Advertisements

My ten-week, ten-point plan for avoiding Euro 2012 disaster

As I write this today (June 29th), it is still less than 48 hours since England were knocked out of the World Cup, with Fabio Capello and the FA saying yesterday that no decision would be made on his future as manager for two weeks. While I applaud the deliberate decision not to make any knee-jerk reactions, it is important to maintain a sense of urgency with England’s Euro 2012 qualifying campaign kicking off against Bulgaria at Wembley in just 66 days’ time – less than ten weeks. (Full fixture list here.)

Having previously touched on the problems with the national side (here and here), it is clear there are serious issues – both long and short-term – to resolve if England are to throw off the shackles and become genuine world-beaters.

With the above points in mind, here are ten things I think need to happen over the next ten weeks to ensure our qualification from an apparently straightforward group – where have I heard that before? – does not get off to a bad start.

1. Capello or not Capello?

The cynic in me fears the FA’s two-week hiatus before announcing Capello’s future is merely a smokescreen to negotiate the terms of his ‘mutually agreed’ departure. If that is the case, the FA need to start sounding out potential successors now. By all accounts, it may already be too late to stop Liverpool snapping up Roy Hodgson. And while he would no doubt answer the call, I am extremely dubious about Harry Redknapp‘s credentials. Alleged financial mis-dealings aside, one of Harry’s greatest assets is his ability to wheel and deal in the transfer market, a skill which is clearly not applicable to international management (unless he can persuade Lionel Messi to adopt British citizenship, that is).

In an ideal world, my preference would be to retain Capello and his backroom staff to maintain continuity. While doubts remain over his World Cup performance, he has already proven he can steer a successful qualifying campaign. And the most critical thing now is to ensure that campaign gets off to a good start.

2. Pick a formation

Capello resisted making changes to his tried and trusted 4-4-2 during the World Cup, despite player and media concerns. I don’t really mind what formation we play – my preference would be the 4-3-3/4-5-1 hybrid now employed by Arsenal and many other teams – as long as a clear decision is made quickly, because (a) this should influence the make-up of the squad and (b) we know that English players aren’t always the most fluid when it comes to switching between formations.

3. Pick the best squad, not the best players

Gabriel Agbonlahor (Aston Villa)

This stems from the previous point. Pick a squad which is tailored to suit the system. In my preferred 4-3-3, this would mean Wayne Rooney up front with Gabriel Agbonlahor or Darren Bent as his understudy, with a combination of Theo Walcott, Aaron Lennon, Ashley Young, Joe Cole and Adam Johnson as the wide men. That means no place for Emile Heskey or Peter Crouch, and possibly even Jermain Defoe.

It also means being clear about whether the manager is going to stick with experience – and remember, England had the oldest squad at the World Cup – or accelerate the introduction of youth. Nowhere is that more obvious than in the central defensive positions, where Rio Ferdinand and Ledley King are treatment room regulars, and the limitations of John Terry, Matthew Upson and Jamie Carragher were brutally exposed in South Africa. It is important not to shift the balance from experience to youth too far – Arsenal are a prime example of what happens when you strip a team of its experienced leaders too quickly – but it is clear that the Dad’s Army which man our defences cannot be relied upon to carry us through the next two years. It is vital England start to blood the likes of Michael Dawson, Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka and even a rehabilitated Micah Richards, because they will be needed sooner rather than later.

4. De-selection policy

More than half England’s 23-man World Cup squad will be the wrong side of 30 by the time Euro 2012 comes around, And while it is easy to spot the obvious candidates for international retirement – Heskey, Carragher and Upson for starters – the manager must decide what he is going to do with some of his key senior players. In defence, Ferdinand will be 33, Terry and Ashley Cole 31; in midfield Frank Lampard nearly 33, Steven Gerrard 32 and Gareth Barry 31. No doubt some of these will still be involved in two years’ time, but who gets phased out and when will be a critical set of decisions for the next year or so. This is why we pay someone so much to get decisions like this right.

Me? As part of my new 4-3-3/4-5-1, I would consider demoting Lampard to become Gerrard’s backup at the head of a midfield three, with two holding/general midfielders behind. This could include Barry, but consideration should also be given to playing Michael Carrick, James Milner and perhaps someone like Tom Huddlestone here, with Milner a candidate to step forward into the Gerrard role when required. Again, this is a vital conundrum for the manager to resolve – England’s balance in midfield was horrible at the World Cup, notwithstanding Barry’s hasty return from injury.

5. Pick a goalkeeper now

Joe Hart (Manchester City)

This is an easy one for me: tell Joe Hart the gloves are his, and do it now so he can demand first-team football either at Man City (in Shay Given‘s injury-induced absence) or elsewhere. Retain David James as a backup, with the carrot of bringing him on board as part of the coaching team; James is certainly intelligent and ambitious enough to bring something to this role. And jettison Robert Green; not because of his howler against the USA, but because he commits this kind of grievous error often enough for him to be a liability.

6. Drop one of the ‘Untouchables’

Steve McClaren did it with David Beckham for all the wrong reasons, but he did it with all the right intentions – to put a clear stamp on his squadand start to change the culture. There is no shortage of candidates here: the mutinous John Terry; Frank Lampard, who has not reproduced his Chelsea performances for England for at least a year now; even Wayne Rooney, whose form and fitness at the World Cup were desperately short of what we know he can produce. I would give serious thought to dropping Lampard immediately to move either Gerrard or Milner back into the middle, and possibly sit Terry down for our second qualifier in Switzerland, where we are unlikely to come under severe pressure from this most defensive-minded of opponents.

7. Focus on youth

Jack Wilshere (Arsenal)

I will nail my colours to the mast here and say that something drastic needs to be done to reduce the average age of both the starting XI and the wider squad. Germany in particular exposed us as being one-paced and pedestrian, and it is an issue that will only get worse with an ageing squad. I’ve talked about several of the defensive and midfield possibilities already, but the Arsenal fan in me says how about a fit-again Kieran Gibbs as Ashley Cole’s backup, or Jack Wilshere being a regular in the under-21s and being invited to train with the senior squad? Jack Rodwell, Danny Welbeck, Nathan Delfouneso – I could go on and on. I’m not saying we need to make wholesale changes immediately, but we need to start planning to give youth a chance, even if only so we can decide who has a chance to make it and who doesn’t.

8. Release the shackles

This stems from a combination of fear of failure, complacency and a generally cautious mindset. It starts with the manager, who must encourage his players to be less pedestrian and more adventurous in attack, without fear of consequences. For that reason, despite his defensive deficiencies, I would keep Glen Johnson in the side because he is one of the few England players willing to gallop forward in support of attacks.

And, through coaching, it extends to the players, who must start to work better as a unit, rather than knocking aimless balls into the channels for Heskey or Rooney to chase. Albeit with non-English players alongside them, they can do it for their clubs. They need to do it for England too.

9. Launch a media charm offensive

Already the press vultures have been circling around Capello, questioning his salary, team selections and formations, and generally setting him up to be a scapegoat. Regardless of whether the Italian continues or not, something needs to be done to seize back the news agenda, quell the dissenting voices and remind them that, like it or not, there is one England manager, not 50 million.

10. Just win, baby

Ten weeks today, we will have played our opening two qualifying matches (Bulgaria at home, Switzerland away). Without Dimitar Berbatov, now retired from international football, the Bulgaria game is less tricky than it might have been, but it will be tough to break down the Swiss defence. Gain six points – or, at the very least, four – and all the ills of this summer will be quickly forgotten.

For what it’s worth, this would be my line-up (fitness permitting) for the game against Bulgaria on September 3rd, an XI which I would see evolving further as the campaign goes on:

Hart

G Johnson – Ferdinand – Terry – A Cole

Barry

Milner – Gerrard

Lennon – Rooney – A Young

Subs: James, Dawson, Warnock, Lampard, J Cole, A Johnson, Agbonlahor

In the 23: Robinson, King, Huddlestone, Defoe, Walcott

Let me know what you think. Am I heading in the right direction, or barking up the wrong tree?

For a considered analysis of what needs to be done longer-term to take England forward, please take the time to read Steve’s thoughts here – thoroughly recommended.

Advertisements

About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

7 Responses to My ten-week, ten-point plan for avoiding Euro 2012 disaster

  1. Tse Ndex says:

    Fair points in my point of view except for two areas. Harry Redknapp is not an option now for England. He is a must.

    The formation will depend on the crop of players, but with wingers like Walcott, Lennon, Wright-Phillips and Young, it will have to be a formation that recognises their strengths. It concludes the usefulness of offensive full-backs because their operating channels will be occupied by the afore-mentioned wingers..

    • Tim says:

      We definitely need to play to our strengths – wide men with pace and/or a bit of craft (Lennon, Walcott, Wright-Phillips, Cole, Young, Johnson, Downing etc) is the one areas where England are blessed right now.

      Personally, I don’t see how Redknapp will be any better than Capello. He has never managed in the Champions League, which is the nearest you get to international football in terms of playing style, and my perception of him is that he is a good man-manager and wheeler-dealer, but not a great tactician. And any change of manager now, so close to the start of the Euro qualifying campaign, can only be disruptive.

      Capello knows how to manage successfully in qualifiers. I would leave him in place, but put together a proper plan for who will succeed him after 2012.

  2. mrshev says:

    I agree: keep Capello.

    I also agree with having a No1 goalkeeper. Give him time, let him own the position and gain trust from his defenders. Green should’ve been given another game in my view.

    3-5-1 for me and Ashley Cole is experienced at pushing into midfield or defence when needs must (which he did expertly at Arsenal).

    I think that Euro 2012 needs to be a bit of a sacrificial lamb; we need to try and perform differently within a tournament format because patently the approach we are using is not working. So, we need to try something different in this tournament and not get too precious about winning or losing.

    I always thought Scott Parker was unlucky to not get more call ups; he’s industrious, committed and disciplined. He would, in my mind, be a great holding player because he accepts that is his position. But he’s 30 now and so his international career is all but over…

    Anyway, am really enjoying your blog. I am working my way back through your World Cup coverage at it is excellent and you put the BBC and The Guardian to shame (the Guardian being particularly terrible at analysis at the moment). Why is the analysis so bad? It is so simplistic and naive.

    I have been looking for a decent footy blog for AGES, so am really glad you commented on my blog (I don’t write much about footy, I’m afraid…)
    Shev

    • Tim says:

      I know what you mean about the sacrificial lamb, but sadly there is no way the British media will tolerate anything less than a full-on tilt at the windmill that is Euro 2012.

      You make a good point about the underrated Parker, but given his age I fear he can now be no more than a temporary stop-gap (there may be merit in that, mind you).

      My view on Green is that he should never have been given the chance in the first place – he has always been error-prone. (No other Premier League player gave away more goals through a direct error than he did last season.) But once he had been installed, we should probably have stuck with him. Nonetheless, James did a good job.

      I’m surprised about the Guardian’s poor coverage. I don’t read it much myself but I do listen to the podcasts, which are pretty entertaining.

      Glad you’re enjoying the blog. In truth, I write for my own satisfaction, but it’s always nice to know someone likes it. 🙂

  3. Steve says:

    I think I agree with all these points. In the short-term, picking the best squad, rather than the best players makes perfect sense, and is working for the likes of Spain, Argentina and Brazil right now.

    I’m all for sacrificing Euro 2012 in order to build for the next World Cup properly. Blood youth, try different systems, play freely and settle on a squad that can deliver in the long-term. Make the England side feel more like a club side, where they understand the system and are used to playing together.

    If we qualify for Euro 2012, great – use it as a means of giving younger players experience of a major tournament. If we don’t qualify, it is not the end of the world – providing we are building for the future.

    There needs to be a collective will within football, and especially the FA, to want to learn from our mistakes and proactively make positive changes to take things forward. Time is of the essence.

    Yet, I can’t see the FA doing anything worthwhile in the next 10 weeks, sadly.

  4. Tim says:

    Steve, surely you’re not suggesting the FA historically drags its feet? 😉

    As I said in my reply to mrshev, there is no way the red-tops will allow us to sacrifice the Euro 2012 campaign. (What, and miss out on more “Wally with the brolly” style headlines?!?) They won’t even tolerate anything less than a win in meaningless friendlies …

    Having said that, I don’t disagree with your view at all. At some point, to break out of the spiral of decline, someone brave has to stop focussing on the short-term and start building for the long-term. It’s the old mantra of “if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got”.

    The only thing is: does anyone know anyone brave in the FA? Me neither. 😦

  5. jennyk05 says:

    I agree with the points above on how to change England. I am happy that Capello has been confirmed to stay on but only if he is willing to change and accept that what happened at the World Cup just didn’t work.

    You are exactly right that youngsters need to be worked into the team now, in order to give them time and to see who is ready for Euro 2012. The likes of Adam Johnson, Ashley Young, Wilshere, Gary Cahill, Gibbs, Rodwell, Agbonlahor, Micah Richards etc.. need to be mixed in with more senior players like Gerrard, Lampard and Terry.

    The squad players like Wright-Phillips, Heskey, Upson etc..who don’t perform well for their clubs should not be granted a place in the team because it has worked in the past. The past needs to be pushed aside and replaced with the young future.

    The formation needs to change but stay flexible for the players on the pitch, but is must facilitate more movement and creativity. Joe Hart also needs to establish first team football for next season and if he does he should get the no.1 jersey for the start of qualifers. James can always be an experienced back-up.

%d bloggers like this: