Along with risking salmonella from the matchday catering, a jaunty acceptance of xenophobia and the now-annual day-shift prostitute scandals, the boring old 4-4-2 formation is a staple of the English game.
It’s rigid uniformity and lack of extraneous bells-and-whistles hark back to the days of the empire, when a chap maintained that stiff upper lip even if he were being shot at by the natives or it was his back yard that the doodlebugs were falling in – but it’s this very same lack of tactical malleability that is proving, again and again, to be the downfall of the English national football team.
The actual game of football, in general, is an ever-evolving entity. For the majority of the world’s footballing nations, gone are the days when stout chaps in thick cotton knickerbockers were praised for being willing to ‘play on’ despite a fractured clavicle, and gone too are the days when players were lauded for scoring goals by taking the least number of touches as humanly possible en route – although one last bastion for such outmoded virtues still exists, if you know where to look.
On Tuesday night we were subjected to 90 minutes of some of the most chronically devoid, unimaginative and anti-progressive international football that I have witnessed in a long time (since about the 7th September actually), and yes – it was that bad.
A sheer lack of tactical fluidity ensured that England were unable to break down Montenegro’s numerous defense, and the game duly ran it’s course as a depressingly predictable 0-0 stalemate.
Plan A was to employ a bit of completely futile tiki-taka (I’m sure that’s what they think they’re doing) around the defense and midfield whilst uncontested, then hoof 40-yard balls to the necks of the pygmy wingers as soon as Montenegro decided to try and retain a bit of possession for themselves.
For Plans B and C – see Plan A. Needless to say, neither of the three were particularly effective.
Then came Fabio Capello‘s utterly moronic substitutions. With the game utterly lacking any spark or flow, the Italian coach in all his infinite wisdom decided to stick the status quo and make two identical like-for-like substitutions, with Kevin Davies replacing the ineffective Peter Crouch and perpetual waste of space Shaun Wright-Phillips replacing Ashley Young.
As the 4-4-2 system remained essentially unchanged, no fresh impetus was added and therefore the game rumbled on unabridged. What may seem retina-searingly obvious to you or I, went somehow unnoticed by a manager with nearly 20 years of exemplary experience under his belt.
The regimentally linear, three-banded 4-4-2 formation is quickly becoming antiquated and obsolete as far as top level football goes.
Nearly all of the better domestic and international sides have now adopted four-banded formations (4-1-2-3 etc.) that allow a certain extent of fluidity within it’s constraints, thus facilitating a much more open and expressive style of football, i.e. what England so desperately needed to break down Montenegro (and the many well-drilled defensive units that have come before them).
Instead, Capello and his numerous predecessors have insisted on making England play ‘the English way’, despite the majority of the players already using the more fluid formations at club level – and that’s the most galling aspect of the whole pathetic charade, England already have the resources in place to change thinks around.
Why remove Jack Wilshere from the U21s (who had an important game themselves) and then not utilise his burgeoning creative talents? Why not free the two dynamic, attacking wingers from their defensive duties (by installing a three man ‘central’ midfield behind them) and allow them to terrorise full-backs? Why not sacrifice a defensive midfielder altogether against teams that the current crop of players should be rolling over with ease?
It doesn’t take a genius, it just takes balls.
Regardless of anomalous results here and there, England (by their own design) have been suffering from this awful creative dearth for nigh-on six years now (feel free to correct me if you think it may be longer than that!) and are in real danger descending into a impotent parody of themselves and their footballing ‘culture’.
A change has got to come.