For the first time in over a decade, England will go into an international tournament without the need to lean on one individual.
The past 10 years has seen the national side pin all its hopes on Wayne Rooney, irrespective of his form heading into each summer. The ‘Golden Generation’ had a fantastic group of players, yet a group with no true system to properly utilise them effectively. Nevertheless, it was Rooney who was seen as the flag bearer for that particular movement, one that has all but burnt out at this stage.
Besides an exhilarating title race, English football also has a template it can use to good effect. Much of the discussion earlier this season was focused on how best to use Rooney in the summer. The Manchester United forward is (or was) England’s best striker, but for his club, Rooney has clearly preferred a role a little deeper at No.10.
What Roy Hodgson has now is the kind of fortune that has been gifted to the current Spanish coach, Vicente Del Bosque. Luis Aragones’ victory with Spain at Euro 2008 came just before Pep Guardiola’s revolution at Barcelona, and it’s clear that at the time, the now famous tiki-taka template wasn’t in use.
Hodgson, like Del Bosque in the past, can call on the strongest system in the league to use going into the next international tournament. The talent available to Hodgson is well short of what the Spanish have, and the vast numbers available to De Bosque far outreach those who are on hand to answer England’s call ahead of the World Cup in Brazil. But the Liverpool system, enforced by Brendan Rodgers, is one that can get the best out of players who aren’t currently housed at Anfield. It relies on teamwork to mask individual shortcomings, especially at the back, while flair and speed, something England aren’t short of, builds the base of an incredibly effective attack.
The glaring problem is that Hodgson isn’t Rodgers. It requires a manager with a similar mindset to transfer a domestic team’s system onto the international stage, all the while filling in the gaps with players who are picked for their suitability for each role, not on them being a regular or favourite with the coach.
The midfield and attack should pick itself. Steven Gerrard has been fantastic in the pivot this season, and Hodgson would do well to use him in exactly the same role for England. Also important has been Jordan Henderson’s industry alongside the Liverpool captain. The former Sunderland midfielder does have goals and assists to his game too, meaning his isn’t someone who gets by solely on his willingness to work.
What Hodgson doesn’t have is a Coutinho, but there are ways to fill in the Brazilian’s role, either through the use of Jack Wilshere, who often plays well alongside Gerrard, or the potential ace card in Ross Barkley.
Where Hodgson has to be bold and forward-thinking is in not picking a past regular for the third in midfield. Quite clearly, players like Frank Lampard have no future with the national team and the Chelsea midfielder has no place at this summer’s World Cup. If anything, Lampard would only disrupt the system Hodgson should be adopting.
An important factor that Hodgson must acknowledge is that this Liverpool team do not rely on one individual in the way England have done with Rooney in the past. Of course, Liverpool probably wouldn’t be where they are now with the goal scoring exploits of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, but they also wouldn’t be where they are without their midfield.
Rooney’s position this summer should be decided based on where he can best complement the other players in the team. Suarez at Liverpool is equally or even more versatile than the United forward, but Rodgers isn’t held back by positional demands of his talisman.
There may be times when Rooney, able to create for others, would be better suited in a wide position of a front three. As it stands, Daniel Sturridge should be England’s starting centre-forward. He’s shown this season that he’s more than capable of playing the lone-striker role. But if England do decide to flood the midfield with a three, Rooney will need to be deployed on a flank.
Hodgson is certainly more conservative in his approach than Rodgers, but if he can’t make use of a system that would suit the majority of his options this summer, then questions should be asked about his suitability for the managerial position.
Hodgson will need to be bold and he’ll need to understand what is required of each player. But it would be extremely strange if he doesn’t pick up on the good that Rodgers has done at Liverpool and use it to his advantage this summer.