England tactics, mentality and set-up wrong

TEAMtalk's guest blogger Tom Reed gives his verdict on England and Roy Hodgon's performance after the disappointing draw at Montenegro.

Last Updated: 29/03/13 at 15:32 Post Comment

England: Flattered to deceive once again

England: Flattered to deceive once again

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Montenegro's hard-core support were hyped up to the eyeballs and bouncing to Balkan trance beats a good three hours before the game in Podgorica on Tuesday.

England's closeted players, meanwhile, seemed to have had Pink Floyd piped through their headphones before putting in a performance that was, like that band's hit, comfortably numb.

Indeed, England's second half showing against Montenegro emphasised the failures of a bloated Three Lions set-up where passion, energy and tactical innovation disappears down the drains at St George's Park before big games.

It wasn't the result in Montenegro that concerned observers, more the mental and physical fragility of an England side when being asked serious questions. Moreover, the tactical conservatism of Roy Hodgson compounded fears for the progression of the national game.

Of course, much credit must go to the Montenegro coach Branko Brnovic and his players. In fact, their vitality, passion and tactical fluidity served to highlight England's stasis in the same areas.

Where the likes of Stevan Jovetic showed his ball carrying initiative to force an outcome, there were too many England players content to stick to the safe confines of Hodgson's game plan.

Steven Gerrard, once an in-your-face harrier, looked like someone who's game-changing impact now comes second to merely lasting 90 minutes. Even the likes of Ashley Cole and Glen Johnson, not backwards in coming forwards at home, seemed to shy away when the bombardment of the Montenegro players got up to speed with that from the stands.

It seems that England's will for a scrap is as paper thin as the scrunched up missiles which rained down throughout. One must question whether players taught from an early age to float on a carpet of their own hot air are mentally capable of mixing it with the cold determination of the Montenegrins.

Furthermore, you can bet that Hodgson's "keep doing what you're doing" half time team talk would have paled in comparison to the blood and thunder patriotism of Brnovic.

Indeed, England weren't helped by the tactical hesitance of Hodgson who had precious few answers to aid his toiling players. It became apparent that the England coach had made an error in playing his more dynamic players against San Marino and choosing a dour eleven to face the vibrant Montenegrins.

A side containing the one-paced trio of Gerrard, Milner and Carrick were always going to invite pressure from their fleet-footed opponents. When this came to fruition Hodgson seemed to go into brain freeze, a choke which took up most of the vital twenty minutes between sixty and eighty and only ended with Ashley Young being thrown on.

Despite England supporters hoping for the best it has been clear for years that Hodgson is no master tactician. You can replace the image of Hodgson looking for inspiration from beyond the Black Mountains in Podgorica, with the one of the 65-year-old blinking into the Anfield rain as League Two Northampton Town dumped Liverpool out of the League Cup in 2010.

That said, selection wise, Hodgson is hamstrung by the dysfunctional English set-up where home grown development is strangled by big money handouts from the Premier League and top flight club's tendency to invest in off the peg "complete" players from abroad.

What is the point of the Elite Player Performance Plan, part of which takes the cream of Football League youth talent (for minimal compensation) and then buries them away in development squads marginalised by cheap foreign imports?

Things will only worsen for young English players with the crisis in the Eurozone meaning the likes of Michu can be plundered for a pittance from debt-ridden Spain.

Until the Premier League forces its clubs to guarantee the development of home-grown players through top-flight playing time then England will continue to struggle against teams with real grass-roots heritage.

England will, no doubt, scrape through to Brazil and be content with any progression further than the group stage. After all, Hodgson is a man who plays the percentages more than Count von Count from Sesame Street.

Hodgson is an intelligent, likeable, multi-lingual networker who would be as at home in the British Consulate in Rio as he would in the dugout of the Maracana.

Unfortunately for England, what is needed, should qualification be achieved, is a ground-breaking coach who can respond to the minute-by-minute demands of top level tactics, a man to paper over the cracks of a national set-up in serious transition and galvanise the desire of players numbed by entitlement.

Astute commentators may take a look at the movements of a certain Portuguese speaker whose proximity to accepting England's top job may be the true indicator of the health of the national game.

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