What We Learned From Young Engerland vs Ukraine (0-0)


If It Continues Like This It Will Be Bad

Stultifyingly negative anti-football that elevates technocratic defensive organisation and tedious teamwork above attacking ambition and individual flair. Timid teams more afraid of losing than they are of grabbing the initiative, attacking and actually, get this, winning matches. Thoroughly ghastly confrontations between teams that we don’t care for playing games they don’t give a shit about. This is a bad thing.

No not simply my impression of this thoroughly tortuous hour and a half of footballing anti-matter, but the reaction to Switzerland’s match with Spain in last year’s Big Boys World Cup. This scathing could apply equally to both Young Engerland and their opponents, which is unsurprising seeing as many of the Ukraine team are already full internationals.

Are Young Engerland The New Switzerland?

Young Engerland and Ukraine demonstrate the 100m Kick n Run qualifiers. The ball is the black and white round thing.

Like Spain, the Swiss international team has developed its own distinctive style which it has applied throughout the varying age levels. Admittedly where Spain have embraced the beautiful and successful tiki-taka, pass and move, play the ball, buccaneering style that has made them World, European and Acclaim Champions, the Swiss have made defensive obduracy their metiér. They may not score very many (one goal in two World Cups), but they don’t concede many either (none at all in World Cup 2006, that’s none, zero, nada). On the negative side, and it’s a huge negative, they are by some way one of the two most tedious international sides to watch, the other being the team out front, Ukraine. It’s well known that Switzerland and Ukraine played out the single worst ’round of 16′ matches in the 2006 World Cup. A World Cup Round of 16 match where both teams appeared to be playing for a 0-0 draw and penalties from the start. What message does that send?

The terrifying thought is that Young Engerland are becoming not the new Spain, all lovely interlinking passing, game control and goal threat, but the new Switzerland, a decent defence and impotent, hoofball attack. And that, frankly, this is the best we can hope for. All that talent, so little application.

Sheeeeeet Does, Indeed, Roll Downhill

[pullthis]Apparently Passionate Young Engerland manager Stuart Pearce felt after the Spain match that ‘if Engerland had 60% of the ball, we’d be winning matches 4 or 5-nil’. Well Pearcey, apparently Young Engerland did get 60% possession here and it didn’t quite work out the way you thought it would.[/pullthis] Young Engerland were, if anything, more frightened, paralysed and incompetent on the ball than they were against Spain only four days ago.

[pullshow]Once again, you have to wonder just what exactly Pearce and his team do to players who, individually, have proven to display reasonable amounts of technical and on-pitch skills. What is it about Engerland and Young Engerland’s big tournament preparation that so thoroughly separates young men from their talents? What is it that separates managers and tacticians from any significant event that has taken place since the Scottish and Hungarian trainers took football to South America in the 1930s? Sure they toy with radical developments like 4-3-3 formations (if only to pay homage to Sir Alf’s wingless wonders) for the first five minutes, but they immediately default to the utter tedium of the safety first 4-5-1 once they cede their first possession to their opponents.

Young Engerland are so retarded that they think ‘isolated striker’ is a tactical innovation on a par with ‘false no 9s’ as played by Lionel Messi. Which is to say that an isolated, played out of the game no 9 à la Shearer or, better yet, Heskey is in any way comparable to a gamechanging, world-beating, deep-dropping forward like Messi. They seem to believe that they will gain some kind of competitive advantage by actually lopping off the tip of the team spear. Not that the team actually manages to get the ball up to the ‘isolated striker’ that often.

For, defence aside, Young Engerland were simply woeful. Midfielders like £20 million man Jordan Henderson and Jack Rodwell seemed utterly bypassed by the game, incapable of seizing the ball and dominating the midfield. Indeed neither of them seemed to even want the ball, let alone be able to do anything with it should they be unfortunate enough to actually gain possession. As for defender turned midfielder (and captain) Mancienne, he seemed like he was several divisions beyond his depth. The best thing I can say about him is to applaud his decision to move to Hamburg and hope life in the German league improves his play.

Where Is The Problem?

One thing we learned from the last World Cup is that tournament football is a completely different animal to qualification. Both Young Engerland and Engerland seem to have the art of qualification sorted, which in itself is no mean feat given that the 2009 Under-21 champions, Germany, didn’t even qualify for this Championship. What we haven’t got to grips with in any coherent way is the challenges of tournament football. This could simply be because at tournament level you’re playing better sides (Engerland usually being the top seed in any qualifying group) and it’s pretty well proven that both Young Engerland and Engerland struggle with better sides in friendlies. Or it could be something to do with the 4 – 5 high pressure games played once every three or four days.

We need to find some way to allow Young England players to shed the fear they obviously feel so they can actually take responsibility and actually play the ball. Sure they’ll make mistakes, but then I believe Messi made mistakes and lost the ball during the Champions League final and that, get this, Xavi doesn’t have a 100% pass completion rate. But they understand how to work together to correct their mistakes and take the game to the opposition. Too often Engerland players seem to be so afraid of the ball that they’d rather not have it, so risk averse they’d rather not make any kind of move.

Oh and Ukraine? Every bit as disappointing as their full side.

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