On Wednesday night England edged past a side ranked 36 places below them in the rankings, thanks to a late header from a 31-year-old journeyman striker.
As thrilling as that sounds this was hardly the sort of result for England to take any real pride in, as once again the national side failed to gel into a cohesive unit. Though factors like world ranking become more irrelevant than usual in such ancient rivalries, it remains a fact that an England side comprising of eight players from last season’s Premier League top five should expect to comfortably overturn a side dominated by players from the lower reaches of England’s top flight and further afield (though Kenny Miller must surely have felt his trip from Vancouver to be worth it after he curled in a delightful goal for Scotland’s second).
England, though, seem to have finally stumbled upon the consistency that fans have long been craving; in that they now consistently give the ball away. Though the sort of possession football that has taken Spain to the zenith of global football has never been in the English footballing DNA, the ‘long-ballism’ of their victory over Scotland was the sort of display that seemed archaic even in the 1990s.
Over a decade after England’s first continental coach took charge of the national side, England are still far apart from the continental norm.
After Scotland took the lead England reacted in much the same way as fans have become accustomed to; playing long balls and then bringing on the big man (Lambert) to win them.
Of course this was successful against Scotland, but if Roy Hodgson thinks surrendering possession and relying on a Steven Gerrard free-kick will bring them success in a South American World Cup then he is sorely mistaken.
Though undoubtedly a great player, Gerrard epitomises the English footballing malaise. Perhaps he was stung by Andrea Pirlo out-passing the entire England midfield at Euro 2012, but Gerrard’s attempts at raking cross-field balls more often than not gave Walcott, Rooney and Welbeck little to fight for or rolled straight on through to the keeper.
Given space the captain did not use the ball efficiently and lacked the instincts (or stamina) to drive forward or play an incisive ball in the same way as his more youthful colleagues in the centre of the park.
If Jack Wilshere is England’s future, and on the basis of Wednesday that appears more true than ever, Gerrard is undoubtedly the past. One of only a few remaining members of the ‘golden generation’ still starting under Hodgson, he crystallises the huge expectation and crushing disappointment that generation brought with them.
The golden generation represent an archaic romanticism where their greatest feats were not so much great performances as dramatic moments. Gerrard in particular was most notable for those spectacular last minute goals in the Champions League and FA Cup, saving his team from trouble he often could have averted, had he been more active over the 90 minutes.
Rafa Benitez probably best understood Gerrard’s skill set when he played him off a front man during the 2008/09 season. Gerrard lacked, and still lacks, the discipline and patience to be the top class midfielder he had the potential to become. His playing style is too direct and, though this has suited the often kamikaze nature of the Premier League, he will continue to get found out by the best teams and hold England back.
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