So Much for the Three Lions

Steven Gerrard of England crouches alone dejected at the final whistle..FIFA World Cup 2010 Round of 16..Germany v England..27th June, 2010.
I now have a new all-time favorite soccer quote.  After the English team drew against the USA and Algeria, barely beat Slovenia and was torn open and summarily dismissed from the World Cup by Germany, BBC commentator Chris Waddle had this observation:

“England will never win the World Cup while playing a 4-4-2.”

Ah, yes.  Were it not for the choice of formation, in a couple of weeks Captain Steven Gerard and the rest of his teammates would have been ascending the steps of Buckingham Palace to present their great trophy to the Queen.  Instead, for want of a fifth mid-fielder, they are returning home in ignominy.  Mr. Waddle, the observation you have drawn from England’s performance is a master class in missing the point.

Please allow me to offer a slightly different take on the entire situation.  My interpretation is this:

“England will never win the World Cup until it produces much better players.”

Put another way, given the current crop of players they have, the formation England would need to beat Germany’s 4-4-2 is probably a 7-7-5.

England is suffering not from a lack of tactical savvy but a lack of footballing skill.  The nation, and the domestic league that the nation worships, are having a tough time producing great international footballing talent, and any blind man could have seen this year’s disaster coming.

In a competition like the World Cup, the lesser teams prepare by organizing a compact defense with the hope of a swift counter-attack strike.  Teams like Algeria practice and prepare this exclusively.  That is why the pathetic Algerian team that was both aggressive and inept in African Cup of Nations final against Egypt suddenly becomes hard to bust up in the World Cup.

Conversely, the better teams with outstanding back-lines and graceful midfielders never stretch themselves – they possess the ball, probe and retreat, and look to create a small opening and exploit it into a coordinated attack.  Ball control and calmness in possession are prized above all else.

England has neither the ball skills to play like a better team nor the humility to play like a lesser one.

International football is as different from the English Premier League as it is from the National Football League.  Truthfully, I am a fan of the English Premiere League, but with its breakneck pace and lack of interest in slow, patient tactical play, the skills to become an EPL star are almost the exact opposite of the skills needed to succeed internationally.  A league that values raw aggression over control and vision will never prepare its players for a contest like the World Cup.  With the entire English team all playing in the EPL, it is inevitable that the Premier League sharks transform into World Cup guppies.

So how can England improve?  A different manager will have little impact.  England needs a different philosophy.  Players need to be taught ball control skills from the outset and be willing to forsake the EPL to play in leagues that value these attributes.

Is any of that likely?  Not while all the money and acclaim for English players is available from playing a hard charging game in England.  As the golden generation of Terry, Lampard, Gerrard and Beckham head to pasture with nothing to show for their international efforts, it would be foolish to expect massive improvements in England’s future.

Sorry Mr. Waddle, but changing formations has the definite ring of shuffling the deckchairs.  What you really need is to change your football culture.

22 thoughts on “So Much for the Three Lions”

  1. Couldn’t agree more.

    Take the US, for example. Why, when down 1-2 to Ghana, the team kept trying long balls into the opponent’s box, instead of putting some real pressure on the Africans by having more posession of the ball? The result: whenever a long ball attempt failed, Ghana could spend more time with the ball.

    See, it’s not about formations. It’s about mentality.

    England has NEVER changed its style/mentality. And football has been reinvented many times since its invention (to name a few, by Uruguay in the 1920’s, by Brazil in the 1950’s and 1960’s, by the Dutch in the 1970’s). And it sems no English manager wants to realize the need for a change.

    I think England has talented players, but they’re prisioners to the English approach.

  2. eric asshole chris waddle has played the game at the highest level a god in the football hotbed of marseille spurs etc,i think id rather listen to his opinion than the likes of u and im irish btw before u pipe up

  3. I’ve been an occasional reader of this website for a couple of months now. I can’t remember how I first came accross this website, but I remember when I first started reading it, it seemed to have relatively intelligent articles. But recently it seems to have just descended into the lowest level of troll-baiting, illogical rants and complete football naivity.

    This is a perfect example. For a start, I don’t think for one moment that Waddle was making the excuse that the 4-4-2 is the ONLY reason England cannot win the World Cup. But it is certainly one of the reasons why this current England squad have struggled against supposedly “lesser” teams. Look around the other squads- do you think it’s a coincidence that NONE of the other teams apart from England and the US (as far as I know) play 4-4-2?? It’s an outdated system. When it comes up against a 4-2-3-1, a 4-3-3 or a 3-5-2 or whatever, it has serious problems. It’s ridiculously naive to think this wasn’t a contributing factor. That’s why Germany ALWAYS seemed like they had an extra man.

    If you don’t believe me that the formation can have a significant impact, then why do you think in the USA games, Bradley started with a 4-4-2, got outplayed, and then switched to something else after half time and improved in the second half?? The only exception to this was in the Eng-USA game, when Bradley didn’t need to change because the line-ups were both matched in the same system, and he had no reason to change anything.

    What’s more is that the 4-4-2 does not even suit England’s current crop of players – none of the the top clubs in the premier league play a 4-4-2.

    You’re right that England has other problems, but to say it’s simply a lack of skill is naive. If Gerrard, Lampard etc are such bad players that they only look good because of the help of their foreign team-mates, then don’t you think Abramovich would go out and splash the cash on someone better than Lampard? Don’t you think cash-strapped Liverpool would cash-in on Gerrard, who I’m sure would be of interest to Man City or Jose Mourinho? And if you think these guys are only good in domestic football, then how come English clubs such consistent performers in the Champions League each year (where they come accross all these vaunted foreign styles of play)?

    England’s main problem isn’t that it’s top-level players simply aren’t skillful enough. The problem is that the depth of it’s talent pool is not large enough, and hence there is absolutely no-one to play in key positions. The root cause is the same (the lack of good coaching), but to simply say England don’t have skillful players is just pure troll-baiting.

    1. Dave, no troll baiting is done on purpose. We’re just writing articles that are opinionated and are what we believe in. I don’t expect you or the other readers to agree all the time. If you agreed with every single article we wrote, the site would be a boring place indeed.

      Keep the faith!

      The Gaffer

      1. Gaffer, thanks for the response. I made a similar comment on another thread, but I don’t want to sound like an internet A-hole who offers nothing but criticism of someone else’s opinions (especially since it’s not like I write any articles of my own for public discussion). So I’ll try and be a bit more constructive – in this case, I think the post is just badly thought out. It’s basically taken a single out-of-context quote from Waddle, and implied that Waddle thinks that playing a 4-4-2 is the sole difference between England winning the world cup or crashing out early. I’m sure this was not what Waddle was saying. And it comes accross as naive to suggest that no change of tactics could have resulted in a different outcome, because England’s players are somehow inherently inferior accross the board.

        Also, I take back what I said about this website going downhill recently. I reviewed some older postings, and I realized that this kind of thing is par for the course. Maybe the “troll-baiting” was too strong a term, but a lot of the articles seem to be almost parodies of opinion-based writing. It seems like the most ludicrous articles are written (perhaps with tongue in cheek) to drive up site traffic amongst dumb people (eg. “7 ways to improve the world cup”, “5 reasons Brazil won’t win the world cup and England will”) etc etc.

        1. Dave, thanks. While some of the posts may seem like troll-baiting, they’re definitely not. What may look like troll-baiting is merely good search engine optimization where we try to write headlines that are worth clicking on. “7 Ways to Improve the World Cup” is far more interesting that something vague/boring such as “World Cup Is In Need Of Changes,” as one hypothetical example.

          I didn’t write the piece about the Three Lions, so I’ll allow Eric to defend himself. I may not necessarily agree with all opinions posted on EPL Talk, and vice-versa, but I do enjoy open and constructive debate.

          The Gaffer

          1. My purpose in writing these articles is not to wind anyone up. I have been very consistent in my take on the English team in a series of postings that go back over six months. I have been laying out my reasons why England is a stock to be shorted, and this article was meant to sum up and conclude those beliefs one last time. As for the Waddle quote taken out of context- it was not. I am travelling in Europe and had to “watch” the game on BBC updates on my iPhone. That Waddle quote was a single post that the BBC put up on it’s site. It stands on it’s own.

          2. Eric, thanks for the response. You may not have taken the quote “out of context” as such, since the quote was used on the BBC website without any context.

            But when you mockingly say “Ah, yes. Were it not for the choice of formation, in a couple of weeks Captain Steven Gerard and the rest of his teammates would have been ascending the steps of Buckingham Palace to present their great trophy to the Queen”, I do think you make the mistake of assuming that Waddle was implying it was the ONLY reason England won’t win the world cup.

            Waddle’s point was undoubtedly a valid one. England would never have won the world cup with a 4-4-2. If they’d played some other formation, their chances would still have been marginal, but they would have been better than with a 4-4-2. In fact I’ll stick my neck out and predict that NO-ONE will win this world cup by playing a 4-4-2.

    2. No hes right the English need to change their entire culture.. it makes perfect sense.

      I’ve realised by now that The Gaffer will sell his own soul for a few extra comments. He is ruining whats left of this blog every day.

      I’m already looking through the alternative blogs to get away from this place.

      If you look at websites like they do things a lot better. They have a few different sections but they provide videos, they do a live score utility which updates as the match goes along.

      When they do opinion pieces(and they are extremely rare) they are always open ended ie instead of “this team is shit” they usually have pretty constructive debates with the likes of “So what do you guys think England could do to improve”.

      There are a few websites that will not sell their soul or just let anybody write. When a writer gets a lot of criticism thats a pretty obvious thing to look at and take notice. When nothing is done about it people start leaving eventually.

      Most football blogs don’t capitalise on anti-British sentiments to maximise traffic. Most blogs don’t hire writers who don’t know a thing about football.

      Check out how a real blog does World Cup analysis:

      No insults on British culture or anything he just talks about tactics and gives the key points. He also makes good use of images to give you an idea about how Germany exploited England etc.

      EPLTalk is good for some things but this summer has just been used as an opportunity to get you to go to bars or click on ads and fight amongst each other. Zonalmarking is a very professional blog and covers a lot of ground so if you want good analysis its hard to beat it.

      Also could try watching Match of the Day.

      1. I agree, Zonal Marking is an awesome site. It is probably unique in it’s level of tactical analysis, and despite having been an avid football follower since the age of ten (I’m now nearly 30), but that website has taught me things about football I’d never even thought about until the last few months.

        It’s unfair to compare it to this website though, as EPL talk isn’t aiming for the same style or content. But it is annoying that EPL talk seems to feature the most outlandish articles and strawman arguments, just to generate debate between morons.

      2. Tyson, no need to do low blows. And the site has not sold it’s soul. We keep on writing what we believe. And quite often you disagree with us. But that’s healthy. Still, no need for cheap shots.

        After more than 5 years of blood, sweat and tears – and more than 5,000 articles published, all of them free – I think it’s only fair for me to be able to help pay the bills by being able to promote official World Cup viewing parties for EPL Talk at a local sports bar. If you don’t like the posts, skip them.

        The Gaffer

  4. I think the cultural change will bring formation changes along with it. That’s what galls me about the US, Bradley needed 45 minutes in every match to figure out what was going on. Unforgivable. He started the second half with Dempsey up front, got Altidore’s lazy ass out of the way and they had the game tied in short order. His insistence on Clark at the start cost him a goal and a substitution. That was the difference.
    I think for England, it’s about the players as Eric said.

  5. if we are going to take lessons on football from a yank like eric a we must stop playing the game. we can learn nothing from a yank like you. we had a bad world cup thanks to an italian coach. you won the group. good for you. but when have you ever produced players like moore, shilton,linekar, gerrard, rooney, lampard, waddle, charlton, hurst, mathews. when? yanks cannot understand football. germany is a farce. a turk ozil. pole podolski and klose. tunisian kedara. brazilian cacau. africa boateng. who are the good germans? the english are much better but we do not cheat by importing foreign players and calling them english the way germans do. we need to clear out the premier league and return it to being an english league. but we do not need the yanks to take pity on us. worry about yourselves.

    1. Cacau, I believe is the only naturalized player that sees significant time and he has played in Germany since either the late 90s or early part of the 00s. Marko Marin is naturalized but he fled war torn Bosnia so I would hope that would be understood by people like you RTE.

      Germany has done a great job of integrating its immigrant families in the football setup. I wrote a piece pre World Cup for World Cup Buzz about how the different ethnic groups who now make Germany and the representative players like Ozil and Boateng have helped to change the style of German tactics and made the national side and bundesliga more attack and flair oriented than in the past.

  6. RTE…hopelessly dumb post. Cacau may be “imported” as you say, but many of the players you mentioned were born and bred in Germany. You sound kind of racist.

  7. Speaking of tactics and Ozil, Capello is so isolated from reality that he didn’t head David Pleat’s simple advice pre-game about Meszut Ozil.

    What Capello actually did was set up a flat 4-4-2 that invited Ozil to exploit more space and have more freedom to roam than any of Germany’s group opponents gave him. The results from Capello’s lack of imagination or flat out arrogance were without question disastrous.

    1. One thing that surprises me about England’s tactics is that there was not any tactics at all. No special setup to exploit weaknesses or mitigate strengths of each particular opponent. It was all the same in each game as if England was going to roll over the opponent by just showing up. This is so non-typical of Capello who is regarded as a master tactician on par with Mourinho. You just have to watch one of his tactical masterpieces – 4:0 trashing of Barcelona by Milan in the CL final. And his tactics and team motivation during WC qualification campaign is another testament of this.

      I just wonder what was really going in the English camp and why all of a sudden Capello lost all his tactical acumen.

  8. Before everyone comes down on Waddle let’s not forget England would dearly love someone with his creative talent today. Additionally, it’s not just about a formation but how the players are instructed to operate. Seems to me Capello had everyone in a neat little box with little or no room for instinctive flair. When he brought someone on with a creative flair (Joe Cole) England looked a bit more lively, but of course too little too late, the rest of the team were spent. I believe Capello made some fundemental mistakes off the pitch which caused discontentment in the England camp. His rules of no wives/girlfriends, no video games, no casual beers (except for Slovenia which was England’s best game so perhaps he should have given them a crate each for the German game) to name a few. Say what you like, todays footballers live in a very glamourous world with lots of comforts. Take them away and what do you get? footballers who stuck in a training camp for a month become bored and discontentment grows. Of course none of this excuses the sheer rubbish we displayed on the pitch. I still cannot get over what a carthorse Barry was, he made Hesky look like Usain Bolt. And why was Upson or Terry ahead of Michael Dawson? They both played like they were wearing old fashioned deep sea diving boots. Hell, Terry looked like he could’ve used an air pump as well.

    But lets face it, we knew England weren’t good enough. It was just a matter of time before they got knocked out. Now we can enjoy the rest of the tournament in peace.

  9. England brought a bunch of all-stars to a team tournament. Thats reason number one.
    Number two, England has terrible goal tenders.
    Third, media and public expectations far exceeded the reality of a one-sport nation. I know cricket and rugby are very competitive in the UK, but expectations are bit closer to reality with those sports.

  10. “I know cricket and rugby are very competitive in the UK, but expectations are bit closer to reality with those sports.”

    What? In both cricket and rugby expectations are the same as in football. The England rugby and cricket teams have been more successful than the fotball team.

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