The tournament will be looked at as a watershed for English football I think. In recent tournaments we have tried to play European teams at their own game and failed. We have appeared lacking in confidence and bickering has been rife in the camp. Discipline has been a significant issue.
This time round Roy Hodgson came in with a brief to play the English game – a rigid 4-4-2 with a centre forward and one striker playing off them. Full backs have not been wingbacks and wingers have been given defensive duties. The central two midfielders have been ball winners. The impact has been that we have been essentially a defensive team but we have created chances. We have faded late in the game and not been able to keep the ball.
What appears to be the obvious conclusion is that fitness levels in the game have increased enormously over the last twenty years with more science involved and more flexible positioning. With the pace, the classic English game of pressing, hustle and bustle can’t be sustained for 90 minutes but works well for 45 minutes. The continental game of passing is played out of necessity now as much as than choice – it’s like in basketball where you can’t keep a full court press going the whole game but can use it to have a short-term impact.
Euro 2012 has shown us once and for all that we have to change our game but also that we have had an intriguing glimpse of an exciting way forward:
- Roy Hodgson – crystal clear in his game plan and strong in his decision-making. Made up his mind to leave Rio behind and stuck to it. Had a very clear formation and picked players to make it work. In particular he used club combinations to good effect (Rooney/Welbeck, Oxlade-Chamberlain/Walcott, Terry/Cole). The option with defensive and attacking wingers, big centre forward or pace was probably the best impact substitution strategy of any team at the tournament. There were also a lot of players being given a role to perform and doing it well – James Milner received lots of criticism and demands to substitute him for Walcott but he played a key role. Roy Hodgson appears to have had a plan, communicated it well to the players and got them to stick to it.
- Defence – I really like defenders defending. There was no charging overlaps and strolling central defenders. As a result we absorbed a lot of pressure but did a good job most of the time. John Terry and Joleon Lescott had good tournaments. The fullbacks were OK but Glen Johnson in particular sometimes struggled with his defensive duties. There were long periods of time where the defence allowed oppositions to play the ball back and forth in front of them around the half way line but they kept their shape.
- Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker were excellent throughout. Exhausted at the end of each game but led the team and created chances.
- Pass and move was poor. They were regularly hustled off the ball. I don’t think there was a single player who shone in this area. As a result they were running around chasing for long periods and they ran out of energy. It highlights that, when we talk about Premiership teams, the top ones are playing in a style driven by the foreign players. There are very few English midfielders and attackers capable of receiving the ball at pace and at different heights and angles. One area where the European teams have improved enormously is ball winning and this is being exploited. This problem is a fundamental and goes right back to coaching school players – we need to go back to basics on this.
- England fans are fickle. We had low expectations going into the tournament and the team was hit by injuries but we did fall into the same pattern. Although England were playing basically a defensive and counterattacking formation which worked (let’s face it we were unbeaten in normal play throughout the tournament) there were continued calls to drop Milner and bring on Oxlade-Chamberlain and Walcott.
- We lost a game we could have won and its going to be a long time before we can win a tournament.