London 2012: the future of English football. What comes to mind when we think about that phrase? The pragmatic defensiveness of Roy Hodgson's England in Italy. Jack Wilshere. Tom Cleverley. Certainly not the team who suffered the inevitable loss on penalties and failed to win a medal at the London 2012 Olympics.
Stuart Pearce's Team GB side limped to the draw after full time, and lost 5-4 because of a miss from Daniel Sturridge. However, Pearce's men have projected a good image for the development of British football in general. Team GB have played good possession football and have generally played to the strengths of their English and Welsh playing staff.
Pearce's Team GB was set up in a 4-2-3-1 system with passers in midfield, ball-playing defenders and attackers prepared to work hard. Joe Allen, the Welsh passer, ran games and was generally outstanding. He played more of an advanced role as the London 2012 Olympics wore on, ready to concede the defensive duties to Tom Cleverley, who provided some much needed graft to the midfield.
Aaron Ramsey and Ryan Giggs both played the attacking midfield role, although Ramsey did so to greater success.
The truth was that Giggs unbalanced the Team GB side. Ryan Giggs played more of a deep-lying midfield role for Manchester United and was uncomfortable playing as an out-and-out Number 10 in a 4-2-3-1, where he was supposed to produce mobility he could not provide. As a result, he kept dropping deep and destroyed the link between midfield and attack.
As a result, GB were predictable and stodgy. Pearce exacerbated the problem when playing Ramsey and Giggs together with Ramsey on the right. Team GB lost width as well as balance in the centre.
However, once this problem was rectified, Team GB became more fluid. Ramsey connected the team better than Giggs ever had. His movement allowed Cleverley to stand out in an attacking as well as a defensive sense. The team played some encouraging triangles in midfield, but had some less fortunate "hoofball" moments, where the team displayed a lack of ability to play through the centre and had to concentrate on balls out to the wing, This, as well as the team's defensive frailties, cost them against South Korea.
Pearce's team gave the public a blueprint for how England could go forward. By using English prospects, he played a possession-based style to some success. The team lacked much intelligence in a cohesive sense, as their marking and passing were sometimes off.
Their marking and defensive sense was also questionable. The fact remains that Pearce, who is considered a tactical Neanderthal, got his team to play fluid football and ended the tournament unbeaten in normal time.