When it comes to the England national team, it appears that some people are simply never satisfied. Like the ultimate party-poopers firing a pressure washer of cold water over celebrating fans, a small section of supporters preferred to point out that we very nearly toppled over to an incredibly mediocre Sweden side.
And if you take off your Welbeck tinted goggles, you’ll realize that they’re absolutely right. But there was one individual performance that has given more hope than any number of fluky Theo Walcott screamers. Step in, Andrew Thomas Carroll.
In the grand old scheme of things, Euro 2012 seems to be going an awful lot better for England, than what a lot of scaremongers had predicted. A solid four points from their opening two games, seems to have set Roy Hodgson’s men well on the path to qualification for the quarter finals, should they negotiate their way around Ukraine tomorrow night. And events in Group B serve as a timely reminder to all those who render England’s chances in this tournament as completely futile.
The Netherlands boast, almost unarguably, a better squad of talent than what Hodgson has to pick from. But Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder are all world-class footballers in a team of burgeoning quality, that ultimately finished bottom of their group without a single point. Whether you point to a lack of balance or team cohesion, it would appear that the age old saying still rings true: the best players don’t always make the best team.
For all the attacking gusto of Bert van Marwijk’s team, they simply could never seem to find a rhythm or a style that suited everyone on board. They didn’t seem to have a failsafe option- a natural way of playing that suited everyone in the team. England may not be the most fanciful team of footballers and they may well be five years behind their counterparts both technically and tactically, but they do have a blueprint. If they choose to use it, of course.
Even though it seems amazing this has only just become so prominent recently, England have a major deficiency in keeping the football and dictating the tempo. This isn’t anything new and it has been strikingly apparent now since the burning wreckage of the Steve McClaren reign. But despite what your footballing aristocrats might like to tell you, that doesn’t matter. The DNA of English football was not spliced in the efficiency of a German lab and it most definitely wasn’t implemented in the fields of Catalonia. The art of physicality, the directness of play and the domination of set pieces- these are the principles that we have been educating our footballing youth in, for near on 40 years. If we play to them, we might just find some success.
Every major footballing nation reverts back to its intrinsic footballing style during times of uncertainty and crisis. When faced with danger, how many times have we seen Italy step out and sit back, implementing a purely defensive, tactical philosophy? The Italians were highly unfancied coming into the 2006 World Cup in Germany off the back of the Calciopoli scandal. Marcello Lippi took them back to basics and an unconvincing start was converted into a tournament victory. Even the way Cesare Prandelli set the Italians up against the Spanish, with De Rossi as sweeper, exemplified the benefits of playing to a country’s strengths.
And for England, this shouldn’t be any different. Now is not the time to try and embrace some continental style discipline within the team. England’s best spells against Sweden came when we pressed the game and went direct to the front two. Andy Carroll’s superb header encapsulated this. We can’t try and ‘keep the ball better’, it doesn’t work like that. That’s something that will not be taught or influenced over the space of a tournament. Put the ball into the box and put it straight into Carroll- don’t try and play like a poor imitation of a Germany or Spain.
There are some serious selection dilemmas for Roy Hodgson to mull over this evening. Wayne Rooney will in all likeliness play and Danny Welbeck has had a superb couple of games- his touch and technique in holding the ball up and running the channels is going to be a valuable asset in years to come. But nobody is denying that the Manchester United youngster is a better footballer than Andy Carroll. It’s just that Carroll offers England the best chance of winning this tournament. And however deluded or absurdly optimistic that sounds, what’s the point in coming if you don’t try to win it?
If you asked any of this tournament’s leading defenders who they’d rather come up against over Welbeck or Carroll, you’d put your house on them saying Danny Welbeck, every time. Gerard Pique and Mats Hummels play against the Welbeck style of player every week domestically. That’s what their game is conditioned to play against, the technically astute man running the channels, having the ball played into feet. Not the domineering English number nine and the aerial chaos that comes with it. You can ridicule his domestic form all you want, but even Kevin Keegan rated him as one of the best headers of the ball he has ever seen in the game. And that aspect of the game is what England has to be playing to.
The fact that England need to seek an alternative game plan to actually going out and playing it on the deck against these sides, is testament to years of neglect at grassroots level. But these technical deficiencies aren’t going to get solved overnight. Andy Carroll is much like England- flawed to a certain degree, but always capable of causing damage if utilized correctly.
Sick of the sight of Andy Carroll? Or can you find a way to fit both Carroll, Welbeck and Rooney all in the same team? Tell me what you’d do, follow @samuel_antrobus on Twitter and get the discussion going.