Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Roy’s realist revolution


It seems many watchers groaned their way through England's Euro 2012 opener last night; incredulous that we could cede so much territory to France; outraged that we managed just one shot on target to their 15; embarrassed by their slick one-touch passing and our leaden thwacks downfield.
Roy Hodgson
A scan of my Twitter feed during the game told a familiar story of frustration at England getting outclassed at a major tournament.
I have one question: have you actually watched any international football in the last two years?
England are not a great side. This should have been perfectly obvious, even before the squad succumbed to an injury plague so biblical even the goalkeeping coach has snapped his Achilles.
France, on the other hand, have not lost in more than 20 games. While not up to the standard of their Euro 2000-winning squad, they are improving rapidly.
When it comes to England, we willingly lobotomise ourselves, and enter a world in which the deciding factors in football matches are not skill and tactics, but whether our striker sings the national anthem or not.
A world where passion, commitment and lionheart spirit are enough to overcome superior opposition, even though decades of evidence tell us that is simply not the case.
So let's just remind ourselves: France are better than us. Ergo, a draw represents a good result.
Of course it would have been nice to play the football of the gods and sweep them aside, or even trade goals in a thrilling three-all.
But had we aimed for either of those things, we would have failed. How do I know? Because that's what we always do.
We go into tournaments embracing ludicrous expectations, and claim that we are a match for anyone. The players and management believe it, too. And when we get out on the pitch and discover we weren't quite as good as we anticipated, our confidence crumbles.
In Hodgson, we have a realist in charge, and he knows the most likely route to success.
Like Chelsea, England need to leave to one side moral qualms about parking the bus.
When you are not as good as your opponent, and you know it, you have two options. You can cast caution aside and go down swinging - but rest assured you will go down. Or you can grit your teeth, assemble the banks of four do your damnedest to stop the other team playing.
England's performance against France was not pretty, but it had some sort of coherence and clarity of purpose.
At the last World Cup, England played for group stage wins and got draws. This time they played for a draw and got one.
Hodgson even achieved the seemingly impossible - he got some tactical discipline out of Steven Gerrard. He might have come 10 years late, but maybe Hodgson is the man to get Gerrard and Frank Lampard to gel in the same midfield.
Now, there is an argument that a country with the population, participation level and money of England should not be happy to grind out draws with technically deficient players. And it is absolutely fair.
But that is a project for the next 10 or 20 years, not something Hodgson can fix overnight.
Improvements in the coaching and the National Football Centre at Burton might just help the next generation of England players.
Yet for the current crop, the die is cast. Players develop little beyond the age of 18. It is too late to arm James Milner with a dazzling array of flicks and tricks, or to implant football intelligence into Theo Walcott's brain.
Our players are what they are. You might argue about some fringe selections, but Hodgson has pretty much picked the best ones available.
Given the resources at his disposal, he has decided the best way to get results against the top sides is not to try and play like a top side.
As the chant goes, "We're s*** and we know we are."
Well, maybe limited rather than s***. Not such a catchy chant, though.

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