Every country likes to think, to a certain degree, that it is pretty cool and fashionable. In fact, what could be cooler than Will and Kate, the Beatles and Jamie Redknapp? Out European counterparts, however, would probably think more fish and chips, socks and sandals and Darius Vassell, whenever our fine country is muttered. To them, we seem unfashionable. And in the footballing world, there isn’t anyone more unfashionable, than Grant Holt.
Indeed, the archetypal number nine seems to be something of an endangered species in European football. The memories of Alan Shearer running riot during Euro 96 feel like a lifetime ago and that is probably because they are. The art of 4-3-3, the role of the holding midfielder and the fledgling full-back are what win you trophies these days- just ask Pep Guardiola and Vicente del Bosque. So why is it, 16 years on from Shearer’s rough and tumble antics, we should consider reverting back to the traditional English centre-forward and give Grant Holt a ring this month?
Quite simply, if we can’t beat the best teams at their own game, then let’s play our own. Despite the best efforts of Carlsberg and Sports Direct to make us think otherwise, the vast majority of England fans know that this current crop of players, are not realistically good enough to win a major tournament. That’s not to say that amongst it, there isn’t some real quality and potential in there. But the brutal truth is that we are well behind Spain, Germany and perhaps even the Netherlands in the quality of our squad.
And fighting fire with fire at next months European Championships is just about as sensible as having a scuffle with a genuine inferno. If we were to go toe-to-toe with Spain and try and play them at their own game, we are going to get a whole lot more than just our fingers burnt.
Our wide players our inconsistent- Walcott and Young have blown hot and cold all year and Stuart Downing has seemingly done everything in his power to not make the cut. Gareth Barry may have won the title with City, but sadly Toure and Silva won’t be there to hide his glaring lack of mobility (Germany 2010 anyone?). Scott Parker is unproven at a major tournament and Ferdinand and Terry don’t seem too keen on on a three week summer holiday together. To top it all off, past Wayne Rooney, our attacking options look very weak indeed. Is this England squad really slick enough and mobile enough to play free flowing, possession based football? Does it strike you as a team that can devastate teams on the counter, a la Joachim Loew’s Germany?
In all honesty, you would pour cold water on England dominating territory or ripping through teams on the break, but there is more than one way to play football- step in, Mr. Grant Holt.
With Wayne Rooney missing for the first two group games, the stakes are incredibly high on Roy Hodgson finding a Plan B up front. Of course, Roy could opt for the 4-3-3. Playing Young, Welbeck and Sturridge as a front three could cause plenty of damage to opponents. But teams are prepared for that. France and Sweden have faced that set up numerous times during their qualifying campaigns and friendlies, so why not try something different? How many times will Phillipe Mexes or Miakel Lustig have dealt with someone like Grant Holt causing chaos in the penalty area? And yet, how many times do we see defenders, especially on the continent, deal with the likes of Daniel Sturridge et al? None of Young, Welbeck or Sturridge have set the world on fire this season and none really excelled in Europe either. But although Grant Holt might not even have a passport, he does have goals away at Anfield and the Emirates to his name. And he is the second highest English goal scorer this season, trailing only to Wayne Rooney.
Of course, some may be alarmed that we are considering calling up a 31-year-old, uncapped forward who has spent much of his career at lower-league level to play at a European Championships, and in some ways, they have good reason to be. European football has evolved and for whatever reason, despite producing a few world-class players here and there, English football hasn’t changed with it. We simply have not developed the quality needed to win a major tournament. But whilst developments such as St. Georges Park are going a long way to change that, we can only work with what we’ve got now.
It’s more a short-term fix than a long-term answer. But playing Grant Holt next to a Welbeck could be what makes the difference. A high-tempo, blistering, direct game is set within the DNA of English football and Holt has proved time and again this season, that there is no better man to play it. His touch might not be velvet and he’s not the most rapid player around, but his power and physicality has troubled some of the League’s finest defenders this season. He knows where the net is.
Inter Milan and Chelsea didn’t need 70% possession to beat Barcelona in recent seasons. In fact, when England beat Spain at Wembley last November, we barely even saw the ball. But how did we win? A header inside the box. It might not be pretty and it won’t win any admirers, but Grant Holt should go to Euro 2012. Who wants to be fashionable, anyway.
Think Holt would be lunacy? Tweet me @samuel_antrobus