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The General Theory of England Management. Part II

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Paul Mason | 22:51 UK time, Sunday, 13 June 2010

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.


  • Comment number 1.

    Point 10 ''Why''.

    Just read the Uk papers, and not unrelated to an earlier point of mine about Brazil and their nick names giving adifferent psychological dynamic to the team. As a nation we take it all way too seriously, we are out of balance. You need the passion, but you need the perspective also and the 'cheekyness' that goes with it.

    V good analysis, not sure about the 'Rooney / Heskey thing though, I just thought Rooney had an off day, Heskey was very effective, he would be more effective if Rooney had got himself into the right spaces as he usually does with Heskey, not Heskey's fault.

    I would play Joe Cole instead of Milner or Wright Phillips. He gives way more options and can score as well. I would go for Dawson in defence too, I was hoping he would get the nod over King and Carragher anyway.

    Joe Hart should be in goal, he looks like raw talent to me.. reminded me a bit like... dare i say it.. Gordon Banks.. very instinctive.

    Apart from that I would leave the rest alone.

    USA were good, like Germany on amphetamines, but they ran out of gas, explains why they were 2-0 up against brazil and still lost in the confederation cup. They will cause problems for many teams.

    Germany probably flattered a bit tonight, they did not look good at the back to me, not convinced..yet..they may get a bit of a shock if they do meet the USA in the next round (or England), Australia did not press at all, made it Easy for Germany to play their game.

  • Comment number 2.

    Why? er maybe this (or er maybe not)

    deep DEEP down England players believe they're not REALLY world class (even if they have the skills to be so) and are instead just a bunch of "blokes" just like the fans/hacks who follow them. They do not, unlike the media myth, TRULY believe they are the chosen ones and suffer from over-expanded egos. Quite the opposite in fact. they do not see themselves as "world class" or demigods. they swoon over the thought of playing with real foreign talent. They have within their psychic DNA a deep sense of worthlessness (for what reason??? don't know but maybe it's good old british self-effacement and not wanting to be seen as successful/clever/better than "yer mates" which might have something to do with it). couple this with the "just get it in the box" attitude of british fans and basically the terms "football artist" or "world beaters" sit uneasily on our players even if they DO have the skills to be so. as brits we don't really believe in the continental style (bizarrely considering Euro Cup success by Liverpool - gr8 passing side - then Man Utd). in short they believe deep down that they are just bunch of English yeomen cloggers despite the fact that they are far from it.

    or maybe to believe is to run risk of dashed hopes. best to play safe, expect to lose and not get hurt then REALLY believe and be crushed by defeat.

  • Comment number 3.

    Karm down, karm down. As much as i respect Marina Hyde, this wasn't the same old england. Take out the Green blunder and i see a fairly decent performance, marred by the 2 injuries that meant the Capello couldn't does his routine second half repair job.

    King - hindsight is a wonderful thing. Not many were arguing with the line that, remember, came from his club boss Harry Redknapp, and the national physio, that he was worth the gamble. Capello could have replaced him earlier, but as i said before, he always utlilises his subs as an effective weapon and so didn;t want to use them up unecessarily.

    Milner - again, hindsight. Seemed fit, seemed up for it, turned out he wasn't. I thought Capello acted quickly and effectively (even ruthlessly) in taking him off before half time.

    Green - dodgy. For me, this was the criticism of Capello that sticks - Hansen's idea that you pick the back 5 early and then play them together a lot. He looked like the type of keeper who is used to being in the thick of it (He was called on a lot for West Ham this season) and then switched off and fluffed when his 2 seconds of work was called for. Even his 'wonder save' clearly went thru his hands. I expect Capello to again be ruthless - bin him. Hart is used to playing behind a solid defence, athletic, has to be the choice for me.

    Attack - Lampard and Gerrard can't do it. USA had 12 shots on goal - way too much for a team that looked like one of the worst in the tournament. The reason was L&G were constantly switching off from picking up - they'd do it at the start of the attack then drift out of position. You can't expect a racehorse to pull a dray,and vice versa. Barry has to play, has to have kept his form thru injury, and has to stay fit - a big ask.

    Rooney was quiet because he was on orders not to lose his rag, and he needs to play hi-energy to play well. Not a disaster, no problems, thought he still showed class. Heskey played well, should be the 4-4-2 choice against decent opposition. I, like everyone else, would prefer we didn't play 4-4-2 but Capello knows what he's doing.

    The wide men can't shoot, which is a major problem, but they can cross and have the pace to break up defences, which means that Rooney will always have chances from cut-backs, which he will nearly always put away.

    Crouch should play the next 2 as he is the ultimate flat-track bully and will guarantee wins against what looked like 2 poor defences. This will give Capello time to work more with the players and come up with a gameplan for the real threats in the knockouts.

    The dream is still on - as the Italians say "stai calma huh?!"

  • Comment number 4.

    Point 10:

    a/ I don't think it does much for their self-belief that there is an entire industry built around criticising them.

    b/ There does seem to be a problem with parochialism in UK football - certainly among the major nations, none produce a national team so completely dependent on players from their domestic league. Shouldn't some of our world class players have careers at foreign clubs?

    c/ As usual, our team is plagued by injury. Again, somewhere I heard that the premiership has a similar injury rate to european leagues until christmas, markedly higher in the second half of the season. Why?

  • Comment number 5.

    Your point 5 & 6: not really sure,Paul - earlier point about paygrade; you would expect technical excellence and stamina; so, I did not like seeing Carragher getting skinned, Gerrard and Lampard passing poorly, Heskey missing one-on-one, Wright-Phillips muddling his dribbling and missing a sitter ( forget the Green howler); if you shrug these things off, you're missing the importance of keeping possession and goals. I think formation is being overstated.

  • Comment number 6.

    gerrard said 'don't blame the goalkeeper' !!! DOH!

  • Comment number 7.

    Point 10 "Why" I'm sure Statist would point's all to do with the feminisation of UK male society.

    Now if we had a team of real men playing, the cup would be virtually 'in the bag'.

    Countries strong on machismo and high nationalistic tendancies are...

    Cameroon my theory is the team with the hairiest chests will win the cup (especially if they are good at penalties ;o)


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