• England’s game-style? Rigor Mortis!

    Unless and until something changes, the FA’s England team are dead to me from now onwards.

    I have waited and waited in reserved judgement hoping that Southgate, somehow, against all historical evidence of his previous coaching/ managerial career, might effect some transformational change on the psychological profile of his new-look and emerging England team. Against my better judgement, I hoped that his international experience and the relatively intelligent game-style that poured out when he played might somehow distill in to conjuring something new; something approaching intelligent build-up play; the wit to bring some improvisation up front to create and inspire a new ideal for playing. The penultimate WC2018 qualifying performance at home against Slovenia, however, demonstrated that Southgate and the whole England circus at St George’s Theme Park are unable to transfer the excellent recent club form of a number of players in to a coherent England game-style that is attractive to watch and builds hope for future performances at Russia WC2018 and beyond.

    Watching the stuttering first half performance against Slovenia was infuriating. For example, why:

    -pre-match, does the so-called ‘Home of Football’ bear the scars of the incessant commercialisation of the game with the less than pitch-perfect grid iron markings setting the tone for the stuttering England show that we were made to endure (and it does feel like an endurance watching England)?

    -00:00secs - 00:06 secs: did England play long straight from the kick off, put the ball straight in to touch and give up possession of the ball so easily?

    -03:26secs to 03:31secs do we persist with Joe ‘Hyper’ Hart who personifies laggard-England with his inability to perform the innovative sweeper-keeper role (i.e. poor first touch and subsequent incorrect weight of pass to Walker - too slow!).

    -03:46secs to 04:01secs is the team so lacking in movement leaving John Stones with no one to pass to? Stones is forced to give a 'nothing-burger' pass to Dyer who immediately has to whack it 30 yards backwards to Head-and-Shoulders-Hyperman?

    05:03secs to 06:08secs does our best performer in the early stages of the match - Rashford - show himself to be incapable of crossing the ball without hitting the first defender (x3 times)? Eventually, Rashford clears the first man on the fourth attempt, but he clears absolutely everyone else in the penalty box, too.

    08:14secs to 08:49secs after Henderson had found a good, positive, angled pass in to Kane does Southgate think that Sterling can work the ball from a starting position inside zone 14? Sterling losing possession of the ball leads directly to the central defenders being exposed and Joe Hart committing to a challenge that would have resulted in a penalty on another day, perhaps. Why do England seem particularly susceptible to being caught on the break?

    14:04secs to 14:25secs isn’t Bertrand breaking wide and left to make the job of playing out from the back easier if England want to play out from the back? Why does 'hyper' Hart make the throw to Walker, which may have put him under unnecessary pressure? Why does Walker’s decision making have to be exposed as he attempts a lame header that drops to a Slovenia player for a clear and good sight of goal (a better shot would have been 1-0, or 2-0 if the ref had given the penalty for Hart’s earlier mistake)? And why don’t Henderson and Dyer see that Walker’s header might fall short and not track the Slovenia player (no.11 Sporar) back towards their goal to provide the cover that’s needed in the transition?

    14:45secs to 15:23 secs is Bertrand the only player to break out from his position during this whole passage of play? England’s lack of rotational play, lack of fluidity and consequently general stiffness - verging on rigor mortis - makes playing against them too easy. Worse still, this performance anxiety always gets worse in tournaments these days, it seems.

    17:19secs to 17:30secs - does Gary Cahill go for a volley from the cross with his right foot rather than his left foot? Maybe because most of our players been developed incorrectly during the foundation stage leaving even our international players with skill-set deficiencies resulting in bad decision-making to go for a ball with their stronger foot rather than optimising their body shape and reach to stretch for the ball with the correct foot (i.e. good decision making and correct technique). If Cahill had reached for the ball with his left foot he might have hooked it straight in to the net (to conjure a finish like David Platt’s v Belgium at WC1990). If Cahill had been more central to the goal to try with his right foot would have been the correct decision, but as he was in front of the goal he could only deflect and take the pace off the ball with his right foot improving the chances of Oblak saving it. The optimised chaining effect of momentum would have occurred if he had tried to hit it with his left.

    18:22secs to 18:51 secs are the full backs so high so that Hart can’t play out from the back and elects to play a tricky 40m pass to (guess who?) a full back who then loses the ball in the ariel challenge and, due to some questionable positional play, Slovenia find a striker attempting a bicycle-kick volley in front of our goal. England were lucky that they were playing a mediocre team and that is wasn’t 1-0, or 2-0, or 3-0 by this point.

    I could go on, but it’s getting boring - and predictable. We have some good players (note good players, not great players; certainly none world class, in my opinion). Why can’t they show they’re good players when playing for England, though?


    - The Eni Aluko affair goes to the heart of all that is wrong with England. The cowardly FA ‘decision makers’ decided that, rather then face in to the problem and deal with it properly and thoroughly, they would revert back to a report from years ago that would seem to justify them removing Mark Sampson from his post as the England Women’s coach in another way. Guess what? It doesn’t. And this decision creates some residual issues, too

    - Dan Ashworth will not take accountability for his decision to appoint Mark Sampson even though he should be responsible and accountable for approving Sampson’s post initially and thereafter. This surely makes Ashworth’s role untenable from now onwards, too, doesn't it?

    - Gareth Southgate continues to support Dan Ashworth in his role, which is unacceptable.

    - Both Ashworth and Southgate continue to endorse the hardly progressive Aidy Boothroyd, whose lack of grace was evident when commenting on Kevin Blackwell’s Leeds whilst manager of Watford for the play-off final a few years ago. Boothroyd’s performance as a coach with the development team summer 2017 was demonstrably not at the level required to demonstrate a coherent game style. Instead, when the prize was in sight he deployed the default and tired, long-ball, kick-and-rush tactics by which other nations laugh at us.

    - Years ago now, on the day that David Sheepshanks opened St Georges Park the then England U19 manager Noel Blake was on the radio that same day stating that the Premier League clubs were not releasing players for tournaments and get togethers in a way that would facilitate a truly integrated national strategy (paraphrasing here). If Blake was prepared to say that in public then God Only Knows what was being said behind closed doors.

    - In any event, what kind of an organisation accepts the incredulous explanation of the way in which Russia ‘lost its computers?!?!’ so couldn’t evidence their bid process for WC2018 when that was topical and a reaction to that position could have been powerful? Forget current international GEO-politics, there is a precedent for withdrawing from international sporting competitions to protest at injustice. Doing so in protest at the manifestly corrupt Fifa process would have been justified and this would have won you friends at home and abroad. Your relationship with Fifa is damaged beyond belief and your team have no chance of winining, anyway, so why not consider it? It could have been your 1966 moment. You have shown yourselves to be spineless - again - and I’m not sure how many people here will even be wanting to watch the World Cup, given the stinking corruption still emanating from Fifa to Russia with love.

    - Why aren't your performances improving? Your then great leader Greg Dyke (you know, that bloke that sold off the Premier League and laid the seeds for your continuing demise) said the project brief is victory by 2022. I have written to David Sheepshanks to get a sense of how the clock is ticking (no response).

    - Why do I get no response from 'The Others'? I have written to Gareth Southgate to ask how many St George’s Theme Parks will be built in the metropolitan area where I live (no response). I’ve visited one in S Yorks and I have to say that I was very underwhelmed. You would have been better off investing the money in 15m x 20m MUGAs in the heart of as many communities as you can. Young kids need somewhere to play right outside their house. Their parents can’t drive them to these facilities every day. By the time that kids are old enough to go to these regional hubs on their own its too late for them. Their fundamental movement skills and football skill acquisition needs to be laid down before they leave primary school. Why don’t you get it?

    - Why do you have no new ideas? I have written to a number of other people at the FA about a number of other things, but their reactions and performances off the pitch are stuttering, too. If football is a business, as the FA appears to believe it to be, then good business leaders know that they ought to listen to and engage with their customers otherwise they will be heading for trouble.

    There continues to be something rotten in the state of English football, but it goes way beyond the physical preparation of the players. I love England and wish there was something I could do to help. I wish there was some intel I could offer that would provide the keys to the court, but the football forces here come not single spies but in battalions. The 3 lions have lost the battle and may have lost the war forever more - unless and until something changes. What is to be done? Nothing short of a revolution will do.

    How long has this been going on? I started a blog after England’s abysmal Blomfontein display, wondering who could unpick the problems with England’s football. To date, these 7 years have been unlucky for me - and others - in that no one is able to get to the core of the problem. Wembley itself is an embarrassing aural experience: it sounds like a school swimming gala. I now think that unless the whole edifice is torn down, people replaced and we start again nothing can change - ever! That won’t happen, of course. So my time here is done. England, I can’t stomach your football any longer. I will be closing this site down before the terrible tournament game-style brings me out in hives again.

    Gareth - here’s your report: A for Effort & E for Attainment. The England game-style: a back to front paradox from start to finish. I’ve heard about players stiffening up, but I’ve never seen such a full scale rigor mortis from a body of men as when they freeze-over and go all stiff down Wembley Way (no - not in that way, Harvey, I mean the players' Hollwood Paradox).

    England, you’ve been like my girlfriend ever since the ball skidded off Kevin Keegan’s bubble perm for the 2-0 victory against Italy in 1977, but, now, consider yourself dumped! You can go home to DE13 (unlucky for some?) and take your ball with you.

    England, I give you the ‘Dele Alli Middle Finger Award' for:


    My message to the FA is this: Do one! We want our game back.


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