Der Kaiser’s criticisms of England are not without truth

Franz Beckenbauer has publicly lambasted Fabio Capello’s England for their performance against USA on Saturday. The double World Cup winner was very critical of England’s style and labelled them a ‘kick and rush’ team.

“What I saw from the English in their 1-1 draw against the USA had very little to do with football. It looked to me as if the English have gone backwards to the bad old times of kick and rush.”

The Mail online reported Beckenbauer’s criticisms today and, though a little harsh in his condemnation, his comments are not without truth. England have failed to play the kind of passing game that many of our European rivals employ. But Holland, Portugal, France and Italy have all performed poorly in their opening matches so why is criticism of England more warranted?

Well, Saturday’s match proved the team’s determination to bypass midfield build up play and resort to long balls into Heskey. Though Heskey handled himself well and won aerial balls (he even assisted Gerrard’s goal with a good diagonal pass) the problem was a glaring deficiency in patient build up play; Ledley King’s first pass was almost always a long one for Heskey. Even the goal wasn’t a product of more than two passes; a throw in was missed by Rooney and kindly fell to Heskey who in turn assisted for Steven Gerrard.

I genuinely found it a difficult match to watch – the World Cup hasn’t provided us with any interesting encounters yet, though – and find it equally perturbing that the punditry refuse to cite England’s painfully direct style as the primary stumbling block in success. Yet today, for instance, the Ivory Coast-Portugal encounter was dismissed as ‘dire’ (a fair indictment but no more dire than England-USA, which escapes the scathing wrath of so many commentators).

Heskey played very well but the team’s style is geared for his needs as opposed to being geared for Cole’s forward forays or our need for Rooney to be included as often as possible. The match proved that starving Rooney of the ball and stopping Cole’s overlapping runs definitely stunts England’s play; this may be an obvious point but its one that needs addressing and overcoming i.e. tactically reacting during the game to involve the two. Directness will never be criticised if it leads to chances, goals and victories. But this was not the case against the USA.

Beckenbauer also admonished England’s pool of youth and also the dearth of English nationals playing in the Premier League:

“The English are being punished for the fact that there are very few English players in the Premier League as clubs use better foreign players from all over the world.”

England’s squad is the oldest it has been, whilst Germany’s is the youngest. Loew has bled through six members of the 2009 U21 European championship winning team whilst England have resorted to experience over youth – albeit, in part, due to an inability to call on U21’s of a similar calibre. However the English U17 recently picked up the European crown so, with some faithful management and talent nurturing, we should see some talents emerge from that team.

In conclusion Beckenbauer can point a damning finger at England with reason, especially considering his nation’s showing against Australia. In a qualification period that saw us neither tested nor cohesive in victory it is probably far too late to be calling on changes to style. I have said before that I would much rather our national team play well and go out in the quarters than make a forgettable grinding run to the semi finals. The English directness remains a dangerous style because it relinquishes possession far too cheaply and relies on one man to be the fulcrum of attack – Emile Heskey.

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