Roy Hodgson is not the first England manager to err on the side of safety.
Until he finds a change of gear in his thinking, his team will continue to labour one-paced across the football landscape.
England did not look like a side capable of picking a lock until the arrival of Manchester United’s Danny Welbeck on the hour. What did he introduce? Pace, intent, attacking instinct. He demanded the ball and went past players.
Why give the team only half an hour to suppress the opposition when 90 minutes are available. Hodgson dipped his toe into the future with the inclusion of Welbeck’s United team-mate Tom Cleverley and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain of Arsenal in the starting line-up. The instincts of both are right but surrounded by the ancients they somehow return a performance less than the sum of their parts.
How much better, liberated, trusted would they feel were they surrounded by lads their own age instead of old boys to whom they feel they must doff their caps. Effectively Hodgson is telling them they can’t be trusted without their parents in attendance.
As a consequence they do not play with the freedom that is in their hearts and defer to the likes of Chelsea’s Frank Lampard and James Milner of Manchester City, both of whom are adept at turning a sprint into a marathon.
Neither affected the game positively or negatively. They just filled a space, offering comfort to the boss that the ball was in safe hands.
It was if going sideways, or worse, backwards is the name of the game. Hodgson was not helped by the curious performance of centre backs who look decent in possession for their clubs but on this stage were negative, scared to death to advance aggressively beyond the back line.
It was clear they were operating under instruction. Hodgson needs the likes of Joleon Lescot and Phil Jagielka to be dynamic in possession, as they are with Manchester City and Everton, if he is to get the most of his team offensively. I note the laments about English decline, the negative swirl around the diminishing pool of talent in a sea of foreign players. This is not what slowed England. It is conservative thinking.
Hodgson is half-way there. He just needs to commit fully to youth. Milner is a waste on the right, neither quick enough, nor tricky enough to influence the game positively. He is a safe pick that will run all night. But that is a choice determined by the desire not to lose rather than to win.
Welbeck and Chelsea’s Daniel Sturridge gave England fresh impetus. Pity Hodgson sacrificed the kids to get them on. Despite his certainty from the spot I would have preferred to see Lampard and Milner withdrawn. You never know Roy, had you gone that way from the start you might not have needed a penalty to save your bacon, if that is what it did.
There is plenty of gloom around this morning about the prospects of this England team and the state of the English game. How quickly the feelgood factor in British sport evaporates, sucked dry by the draining influence of a labouring England team.
It needn’t be that way Roy. But the future is neither Lampard’s nor Milner’s to shape, not on the wing that’s for sure.
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