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Technique: Just how important is it really? Brendan Rodgers thinks English players have as good or better technique than Brazilians, though noticeably had no answer as to why England haven't won five World Cups as well.
There's a lot of focus on technique these days and you can see why it's important. But technique is not everything, you also need the right temperament. You need to feel that this is your moment on the biggest stage.
When you step out to do anything in front of an audience, it takes some balls. Some people relish it, others shrink like your reproductive organs in a cold swimming pool.
I knew a lad who was a brilliant guitarist. He could play anything no matter how complex, whereas I was at the full extent of my talent with a blues progression. However, I loved playing live and he didn't. Standing stock still, inhibited and self-conscious, under the pressure of even a small audience, he crumbled. I was the opposite.
From the moment you plug your guitar into those buzzing amps, with the smell of hot electricity in the air, crunch the first chord on a low slung guitar, scrape the plectrum down the string and hear the noise bounce off the back wall of the room, if it doesn't give you some sort of priapic response then you're in the wrong business, sunshine. If you're worrying about your technique at this point, you may as well leave the stage. Now is not the time. You run with what you've got and you make the best of it, compensating for lack of technique with passion, very tight pants and furious pouting. The pouting is VERY important. Rock and bloody roll; it ain't a maths exam, baby. Like sex, if you can't smell it, you ain't doin' it right.
The only question to ask yourself before you take the stage is 'can I do this?'. If you have a scintilla of doubt and for even just a millisecond think anything other than 'hell yeah, I was born to do this, let's bloody 'ave it', then you are on the wrong stage with the wrong band. It's exactly the same in football.
When we see England take the pitch in the big games, I've never been convinced that they start from this position of confidence the way a German side does, for example. When I see Neymar play, I'm pretty sure he doesn't think anything other than, 'I'm bloody good, this is my stage.' When I see Tom Cleverley, I know he doesn't think that.
If Brendan is right and the English have great technique it's an even greater condemnation of our national team. It's one thing to fail decade after decade with players who don't have the skill in their feet, it's another to do it while having that skill but being unable to apply it.
But are his beliefs right? I guess it depends on which players you are comparing to each other. Does Ashley Young have as good technique as, say, Oscar?
Whatever Brendan says, there's one area England are deficient in compared to many other nation's players - retaining possession. Anyone who has seen the ball bouncing off Wayne Rooney's foot as though he's forgotten what this round bouncy thing actually is, knows that our players are poor at keeping the ball under control. Yet we know they can do it sometimes. The difference is temperament and pressure.
And perhaps that is the key factor. Pressure.
In a training situation or when at ease, England players do have the technique. But in big games, what they manifestly lack is temperament. Without that, all the technique in the world melts away. He who panics most, loses most.
It's always been like this for England. When the pressure is really on, we cave in and start booting the ball away frantically. We lose shape and lose hope. It is this mentality which best explains England's repeated haplessness rather than it purely all being about how well they can trap or dribble a ball. Great technique should lead to great confidence but in England's case, this just doesn't seem true. Without confidence, they have no technique.
Other issues must also play a part from physicality to tactics to fitness, but all of these are subservient to temperament. This explains why in some tournaments, some lesser teams progress to semi-finals and finals.
Rodgers said we have an inferiority complex but if true, it is a very recent complex. Much of our problems for years stemmed from arrogance and belief that the English Way was The Right Way. That guts and sweat and more energy would be enough. Today, players continue to be over-valued and over-lauded by the press just because they're English. It's just as important that an English player's inadequacies are downplayed and overlooked the way an overseas player's are often not. This isn't helping.
There are many examples but let's just use Jermain Defoe as one. If a non-English player had such a poor record as his in recent years, he'd be routinely called a failure (like Robert Soldado has been) rather than lauded as a 'natural' goalscorer and talked about in glowing terms as though he scored 30 goals every season instead of almost none.
If we have an inferiority complex it is ironically because of the superiority complex English players live with much of the time. The gap between the fictions told about players and the reality puts pressure on them to live up to a inflated reputation that they simply can't live up to on any regular basis. Nothing puts pressure on you more than being asked to live up to a standard that is beyond you.
Temperament is in itself a technique we need to master along with self-belief and resilience and, of course, how to pass the ball without losing possession. Having all the skill in the world is of no use if you can't keep your head and apply it. Brilliance is good but having balls is better.
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And check out his new series of crime novels about a football fan, set in Middlesbrough, here.
HarryBoulton, I'm not sure I'd agree with you on Cleverley. I think he's actually better than he is currently playing, and its his timidity and unwillingness to make a mistake that holds him back. Carrick is even worse, I've seen him visibly disintegrate in games after making a mistake and actually start hiding from the ball, taking up positions where he's always got an opposition player between him and the player with the ball.- Mike_Christie