Sven Goran Eriksson’s decision at the 2002 world cup to play Paul Scholes on the left side of midfield to accommodate two of the ‘golden generation’, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, was perhaps the first step in England’s decline towards solidity and structure.
Scholes subsequently retired citing his wish to concentrate on Manchester United, yet none would resent him for being a little peeved at his position in the formation. Even as recently as 2007, Fabio Capello has been unable to coax him out of retirement and Scholes refused to budge.
Under Mr Capello, there is no doubting that England have become more durable, with more flexion in the right places and look harder to break down than ever. But seven years of no fulfilment look set to become eight judging by the way they are likely to set up come the summer.
Power, pace, height, athleticism, will be present in the bucket loads, but intuition and the mida’s touch are not and even if they are, they are unlikely to be used to good effect. It appears that Lampard, Gerrard, and now Barry have a strangle hold on a starting place in South Africa while Joe Cole, the one and only genuine maverick in the midfield, is likely to play from the bench or worse still, start games flung out on the left.
There is no doubt that the wide men in the England team, most likely to be Gerrard and Cole, are capable of creating impact against premier league full-backs. But at the world cup, considering the chief talents of both players lie in more central exploits, do we really expect them to be giving the likes of Douglas Maicon and Sergio Ramos a hard time?
Chelsea under Ancelotti have realised that Cole is at his best when spear heading a diamond, or through the middle, where his ability to use both feet, allow him to spread his gold more widely, unhampered by proximity to the touchline on one side. England should do the same.
Capello may well have shown that he is willing to cast his rod far when making his squad selections, not just picking from the recognised top four. But the net he uses when fishing for players does not appear very wide although this is not his personal fault. The lack of variation at England’s top level is alarming and yes, we may have a number of superstars that can batter down a door but unfortunately there are too few capable of picking a lock....
Is it time for England to lower their expectations on athleticism in favour of a lesser known maverick. It’s the all too familiar quarter-final. There are fifteen minutes to go and a goal needed. Who would you rather throw on in the midfield against a stubborn Italian defence? Jenas, Carrick, Huddlestone? How about David Dunn....
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