England aren't suited to playing good football, and they shouldn't bother trying

Laurence Griffiths

England are determined to adopt a more continental approach to their play, but given the talent they have available, it makes no sense.

The talent pool available to England managers is shrinking, says Greg Dyke, because of foreign signings, and it's holding back the national team. That's what we wake up to as the pre-emptive excuse for a workmanlike performance at best from England, even though the obvious arguments (but there are more English footballers than ever now! But in the 70s and 80s there were hardly any foreign players and Scotland qualified ahead of you!) cannot be countered, because they are entirely correct and Dyke is wrong.

The bigger brains in and around England instead call for a new, more continental style of coaching. England will replicate 1966, hopefully before the centenary, by playing like the exact opposite of Englishmen. Let's look at some of the reasons why this strategy makes no sense.

And so, let's look at some of the key players England will have in their midst. Up front, they have Wayne Rooney, a player capable of flashes of creativity and excellence but generally unreliable in touch and weight of passing. They also have Jermain Defoe, a head-down-and-blast-it poacher, and Andy Carroll, who would be the big man to his little man in the classic Anglo-Saxon partnership.

Then lets look at midfield. Plenty of prospects here, but picked on talent now, we're reliant on aged veterans. Frank Lampard, who excels at knockdowns and providing balls over the top, but is completely useless for a team that wishes to control a game and monopolise possession. Ditto Steven Gerrard, but even moreso. Scott Parker to provide the passless, touchless, blinded discilpline to counter it, or in lieu of it, running around and getting muddy. There is also Jack Wilshere and Tom Cleverley, players who do not conform to these stereotypes but who also can neither tackle nor score goals, and were superceded last season by Tomas Rosicky and Michael Carrick, respectively.

In defence, we have Gary Cahill and Chris Smalling as the elegant options, but neither are really ready. England's best defender is also an elegant option in Rio Ferdinand, but he can't be picked because his brother was racially abused and he defended him, and as we all know, there isn't any racism in England. So John Terry, who is not as bad as some people would have you believe but certainly in the agricultural mould, and a lesser clone of Michael Dawson or Phil Jones alongside. For the fullback positions, the energy of Ashley Cole will be superceded by the raw crossing ability of Leighton Baines. Glen Johnson, because nobody else is better, or Kyle Walker, because he can run very fast.

This is not a team with which one would wish to play tiki-taka. It is clearly unsuited to the task. And yet, for some reason, England persist with making false claims of seeing the light and thinking it is the way ahead. A telling sight: after some expressed dismay at Tottenham Hotspur's signings this window being entirely foreign, some sites chose to run articles listing alternative English players they might have gone for. Not one of them was under twenty-three, because the only players England have capable of playing such a style do not yet exist except in fantasy.

Well, some do exist. Then we come to the biggest, most vulgar and offensive C-words in the English language: Carrick and Cleverley. These players are wholly suited to playing tiki-taka, surely? They're all about keeping hold of possession. The problem with this is that Xavi, Andres Iniesta and so forth are suited to it because in that style rests their ultimate strength. Carrick and Cleverley are assigned to simply keep things ticking over purely because they cannot do anything else, like tackle, or score goals, or provide killer balls.

It's strange how one nation's philosophy can be another's equivalent to making the tea at the office, a task given in lieu of competence at anything more practical, but there it is. 'Water-carrier' used to be the term for it, but now we're supposed to believe that Carrick strides the pitch like a colossus because he is simply that good at keeping the ball, even though he frequently surrenders possession for no reason and is only asked to do that job because it is the simplest, and one a player who is slow, unimaginative and weak in the tackle can perform.

Oddly, it's not the fabled nationalism and bluster that has supposedly held England back that has gotten us to this point, but the deep-seated inferiority complex that rests beneath it. The country's collective football consciousness has committed the Original Sin of Englishness - seduction by the continental foreigner. The short-passing game is superior, it simply must be, and therefore England simply must participate in it.

This isn't true though. No style of football is inherently greater than any other. Route one is as likely to win football matches as tiki-taka is, provided the quality and suitability of players is equivalent. It's just easier to find tall men than men with supreme touch and technique - if it was the other way around then United would be hoofing balls up to the 6'5 Robin van Persie, hoping to avoid a defence-splitting pass on the counter from the ingenious creativity of Aaron Hughes.

In an alternate universe, Tony Pulis is the England manager. He may in theory be Wales' problem, but if football is the acid test of national identity, then we also see that Anglicisation hasn't penetrated as deep as some would like to suggest. What's the English equivalent of Barry Bannan, an essentially crap player but one who is still jinky, creative and skilful? No such thing exists.

And in this alternate universe Pulis, with his adopted charges, took charge of that England-Italy clash at Euro 2012. Andrea Pirlo was seen as the problem, a wry suspicion rather than admiration for his continental talent was adopted, and Scott Parker was played in place of the usual attacking midfielder to cope with him. Some other Scott Parker, possibly from the Championship, was picked to be the usual Scott Parker. The real Scott Parker kicked Pirlo up in the air, and England worked the channels, bombed on, put it in the mixer, crossed it to the back post, and won 1-0 from a Michael Dawson goal from a corner in a highly controversial match about which the Italians are still bitter to this day.

In truth, England are living on the never-never. The promise of, like Jesus on a piece of toast, seeing the aura of Xavi in any youngster capable of trapping a ball, and imagining a team of geniuses that never materialises because they get it whipped out of them while on loan at Watford playing away at Middlesbrough, versus the more perfect version of the future: the here and now, and Andy Carroll, stamping on a human face, forever. It's quite obvious which one is the more pragmatic.

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