans appear to have taken the news in a measured stride.  Rightly so.  On a sheer numbers game alone, the fifth most populace nation in the European confederation really ought to be able to secure one of the thirteen berths on offer. 

Too Good has never been convinced that Roy Hodgson was a particularly good choice for England manager, but that’s for another day and another article.  Now would be an unkind and unjust time to shine a harsh light on that decision.  It’s touching that Hodgson has declared qualification as his proudest moment in football and he deserves praise for extracting an undefeated 10-game run through the qualifiers[1].

Poland had more than enough chances in the final group game to keep England fans entirely honest about their prospects in Brazil.  As many opportunities as England had at one end of the pitch, Robert Lewandowski could have had three goals at the other end in the first half hour alone.  The best of the bunch, whistling past Joe Hart’s post on 22 minutes, caught the palpably relieved Hodgson mouthing the words “f*** me” on camera.  While we all await Roy’s donation for the swear jar, I ought to confess I muttered something awfully similar.  It could have been bleak.

This was England’s last competitive game before tournament play begins next June.  There’s still quite a few things for Hodgson to mull over between now and then.  Too Good has a look under the bonnet of the Three Lions, takes a sharp intake of breath, and gives its tuppence on what’s running well and what needs a little tinkering with.

Strikers

Let’s start with something positive.  If Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge can stay fit, that’s a great front pairing.  Both are genuinely classy players.  In Rooney’s case, world class.  England can count their lucky stars that Scotland narrowly missed out on laying claim to Wazza as a youngster. He is looking composed and on form. 

While still no stranger to rage’s hypnotic grip, Rooney seems to have calmed a little in recent years.  Perhaps, with a certain amount of good fortune, he may manage only his second ever international tournament unfettered by suspension, red cards or injury.

Sturridge has parachuted into international football with all the same lethal composure he has been showing in domestic competition.  England’s best chances of prosperity this summer will come from hitching our wagons to these two gifted strikers.  Which is just as well, given that the options up front fall off a cliff after that.  Best not to even think about it.

Midfield

As odd as it sounds, the centre of midfield needs a bit of careful thought between now and June.  There’s plenty of players to choose from, just no obvious pairing/triumverate.  Since he’s made him captain, you have to assume Hodgson will play Steven Gerrard if fit.  He’ll need someone to do the running though, as Gerrard is no longer the cavalry charge on legs that he once was.  A 36 year old Frank Lampard is unlikely to be a starting option by the summer, although academics of the game postulate that he and Gerrard never really gelled together anyway. 

It’s difficult to see Gerrard and Jack Wilshere playing as a two, but then a three-pronged central midfield runs the risk of sacrificing Sturridge and leaving a one-man Rooney-shaped attack.  This cannot be allowed to happen.  It is not impossible that Wilshere may find himself being accommodated in a wide midfield position for country, as he has found himself for club recently.

Some of you are probably already mumbling “Michael Carrick” under your breath as you read this.  The Emperor’s New Carrick has his proponents, but I swear to God he’s just wandering through the streets naked.  People watch Carrick never attempt anything glamorous and praise this as “assured” and “steady”.  I’m fine with him being slow of foot but he’s slow of ball too, and that’s unforgiveable in his position.  He practically needs a signed letter from the opposition that they won’t trespass into his passing lane before he attempts a first-time pass. 

If a designated holder is required, Gareth Barry is a better option.  I occasionally amuse friends and acquaintances by referring to Gareth Barry as “one of the quickest players in England”.  The fact of the matter is that when it comes to recycling the play, when it comes to keeping the football hurtling around at pace, and when it comes to dragging opposition players out of position because a player is willing (and capable) of risking a fist-time ball, there are few to match Gareth Barry.  Bloody well watch him if you disagree.  The difference between he and Carrick is a sense of urgency.  Critical when you have to unlock an opposition constantly readjusting and reforming their defensive shape.

Lest we forget, despite being consigned to the international scrapheap, Barry has been a starting choice in a Premiership midfield much better than the one Michael Carrick plays in over the last two years.  His loan move to Everton this summer was a very clear indication that Barry wants to guarantee game-time this season to ensure his world cup selection chances aren’t unduly hampered. 

Maybe Hodgson can conjure a formation that requires neither of the two, but Barry should get the nod if one is deemed necessary.

Defence

Defence is probably the area which will engage Roy’s worry the least.  The centre-back pairing of Jagielka and Cahill looks solid enough and we have sufficient full-backs to populate the remaining 31 teams in the competition.  At right-back alone, any of Kyle Walker, Glenn Johnson, Micah Richards, Chris Smalling, and Phil Jones could more than adequately do the job.  Teddy Sheringham recently mooted that even Steven Gerrard could do a job thereThe suggestion is one rich with temptation.  England benefiting from Gerrard’s range of distribution and general ability, while freeing up space for other options in the centre of the park. 

Indeed, Gerrard played right-back during extra-time of a particularly memorable evening in Istanbul a little while ago.  He did an excellent job, too; making vital blocks and interceptions.  Such hare-brained tactical juggling wouldn’t be without historical precedence for England, either.  Against Germany in the semi-finals of Euro ’96, another roving, goal-scoring midfielder was deployed at right-back.  David Platt.  Keep an open mind, Roy.

Goalkeeper

Eyebrows have been raised in the direction of Head and Shoulders’ poster-boy, Joe Hart, in recent weeks.  A few less mistakes from the England’s number one would certainly be most welcome.  But let’s be absolutely frank about this, Hodgson better damn well hope Hart doesn’t pick up an injury between now and the end of the season.  The thought of an untried Fraser Forster, John Ruddy, Ben Foster or Jack Butland donning the gloves in Brazil is enough to put any England fan off their pre-game caipirinha.  In terms of sheer lack of a viable replacement, only Rooney is more indispensable than Hart.

Conclusion

A favourite game of mine since childhood has been to speculate on whether I will live to see the day England win a World Cup. 

Historically, given my comparative youth and England’s odds usually being somewhere in the region of 10 or 11-1 at World Cups, I have always given myself at least a 50% chance of seeing England hoist the trophy.  It was a comforting thought; knowing that I had a better-than-evens chance of seeing us do the business before I set sail for the great penalty box in the sky.    

As I become a little more advanced in years, and England’s odds begin to creep out[2], I’m now not so sure.  Assuming I have maybe fourteen more tournaments left in me, would I say I have a forty per cent chance of seeing it happen in my lifetime?  Thirty per cent?  Twenty?  You’d be a bullish punter to still put it at 50:50. 

Sadly, when August rolls around, I suspect I will be looking at even longer odds again. 

You never know, though…

—————————————————————————————————–

Roy’s preparations for the summer are already under way.


[1] Although, to keep this in context, Italy have now gone 40 games without losing a World Cup or European qualifier.

[2] Betfair currently has England at a decidedly limp 23/1 for the win in Brazil 2014.

Advertisements

How England can win the World Cup

2 Jun

Archimedes was soaking in the tub when he discovered displacement theory.  Isaac Newton took a breather under an apple tree.  “Let it Be” came to Paul McCartney in a dream.  I was cycling home from KFC when I had my Eureka moment.  Without wishing to over-egg the pudding, I think I might have just come up with an idea that will have Roy Hodgson’s boys winning world cups for years to come.

*England* play in the premiership.

Here me out.  Call them FC England (or England ‘A’, or Albion, it doesn’t matter).  FC England operate on a similar policy to Athletic Bilbao.  Except rather than selecting players only from the Basque region (which, admittedly, might be a better idea…), FC only pick players who are eligible to play for England. 

FC England will adopt the same style and formation as the national team.  The benefits of continuity in style of play are evident at La Masia.  Barcelona play the same formation in their Under 7’s team as they do with the big boys.  The transition is therefore seamless.  By extension, the Spanish national team also enjoy greater prosperity by playing a similar style of football to Barcelona.

England, currently, play nothing like a similar style or formation to any of the big premier league teams.  So let’s create one.  Rather than looking like eleven blokes who met in the car park 30 minutes before kick-off, England could play with a confidence and cohesion that has been forged over several seasons in the testing fires of the premier league.  A noble aim, but who can ensure such similarities in play will be implemented?  I’ll tell you who.  Roy Hodgson earns £3million per annum to coach a measly six competitive games a year.  Roy is a decent man and keen as mustard to see English football progress.  So I’m sure he’ll be delighted to up his gaffering responsibilities to a full league season.  If he will persist with this prehistoric 4-4-2 set-up in the national team, he shall have the benefit of implementing it week-in, week-out in the premiership.  Two banks of four may score low with the judges on degree of difficulty, but at least our execution will be spot on.

To be clear, Too Good isn’t suggesting some sort of state-sanctioned annexation of players.  No-one is going to be forced to play for the domestic Three Lions.  By the same token, though, turning out for them is hardly going to damage anyone’s chances of an international call-up.  Wizard of the wing, Adam Johnson, did nought but hurt his England opportunities by enjoying a couple of seasons on the comfortable and well-appointed substitute seats at the Etihad.  Poor old “Jinky” then hammered the final nail into his international coffin by joining Sunderland.  38 games a season under the watchful glare of Mr Hodgson is not exactly the worst way to guarantee AJ a seat on the plane for Brazil 2014.  If you’re lucky, Roy may even extoll some of the coaching titbits that made him a managerial legend in the footballing powerhouses of Norway and Switzerland.  Off the top of my head, James Milner, Ashley Young, Adam Johnson, Danny Rose, Ryan Bertram and a no-longer-first-choice-at-Chelsea John Terry would all benefit from signing up for the Albion All-stars.

The fanciful notion propounded herein would quickly fall foul of “castles in the sky” accusations were it not underpinned by sound logistics.  No great idea can survive on Jamie Milner alone.  There are issues of facilities and fan-base to consider.  For one thing, FC England need a ground to play on.  I’ve decided that Wembley will do very nicely for home games.  Not much by way of training facilities around there, though, unless Hodgson’s competence really is limited to a quick game of Head Tennis on Wembley Way.  What would be extremely useful is if there was some sort of national football centre with state-of-the-art facilities.  St George’s Park, you say?  £105million well spent.  We’ll take it.  Between the Burton development and Wembley, you have nigh on £1billion in footballing infrastructure. 

Unfortunately, Eileen Drewery is no longer on the payroll of the Football Association, so we can only use ordinary powers of speculation as to what kind of fan-base FC England would have.  I’d like to think that, on some level, we would all be fans.  It is, after all, England.  English players in club teams tend to enjoy a special place in the hearts of most fans (I would gladly pledge my first-born daughter to Micah Richards).  So a team full of Englishmen ought to similarly endear.

Football clubs used to be the sinews of the locality.  However, with the introduction of all of those Jonathan Overseas into English football, this is increasingly no longer the case.  I’m no protectionist; a premier league with players from all corners of the globe is a fantastic thing.  I also think that, contrary to the opinion of many, the influx has been very good for English players (would the national team really be any better if our top-flight contained no foreigners but was barely any higher in standard than the Championship?)  However, anyone whose main driver for supporting their local team used to be watching footballers from their area must no longer feel the same strength of bond.  Maybe a few of these fans could support FC England.  Since FC can be run on a not-for-profit basis, ticket prices would be cheaper, too.

Before you dismiss this idea as merely the mad ramblings of a recent premier league champion, think about this.  The definition of insanity is repeating the same thing and expecting different results.  And nobody got anywhere new by taking the path most travelled.  The current trajectory for the English national team is down, not up.  We’re getting worse; and dressing up as the Germans isn’t the answer.  Full marks to England for not ballsing it up quite as quickly as we suspected they would in the Euros, but drawing at home to Ireland and being bossed by Montenegro in our WC qualifying group is not what you would call optimal.  We need to take a different route. 

There was a time when World Cups and European Championships evoked feelings of hope and expectation.  Recent major tournaments have conjured images of 11 flustered men on the fringes of sunburn.  We don’t look like we are going to achieve anything by conventional methods.  So let’s give this a go.  And if that means only two teams go up from the Npower Championship this year, so be it.  Ian Holloway gets annoying over a whole season, anyway.  Consider it a patriotic sacrifice for glory to be brought on the nation.  It’s a small price to pay to watch an ageing John Terry, adorned head-to-toe in his clean and unspoilt kit, lift the world cup high above his head in the Maracana.

———————————————————-

There’s only one way this beautiful image will become a reality…