Ever since Bobby Charlton and his men led England to victory in the 1966 World Cup, the English national team has never quite been able to return to successes achieved on that day. Year upon year and tournament upon tournament, the whole country is tormented by unrequited hope and overly ambitious expectation. But not since the days of Charlton has an England team made the final of a major competition since.
Where does the problem lay? It’s not the players. The players play in the best league in the world and produce some of the best footballing spectacles on the planet. It’s unlocking the full potential and ability of these players and none more so is it obvious than in this year’s bunch.
The side are not short of talent and, on their day, players like Gerrard, Rooney, Hart and Cahill could be considered as one of the strongest spines to a team in world football. And the others aren’t bad either: Lampard could have been argued as world class only a year ago, the much improved and confident Sterling, the industrious Henderson, the sturdy Jagielka, etc.
But singing praises of players ‘on their day’ is not what top class English football is about. It’s about reproducing those good days, making them more frequent and making those ‘off days’ hardly noticeable.
Paul Scholes was recently quoted, to the surprise of Manchester United fans, describing how England should play more like Liverpool if they are to do well in this year’s World Cup. Even the most stubborn United fan should see some logic in that. Liverpool achieved the second highest goals tally in this season’s Premier League just behind Manchester City who, of course, lack English players. Liverpool notched up 102 goals from everywhere on the pitch, coming from all angles and all positions. Significantly 49 of Liverpool’s tally were netted by English players.
Coupling the fruitful Englishmen on Merseyside with England and United stalwart Rooney in a pacy attacking line-up could be the key to unlocking some of those more stubborn world stage defenses. The speed of play obviously contributes heavily to the Liverpool set-up but another feature of their success this term was Brendan Rodgers’ tactical know-how.
One of the more successful of Rodgers’ formations was that potent midfield diamond he deployed throughout the season and this is where England can take a helping hand from Rodgers and the wise words of Scholes.