The third best team in the world

by Mark Beegan

Perennial quarter finalists, penalty shoot-out chokers and now the third best team in the world, well, at least according to the current FIFA rankings. The truth is, however, Roy Hodgson has few reasons to be positive about England and England have even fewer reasons to be positive about Hodgson.

In a way, Hodgson and England are actually the perfect couple. Hodgson speaks confidently; boosting his ego and image by regularly extoling the virtues of his thirty odd years of experience in management yet has little or no tangible success to point to. England, like Hodgson talk the talk but sadly not only fail to walk the walk but often end up tripping face first into the muck, rising with a mix of indignation and embarrassment, pointing , spluttering but never looking in the mirror.

The secret to their happy marriage is that both Hodgson and England are mired in the past, yesterday’s men who hark back to the glory days but seem unable or unwilling to change.

Hodgson’s rigid reliance on 4-4-2 failed miserably at Liverpool where he tried his best to sell Daniel Agger to Wolfsburg and decided that Christian Poulsen was the answer to Liverpool’s midfield problems.

The standard of football and the results swerved from poor to atrocious .Week after week Liverpool either drew or were beaten and yet he returned for the next game with the same formation. 4-4-2 is to Hodgson, what a Teddy Bear is to a child, comfort and familiarity. Yet unlike the petit enfant, Roy has failed to move beyond comfort and familiarity.

This was seen on an even grander scale at Euro 2012, where Hodgson tactical rigidity ensured only two things, neither of which was victory. The first was that England were consistently outnumbered in the middle of the park meaning that neither Parker or Gerrard were able to establish a midfield platform for the side to progress and attack the opponent higher up the pitch. The result of this central two was that England at Euro 2012 consistently dropped deeper and deeper, to the point that they were so deep against France that Steven Gerrard could not get out quick to enough from the centre back position to block Samir Nasri’s goal bound shot.

The second symptom of 4-4-2 was the sheer physical exhaustion of Parker, Gerrard and Milner. These players were effectively told to at all costs keep the shape by shadowing the players in possession. Now, keeping such a rigid shape is harder than it looks. It requires huge work rate particularly when you are effectively a man light in the centre of midfield. Parker in this system was doing the work of two men.

To his credit Parker went about the task with admirable gusto but was left exhausted and puffing for air after 70 minutes in nearly all of the games.  Add in to the mix that Parker, barely has the technical ability to do his own job, never mind another role, and you have the most mediocre and ineffective cocktail since sex on the beach.

Hodgson’s reliance on 4-4-2 also made England extremely easy to play against. England under Hodgson line up with two rigid banks of four which makes it ridiculously easy for any player that plays in between the lines or “banks” to have a huge influence on the game.

Andrea Pirlo, remember him? These two rigid banks of four plus the lack of a high press ensured that Pirlo not only controlled the game but did so while smoking a metaphorical cigar. He walked off the pitch barely out of breath with hardly a hair out of place. In many ways, Pirlo is the living , breathing embodiment of everything that is wrong with Roy Hodgson’s England.

Roy Hodgson, however, should not take all of the blame. The Football Association did after all appoint the Croydon intellectual to the manager’s job.  This appointment was made after the FA went cold on Harry Redknapp (a wise move) and effectively had nowhere else to go (poor planning).  The appointment of Hodgson though is all the more baffling when you put it into context.

For months prior to Hodgson’s appointment, Trevor Brooking was telling anyway that would listen about how the future of English football was based on two things , St George’s Park in Burton and 4-3-3.  The idea was to create system where all England teams played to a similar formation (4-3-3) and style (fluid, passing and interchangeable players). This creates a football identity and also allows for an easier transition form age group to age group. To then go and appoint a man that is as wedded to 4-4-2, as Bono is to his sunglasses is truly staggering.

The idea that Brooking and the FA had was a good one.  The idea of bringing up a whole generation of coaches, players and teams playing the same way makes sense and is common practice in countries where long term planning and success are seen as intrinsically linked.

Sadly, the FA has set this project back at least four years.  Hodgson may have certain myth built up some in the press that he is some sort of managerial genius/ pseudo-intellectual (See the Daily Mail’s article about the “Hodge’s” reading habits). He is sadly neither, what he is though is bad for English football.  He will guarantee qualification, quarter finals and stagnation. Still at least they are third in the world.

Author Info

Mark Beegan

Mark Beegan

Mark is a graduate of UCD. Mark is a freelance journalist with a love of attacking football and tiki taka. Weekly contributor to Back Page Football. Writes mostly on European, South American and Irish Football.

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7 Responses

  1. Tim says:

    I appreciate the point of this article and the arguments made – it is laughable that England could be considered in the top 3 in the world, it’s debatable that we’re in reality in the top 10 – but:

    to say Hodgson “has little or no tangible success” to point to is to disregard his eight league titles with various Scandanavian teams. What isn’t tangible about that?

    With regard to England at the Euros, Hodgson inherited a team built around Capello’s formula, then desecrated by injuries, and had 5/6 weeks to make any sort of impact. He’s not a miracle worker, and England don’t have miracle players. The Euros weren’t the time (nor did we have the squad) to begin an entirely new set of tactics.

    I’m interested in Hodgson on how he can develop a side of young players with no underachiever monkeys on their backs who have the confidence to play to their individual strengths but also tactically can carry out a gameplan. It’s going to take time, however., beyond the 2014 WC.

  2. RhimJim says:

    No disrespect, but I suspect the author of this piece is a Liverpool fan. I suspect this because of the move towards ad-hominem attack after the Liverpool bit.

    At WBA Hodgson used 442, 4231, 4141 and at least once a 433. Do you think it might be possible that he used 442 (or 4411 with Rooney back) with England because it’s a system the players all know, it’s easy to drill and he only had 2 weeks to prepare for the tournament?

    Time will tell. I suspect he will surprise us yet, but England fans (including the author above) need to recognise that these players aren’t world beaters. They just aren’t. They can’t play tiki taka and they can’t win a world cup. They just can’t.

    Frankly – compared to Sven’s celebs or Schteve’s shower – ‘hard working and hard to beat’ doesn’t sound so bad to me.

    Hopefully what Roy will bring is a technical, academic and focused approach to establishing the FA’s coaching academy – one that follows the Italian model of coaching the coaches to bring success. (There’s a reason Italian coaches are dominating the club and international scene right now). Then, maybe, 10 to 15 years later we might have brought through a crop of world beating youngsters based on the efforts of those coaches. Maybe.

  3. Tim says:

    That suspicion can be confirmed with a quick visit to his Twitter page (which is linked to above, it’s not a secret).

    That doesn’t deny the author the right to make this argument, but it certainly colours the unduly harsh assessment of Hodgson’s England credentials and performance to date.

  4. Mark Beegan Mark Beegan says:

    If you guys think that eight league titles in Scandinavia in 30+ odd years of management qualifies him to take charge of one of the biggest and most difficult jobs in football , then fine that’s your opinion your entitled to it

    Secondly , I am a Liverpool supporter I don’t hide that fact. What happened during his spell at LFC was not all of Hodgsons fault but he did make a huge amount of mistakes. If you think he is a good manager who will move English football forward then good for you, I think he will prove to be a disaster, we will see with the passage of time who is proven to be correct

    Thirdly look back at the facts , go and analyse the games of WBA , 4-4-2 was the predominant formation, he is a rigid manager tactically and his philosophy on football is from the stone age

    As for the accusation that article is anti English because I am Irish. Well it would be frankly ridiculous to be anti English when I support Liverpool, who are an English team , and have a large number of players in Roy’s squads . I would for the record love England to be successful .

  5. Carl Sykes says:

    Feel this is a touch harsh on Hodgson but overall the article is probably accurate .

    Do we really truthfully think everything is rosy in the garden then we are in trouble. I go to most England games and this is one of our worst teams

    Hodgson formation doesn’t work and we are going backwards , sadly

  6. Steven Hodkins says:

    I for one wanted Harry or Pardew to manage us. Roy Hodgson nice man but his CV proves he is not good enough. Roy did not even bother to go watch England under age teams perform instead he went to watch tennis. disgrace.

    I was at Euro’s and we were dog muck, simple as. no cause for optimism

  7. Tim says:

    Mark – I can’t see anyone accusing you of being anti English because you’re Irish! Perhaps it happens so often you were simply pre-empting it. Either way if you genuinely read that into any of my comments, then I apologise as it was not intended.

    I took issue with your use of tangible success because 8 league titles is nothing to be sniffed at. Redknapp by comparison has been managing almost as long and has two league titles to his name, both in England but neither in the top league. He would have been a disaster as England manager, incidentally: if people think Hodgson is a step backwards, then Redknapp would have been positively mediaeval.

    You have a case that Hodgson’s actual achievements may not QUALIFY him to be up to the job – Capello for example has top league titles all over Europe – but I believe he’s shown enough at Fulham, West Brom that he can get performances out of a team that are far greater than the sum of its players. And if ever a description suited England…

    I have no time for anyone making a call on Hodgson or England after the Euros.

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