One of the more delicious aspects of the way the Euro 2008 qualifiers panned out has been the discussion of what England, who tend to assume they have a divine right to go to these things, will do next summer. Not to mention the other teams from these islands. I’m rather taken with this idea floating around of a Celtic championship, which would basically be the old Home Nations championship only with the ‘Republic’ taking the place of England.
This, of course, cuts little ice with the punters on talkSPORT, who aren’t interested in that sort of thing. They wouldn’t mind a fixture with Scotland, but couldn’t be bothered with the rest of these Mickey Mouse countries. No, they reckon England should be playing against countries like Italy, France or Brazil, who they imagine themselves to be in the same league as. You know what I think the Celts should do? Bring in teams from Brittany, Cornwall and the Isle of Man, just to wind them up even more.
And what of the new reign of Fabio? Well, what he has going for him is that he’s a tough old bird (having dropped both Beckham and Ronaldo at Real), very experienced and with his team of Italians around him. He’s also got that four-year contract as insurance against all the punters who expect him to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear immediately.
So will we see England turning its back on ugly football and trying its hand at the sort of technical game the Italians, Portuguese and even Croats and Romanians have prospered with? What would be nice would be a demonstrative break with the discredited regime of Svenism-McClarenism, whose weaknesses have been cruelly exposed.
One thing that needs to go overboard is the marriage to a rigid 4-4-2 formation, persisted with under pressure from dopey fans who reckon England can’t play in any fancy formations. Of course, since England has no real wingers and the midfield therefore tends to be a shambles of players doing whatever they want, in practice the 4-4-2 breaks down almost instantly a match starts.
Another thing that needs to be done is to have more than two tactics. England have persisted a very long time with the strategy of sticking a long ball up the front and hoping their strikers can do something with it. It’s a tactic that brought a lot of exceedingly ugly victories to Jackie Charlton’s Ireland, but it’s terrible to watch and not much use against technical teams. The other tactic is an over-reliance on the set-piece, and in particular the Beckham free kick. This will not cut the mustard.
I don’t pretend to be any great football strategist, but here are a few ideas Fabio might like to take under advisement.
Drop Beckham once and for all. I know he has sentimental value and he can still shift jerseys, but the man is basically heading into retirement, if he would only admit it. He can’t run any more, can only kick with one foot and almost never scores in open play. If you want a free kick specialist, fine, but to have a free kick specialist who can hardly do anything else is an extravagance.
Leave Lampard on the bench. When you’re selecting a team you have to think about balance. Lampard may be one of the four top English midfielders, but that shouldn’t guarantee him a spot in midfield. If you can’t get Lampard and Gerrard playing as a unit with well-defined roles – if in fact they’re getting in each other’s way – then you only play one of them.
Give Rooney something to do. What you have with Rooney is a naturally talented striker who maybe isn’t fast, but is creative. But he spends far too much time standing around with his two arms the one length. You could do a lot worse than, instead of trying to shoehorn him into a strategy, trying to build a strategy around him. And get the bloody midfield to feed him. Only not KFC, he looks like he’s had enough of those.