The General Theory of England Management. Part II
So much has been said about the England performance on Saturday night: the Sunday newspapers have said the bleedin' obvious and then said it again on the inside pages; Marina Hyde - the world's greatest female football pundit - has laid it on thick with sarcasm. Time to move on and examine the management challenge.
1. There were three phases to the England vs USA game: a) when England were sparking, and Gerrard playing a free-ranging attacking role; b) the middle bit where England lost it after the Rob Green own goal; c) the bit where the USA were knackered, backing off deep, but England could not make any headway. In light of this:
2. Capello's bad "Plan A" decisions were mainly in the selections.
a) Heskey-Rooney did not work. Heskey fed others, not Rooney.
b) Ledley King was not fit and then tried to limp along for the whole first half with a groin strain.
c) Milner was not fit and looked dangerously outpaced until taken off.
d) By playing two unfit players in these roles Cappello left the defence exposed.
e) Robert Green looked ill at ease in the tunnel and then we know what happened after that.
f) It appears that Capello decided to announce the team sheet late to the players. This did not work.
3. Faced with poor individual performances Capello quickly remedied his Plan A mistakes. But he should have probably removed Ledley King much earlier - in this World Cup minutes dragging by while you execute what's obvious matter. This is the Fergie disease also and may just be a disease of old managers, for whom minutes have ceased to matter in the great scheme of things.
4. What to do now? England need to beat Algeria and Slovenia in high-scoring games so they do not have to face Germany in the first knock-out round. These two games - which should be easy wins - also provide the platform to "norm" the team. Team building, according to management theory, goes through cycles of "forming-norming-storming-performing". To see a team performing, just watch the re-runs of Germany versus Australia. England are clearly at the stage between forming and norming but that's not a tragedy if Capello can get things right in the next 10 days. Incidentally if you are wondering why a team that has played a year's worth of qualifying matches is still "forming" remember the old business management adage: when a new member joins a team, it's a new team.
5. It's no longer an issue of individual skill and performance. England are never going to play fancy, beautiful football like Argentina, or drilled precision-tool stuff like Germany. They are always going to play like England; on the heart-stopping edge between incompetence and brilliance. The midfield may have malfunctioned at times on Saturday but there was no longer the feeling of absolute panic and aimlessness that beset many of the same players in 2006.
6. So it's an issue of formation and finishing. A lot of the pundits are pushing for England to play 4-4-1-1 with Gerrard in the hole and Rooney up front. There are two choices for Capello: to save this for the time when they really need it - ie against world class oppostion - or go for it now. In favour of keeping 4-4-2: England need to use the next two matches to make the default formation work. It worked decently with Wright-Phillips on left wing and would work also with Joe Cole in a wing role. However Lennon kept failing to go for the byline and cut inside - (fear of failure?).
7. Capello has to make a decision: where to put managerial focus and energy for the next four days? Option One: put it into trying to make the current system work properly versus Algeria. I said in Part I that the 4-4-2 English game has problems with strikers drifting through the back four: it should not have problems with strikers drifting between the back four and the midfield - but it did. So a clear, achievable goal would be to stop that happening. He needs to accept, inwardly, that he made hope-over-reason decisions in playing King and Milner, and probably in bringing Carragher on instead of Dawson.
8. Option Two would be: accept the 4-4-2 is not going to work against an serious opposition in this tournament (Argentina and Germany already exhibiting the wow-factor) and use the next two games to try and get a 4-4-1-1 system up and running, possibly at the cost of a low-scoring victory in each match.
9. None of this is ideal, but his options are getting closed down by injury and player age already. This is the key management challenge and it needs to be addressed within 48 hours.
10. Another key part of the task is to instil elan and belief. What there was clearly evaporated once Green had let the goal in. Real belief and relaxation and focus are what England always lack. Why?
Coming up Next: the Office of Budget Responsibility Report, 0930 Monday.