England 'identity'

Roy Hodgson is doing his best to create a working midfield for England, thinks Nick Miller.

Last Updated: 14/08/13 at 23:10

Tom Cleverley and Jack Wilshere are central to Roy Hodgson's England plans i

Tom Cleverley and Jack Wilshere are central to Roy Hodgson's England plans i

Rio Ferdinand kicked up a minor stink this week by tweeting that he was watching the Smurfs film rather than the England game, claiming the national side did not have an 'identity'. A vague, ephemeral notion this 'identity' might be but Ferdinand sort of had a point.

"I don't think we've actually really seen an identity, where you could say, 'that's an England team,' where you look at the Under 21s and go, 'that's an England team'" said Ferdinand.

"If all the names were taken off the back of the shirts and the colours were changed, you couldn't go in there and say, 'that's an England team, that's our identity, that's the way we play."

Steven Gerrard brushed his former team-mate's comments aside but the England captain is part of an 'identity' that Roy Hodgson is trying to create. Well, the closest thing Hodgson can get to an 'identity' given the time and resources at his disposal.

Steven Gerrard: England's captain has to demonstrate responsibility in his midfield role

Obviously, Hodgson cannot try to build something like Spain or the Netherlands have - a true national footballing identity, when the kids play in the same way as the seniors - while simultaneously trying to qualify for the World Cup and placating a negative media. And then of course there is the question of ability, with no great, technical generation of English passers making itself known just yet.

What Hodgson can do is create a team, and one that is as close to the possession-based game that the sages of the land have demanded for the last few years as he can realistically put together.

It is fairly clear now what Hodgson's first-choice team is - or rather, his first-choice front six. A midfield of Gerrard, Jack Wilshere and Tom Cleverley is Hodgson's favoured option - the one he played against Scotland on Wednesday night, and the one that performed so well against Brazil back in February.

Jack Wilshere: Hodgson will be desperate for the Arsenal star to avoid injury

t does offer something, too. Even if Cleverley is not quite suited to the 'No.10' position that Hodgson has shoved him into, and that he would probably be happier in the deeper role that Wilshere occupies - one suspects that, such is Hodgson's love for Cleverley, he would put him at full-back if there were no other places for him, just to get the Manchester United man into the team.

This midfield is far from perfect - it relies on Gerrard maintaining the defensive discipline that he often forgets, it potentially stymies the surging runs of which he is capable, there are the afore-mentioned reservations about Cleverley in that advanced role, and the trio contributed only 11 goals from a combined 74 league games last season. Nine of those were by Gerrard. Wilshere did not get any.

However, it was excellent against Brazil and the trio showed some promising signs with some neat combinations in the first half against Scotland (and Cleverley's through-ball for Theo Walcott's goal was delicious), before Wilshere was ushered into that pit of feathers and kittens that we hope he is being kept in to avoid harm or foul.

This is not an ideal solution but it is the best Hodgson has got at the moment. At least it looks like he has a plan of some description.

A version of this article originally appeared on Football365

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