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International football is my thing so it’s been good to see people emailing in with England views other than ‘I can’t wait for real football to be back’.
Lots of thoughts on the right back position, personally I think Reese James looks like the long-term answer but for now (and the Euros) I’d go with Trippier. Some players are suited to the thrown in at the deep end nature of international football and he is one. He’s always played well for England. TAA is a major talent but has work to do, even when he was brilliant for a dominant Liverpool team this never transferred to England.
However, my major selection concern for the summer is who plays either side of Harry Kane. ie the two ‘creative’ players to supplement the likely seven defensive outfield players Gareth Southgate will pick. My view is Jack Grealish has to be one and I think there are probably only about three people in the world who disagree. Sadly, I suspect one of these is Southgate.
It seems Grealish has to do more than anyone else to get in the team/squad. I remember Southgate rather disingenuously using goals and assists stats relative to players such as Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling to justify Grealish’s omission. No matter that they are both at top four sides, whereas at the time Villa were seeing off relegation on the final day of the season. And Grealish had been brilliant to help them do that.
As a recent comparison Jesse Lingard is now back in the fold, and being really talked up, after a handful of games for West Ham. His goal against Arsenal was excellent but other than that he is having the luck of the devil. Goalies fumbling in his shots, putting in the rebound after missing a penalty, an off-target effort turned in to get him an assist. Seems generous treatment to me, even taking into account injuries.
I do wonder with Grealish out injured for this round of fixtures and games against San Marino and (maybe) Albania there for other attackers to pad out their stats, whether this will be the justification to not select him at all for the Euros. Get the runners and workers in there instead. I sometimes think that if he could Southgate would have the British 4×4 100m relay team as his forwards. And the GB marathon runners as his midfield. Anyway, hope I’m wrong, but don’t be surprised if Grealish is not at the Euros.
Ronnie Buzzard, Manchester
Time for an international break
The international break is upon us and this time around, at least, it overlaps with better weather, so I have several options to tide me over until the real football returns.
When I was younger, I loved watching England play. But lately, not so much. Even at the last World Cup, I felt I was more a disinterested observer than on the edge of my seat hoping England would succeed. I had to think hard about why this was.
Part of it is that I have to pay to watch an England game where I live. I can watch all the Premier League games, Serie A, La Liga, etc, all the European games in a month for practically the same cost as one England game. (Plus Rugby Union, Cricket, etc.) So I only really get to watch England in the finals when free to air. Where they have generally not played well.
With the plethora of football we can view, as well as the higher level of analysis we can read or watch, we are more critical of the football we watch. Of what England can bring to the table. Tactically England work to a low bar. Granted it is tougher to bring together a collection of players and mould them into a team within the time available to an International manager. We have also complained from time to time about the quantity of available players in the EPL from which to select. However, today’s younger players are highly skilled and a match for most other countries. They play for teams that use a variety of tactics and strategies, are well coached, properly conditioned, eat well, use high level techniques to analyse their game and more. They are professionals in every sense. They have lived like this practically their entire life and many have participated in tournaments and done very well.
So the only limitation to performing well would be the managers tactics. Hodgson was dreadful. His basic theory is that in International football you need to use the least risky approach. Tight 4-4-2 with two, solid banks of 4. His teams have always been praised for being well organised. He made it hard to play against his teams, will do okay, but never will get far in a tournament. Plus, what works well for lower ranked countries and leagues, isn’t going to work well for teams with greater expectations. An achievement would be to qualify for a tournament rather than doing well in the tournament finals. Which we saw to our horror when managing England.
So we all thought Southgate was a breath of fresh air. Which he was. We thought moving to 3-5-3 was tactically astute when we had challenges with enough quality or available centre backs. But when it was clear that it compromised England’s ability to play fluid, attacking football we expected a change. It meant playing several players out of position and prevented our most talented players getting into the team. Southgate will always provide a reason why player X can’t do something. So we end up with mediocre players who were often not getting minutes in their club side (Delph, for example) getting more game time than far better players. On what grounds? Less risky. Generational talents are left out or left on the bench while players who will never be remembered in 10 years time get game time.
The result, some of the most boring, slow, ineffective midfields and England teams. Meanwhile, people are expected to pay what are outrageous amounts to watch the games on PPV. So we don’t. We know the game will likely be drab. The tactics will be awful. The decent player, played out of position, will get subbed off and likely hounded in the next day’s red tops. Southgate will make some lofty pronouncement to the extent of see, I told you he wouldn’t be great after he gives an attacking midfielder a 10 minute cameo on the wing,
England are gradually becoming a non event in a 24x7x365 sports world. When Johnny Nic had suggested that some paid football might suffer with free to air women’s games – and I said he was wrong – well, England’s men’s team may be one at risk.
So just as TAA will get a well deserved break and time to recover, so will the vast majority of football fans in England. Few will watch the games, fewer still will be arsed to comment on the game, we won’t even be bothered to listen to our regular football podcasts.
I have set a reminder to wake me up from my 2 week hibernation.
This talk of golden generations who may or may not underachieve fails to understand that football is a team game, not an individuals games.
The best teams are not built by selecting the best players at each position, but by selecting the most compatible players within a system.
As a Frenchman, I will take our World Cup winning team of 2018. No one in their right minds will claim that Giroud is a better striker than someone like Benzema. Yet he works better in Deschamps’ system, and he is very compatible with Mbappe and Griezmann.
Our fullbacks Pavard and Hernandez are decent at best but not on a par with some of the greats we’ve had yet never won a World Cup (Amoros, Battiston, Sagnol, Evra). Papin was a glorious striker in the 90s yet never won anything with France, whereas Guivarc’h and Giroud both have a World Cup winners medal.
Our “golden generation” team of 1982 and 1986 did not win the World Cup despite having the best midfield quartet we Frenchies have ever seen (Tigana, Giresse, Platini, Genghini in 82 then Fernandez later on) and awesome centre backs (Bossis, Trésor).
But what our World Cup winning teams had was a system tailored-made for them (in 1998, strong defence and DM, and Zidane; in 2018, Griezmann as playmaker – not striker – Giroud for link play and Mbappe to terrorise defences. I simplify for the sake of brevity here).
I’m sure countries like Holland, Spain, Argentina and Brazil also have “golden generation” players who have not won anything of note with their national teams.
I reckon what England needs is a proper tactician who will identify a system where 1. most English players are comfortable, and 2. for that system to be hard to play against even from the tops teams (Spain, Italy, Germany, France, Brazil etc.). Once that is done, select the players who will follow that system and thrive in it, gelling with each other. It could mean a non-scoring striker as long as his play provides opportunities for others, e.g. what is happening at Leicester now with Vardy and Iheanacho.
Sorry for this long email but the talk of underachieving golden generation does not make sense.
Mike, Chelsea and France
As the dust settles on the FA Cup action from last weekend (congratulations to all four teams on their victories), the old chestnut of whether winning the FA Cup or finishing fourth in the Premier League is once again worth revisiting.
This debate seems as if it has been going on for a long time, yet there have never really been any concrete solutions proposed to try to settle it once and for all.
With UEFA constantly talking about Champions League expansion, perhaps an unlikely, albeit financially viable solution can now be put forward.
If the Champions League is further expanded in 2024, or even further down the line, why not have the top four countries in the highest performing nations with satisfactory coefficient rankings, allocated an extra Champions League place, although to the domestic cup competitions winners?
So, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and, obviously, England, would then gain an extra place in the Champions League.
It would also help to revive interest in domestic cup competitions such as the Copa Del Rey, Coppa Italia, and the FA Cup whose importance continues to decline on an almost annual basis.
After this is then done, extra places could then be allocated to countries, but champions of lower-ranked nations should get prioritization in these circumstances.
It is a ridiculous scenario that a champion of a country has to play four qualifying matches, yet a fourth-placed team gets straight into the group stages of Europe’s premier football competition.
Optimistic Liverpool Supporter.
Binning San Marino
Completely agree with Rob about World Cup & Euros qualifying. There is absolutely no reason for teams like Andorra & San Marino to be involved. Very often they are not even professional players, and it just takes up space in the calendar. The Nations League also proved that it’s far better for teams such as Kosovo or Lithuania to play against teams of a similar level. Here is my proposal for World Cup Qualifying:
Take the top 40 teams from UEFA, based on FIFA world rankings from the last 2 years. They are split into 8 groups of 5. The top teams goes through, and the runners up play in a playoff, giving 4 extra teams. The final team qualifies through one of Nations League playoff brackets.
The 15 teams not involved in WC qualifying are split into 3 groups of 5. The top 2 teams in each group, and the 2 best 3rd place (8 teams) go through to a playoff with the bottom team in each WC qualifying group (8 teams). The winner of these would be a part of the 40 teams trying to qualifying for the Euros.
Euro qualifying would be identical, except the top 2 would go through, 4 best 3rd place teams and 4 from the Nations League.
This would be win win, Teams such as Andorra would have the chance to play more competitive games. Yes, they would lose their glamour ties against teams such as England but no one has the right to play these games. North America and Asia both have pleniminary rounds before the main qualifying. This would just be a version of that. For the top 40, you would avoid any groups of 6 teams (too many games) and every opponent would at least be professional.
I fully expect that UEFA read the mailbox and will be adopting my idea for Euro 2024.
Mike, LFC, London
No sympathy for Newcastle
I very much agree with the whole putting Newcastle fans in their place thing. It all comes down to how Bobby Robson was relieved of his duties. The fans played a part in it, I remember the entire feeling at the time coming from whoever decides they represent how the majority of fans feel (so the sheep fall in line) but when he was relieved of his duties about 4 games into the 04/05 season the collective feeling was “finally, now we can plan for the future”. You all bought into the hysteria against Sir Bobby, he was too old, too ‘gentile’ to handle the current crop of Laurent Robert’s and Kieran Dyer’s at his disposal, and you were all absolutely thrilled to be shot of him and get ‘a real man’s man’ at the club in Graeme Souness, he’d sort out the egos. The problem was not the old man, it was the players, but you chose the players over the old man. Souness went about as expected, as a manager he has been no great shakes, his teams are in his robust image but not much else. Yes, blame the chairman, but they were listening to you who were just in agony over finishing a distant 5th the previous season, old man was too old for a young guys game and he had to go.
Newcastle used to be my second favourite team, like many others, but since that age of entitlement entered into it’s current peak era, I have vastly enjoyed your suffering.
It amazes me to this very day that this entire event of your last great manager being put out to pasture like yesterday’s garbage is never EVER mentioned. Maybe you all were getting Clough vibes, who Nottingham Forest held onto forong enough to get relegated. But they’re different types, the only thing in common was their seniority. The local guy who saved you from embarrassment and brought you pride again. As soon as they finished that ‘humiliating’ 5th (the temerity) he was just shunted out.
I have no sympathy for this reason, and maybe lots of people can’t put their finger on it but for me this is the day Newcastle stopped having a heart. Now I like many others just roll our eyes at the never ending tales of woe.
Great points yesterday about bringing in managers well below their level by the way. Credit where credits due, that’s true, most clubs don’t shop down in that department deliberately.
Dave (not a Mackem), Dublin
Balls and Blades
Come on folks, we have to get through this International rubbish and I’m sick of hearing how crap Ole is or how miserable Klopp is. Where’s the fun?????? Let’s have some tales.
So, we had some tickets to see the Blades at Filbert Street on a midweek night back in the 80’s and my mate Steve who was the only one of us with a car and who could drive, offered to run me and Toots to the match. Unfortunately, he was having a vasectomy on the same day, but a bit of a small nick wasn’t going to stop him. Billy Big Bollocks he was. Anyway, he picked us up from outside the pub at about 5-00 and we set off down the M1 to the match.
“How’s the balls?” we asked – “Good as gold” he replied.
We stopped at a boozer on the outskirts of Leicester, had a few beers, then on to the match – all still good on the nads front according to Steve.
He parked up near the ground – remember where the car is, Steve said – and we wandered inside to a shared terrace separated by a head high fence over which sailed coins, stones, pebbles and large crisp bags full of piss. Not having that, me and Toots legged it to the edge of the terrace near the corner flag, but still managed to see the rain of allsorts going both ways over this fence. We lost Steve when the piss bags started flying but it wasn’t a bother as we’d meet up at the car.
Can’t remember much about the game, but at full time we wandered back to the car to find Steve crouching in the gutter in front of the bonnet spewing his ring up.
“How’s the balls?” we asked – “They’re f*&Kin’ killing me” he replied. Apparently, during the rush to avoid the rocks and crisp bags, someone had banged his nuts on the way past and he spent the match with the St John’s Ambulance people sat on a bench round the back of the stand sobbing quietly. He thought the anaesthetic might have worn off…..
Only Steve could drive so he had to get himself and us home back to Sheffield. Me and Toots left him to compose himself whilst we went to find a corner shop for some tuck for the journey home, hoping he wasn’t going to spew up on us whilst driving us home.
Eventually we set off home. Steve had decided to remove his jeans to help the situation and pray the cops didn’t pull us over. I remember him sweating in pain and almost screaming every time he had to change gear as we gingerly made our way up the M1, with Steve’s murderous knackers precariously balanced on two sweating tins of cold Coca Cola that me and Toots had fetched from the corner shop. I think it’s the last time I saw a grown man cry.
Anyway, most painful match ever, although happily it wasn’t me in pain.
The only thing that came near it was when Toots set his polyester trackie bottoms on fire when he tried to light a fart at Ayresome Park. Silly sod.
So come on. Beat that!
Bladey Mick (football – ouch!)
Same nationality XIs
Nothing beats international break when someone in the mailbox suggests an XI to create, Tom, Walthamstow bringing his suggestion of a same nationality XI for one team, okay here we goooo:
Chelsea are first up, strangely enough the Dutch XI for us looks a decent one
Ed De Goey
Mario Melchiot, Nathan Ake, Jeffrey Bouma, Ian Maatsen, Patrick Van Aanholt
Bolo Zenden, Ruud Gullit, Marco Van Ginkel, Arjen Robben
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink
Chelsea’s Spanish XI is another not to bad side:
Marcos Alonso, Azpilicueta, Quique de Lucas, Albert Ferrer
Pedro, Cesc Fabregas, Oriol Romeu, Juan Mata
Diego Costa, Fernando Torres
But in terms of Barcelona, Tom suggested Argentina but i feel he has missed a trick here with Brazil and also Netherlands, look at these XIs for both!
Maxwell, Belletti, Dani Alves
Neymar, Ronaldinho, Paulinho, Rivaldo, Sonny Anderson
Van Bronckhorst, F. De Boer, Koeman, Reiziger
Johan Cruyff, Johan Neeskens, Cocu, R. De Boer
Honestly those two Barcelona teams are insane, the goalkeepers probably you would question but when you have that overload of attacking talent and flair, you are easily going to outscore whoever you play.
…I’m sorry Tom, Walthamstow but you’re not having Gabriel in your Spanish XI.
Whether you’re referring to Gabriel Paulista or Gabriel Magalhaes, they’re both Brazilian.
And including Warmuz in the French team is debatable given he never actually played for us during his very brief spell.