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Eoin O'Callaghan

Eoin O'Callaghan

Eoin has worked in sports broadcasting in Ireland as a researcher, reporter, presenter and producer. He is currently a soccer reporter/anchor with the Fox Soccer Report


TANGENTS

England Found Out Again – Will They Ever Learn?

Written by on June 25, 2012 | 24 Comments »
Posted in England

The refrain of Leonard Cohen’s ‘The Future’ goes ‘When they said ‘repent’, ‘repent’/ I wonder what they meant’. And as the fall-out develops from England’s elimination from another international tournament, sorry genuinely seems to be the hardest word.

We had been told this was different, of course. Force-fed the buzz words, those sound-bytes that always whip the gullible into a frenzy. There were the bland references to team-spirit, belief and how every side always has a chance.And then, all it took was a 3-2 victory over Sweden to send everyone over the edge. ‘At times’, said captain Steven Gerrard, ‘it feels like we’re unbreakable’. It didn’t take long, did it?

You see, the past always creeps up on England. They have a disturbing obsession with what’s been and gone. Nothing is ever forgotten about. Everything is filed, easily recalled at even the most vaguely-related opportunity. Pragmatism is not allowed. And this English squad is no different.

What had been learned from the 2010 debacle?

Was there a better mood in the dressing-room now?

Is Hodgson better than Capello?

There was even the obligatory ‘national pride’ story. Jamie Redknapp, writing in his column for The Daily Mail following England’s win over Ukraine opened with this beauty, ‘Every England player sang the National Anthem beforehand. All the way along the line, every one of them. Can you remember the last time that happened?’ I can’t Jamie, but one thing is for certain – it wasn’t that way under the foreign lads. Because the players didn’t really feel English under Capello or Eriksson.

What with them being foreigners and all that.

Yet no one made reference to the straw-clutching and how pathetic it was.

How England’s performance against France was insipid, devoid of any life, dull, embarrassing.

The excuses were already in place. A great platform. A strong foundation.

Always important not to suffer defeat in the first game. No mention of how scared they were. How frightened of France this collection of millionaires had been. Instead, the reflections called for some history lessons. Comparisons were needed. This draw was much better than that 2-1 loss to the French back in 2004. And remember, the team didn’t even qualify for the tournament four years ago. So…progress! Rule Brittania!

Hodgson is a functional coach – always has been and always will. That’s why he does so well with having limited players at his disposal. You do the simple things right, you send clear, concise messages and nothing ever becomes too complicated. The problem though is that modern-day management is constantly evolving.

The runts of the litter are eager to swallow-up new research methods, borrow from other sports in different countries, travel to watch and learn from the best sides currently playing the game. These young students are to football what the digital revolution was to the 90s. A game-changer. They acknowledge possession is both a defensive and offensive strategy.

They acknowledge a goalkeeper is an eleventh player, not just a shot-stopper. They acknowledge ‘long’ as being a dirty term and that it shouldn’t preface any word featured in their coaching manuals. It’s about sharpness, precision, execution. It’s cold-blooded, it’s revolutionary, it’s perfect.

Any real success story includes development as a fundamental aspect. A step in the right direction. At last, perhaps, just a faint hint of moving forward. But, as is the norm, England went the other way.

After an hour of their quarter-final against Italy, we saw the big-man introduced to replace an energetic, busy player who likes the ball at his feet. The big-man was brought in so he could become the target for the goalkeeper’s booming clearances. Meanwhile, the Italians owned the game because of the calmness and masterful possession-based dominance exerted by Andrea Pirlo in central midfield.

A ‘veteran’ who was never rushed, never panicked. Everything revolved around this man’s innate gift for using the ball intelligently though his first thought is always to keep it, then to move it. The infrequency of the champagne passes only served to extol their brilliance.

The Premier League’s most accurate passer last term was Swansea’s Leon Britton, followed by Paul Scholes who played half a season.  But their absences from the England squad aren’t exactly surprising given that Hodgson clearly doesn’t want this team to keep the ball.

The facts are in the stats. 81% pass success, which isn’t bad but an average of only 40% possession per game. From the eight quarter-finalists, only Greece racked up a lower number – a side perceived by many as the epitome of ‘anti-football’.

England currently top some Euro 2012 stat lists. They racked up the most tackles and most blocks. Nothing like some valiant hard-work. Blood, sweat and tears. Something to be proud of, as always. The day after the night before is usually a time for sombre and sober reflection though Hodgson had to deal with the pang of a rather piercing and persistent headache.

Those pesky passing numbers. We’ve all been there. Tender-bodied, still bruised physically and emotionally from a depressing night previous that had promised so much when it all began. Now, away from the flashing lights and still cranky and tired, you avoid reality for just a little while longer.

Said Hodgson on Monday, “I don’t regard statistics, particularly possession statistics, as important in determining which is a good or a bad team”.

After England’s win over Sweden, Sir Dave Richards, the FA’s vice-chairman said Hodgson had brought a Midas touch to the team. Though perhaps the Football Association needs to brush up on their Greek mythology. When Midas realized his greed had led him down the path of stupidity, he returned to Dionysus, the God who had bestowed his gift upon him and begged for help. For Midas, being able to turn everything he touched to gold was a short-term thrill but ultimately, nothing more than a short-sighted wish for which he paid the consequences.

Hodgson’s novelty is already beginning to wear off.    

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24 Responses to “England Found Out Again – Will They Ever Learn?”

  1. Truth says:

    Wellbeck puts a shot on target, Rooney hits one of the headers he missed and they are through to the next round. This isn’t Roy’s fault.

  2. Brian says:

    And you are ? And your team is ? Fact is England are the only home country cabable of representing Britain in major tournaments and are usually the only ones good enough to qualify, You have to be in it to win it, How far did your team go ?

  3. Seattle Loon says:

    Eoin:

    Great article. And very refreshing in the context of most of the other coverage of England’s Euro campaign where the consensus seems to be they did better than expected.

    Maybe the English public and pundits get what they want and deserve. Instead of skill, technique and intelligence the most prized attributes in the British game are bravery, determination and commitment.

    How else can you explain the continued lack of success of England on the national level? Relative to its population, history and wealth I can’t think of a worse national football team.

    The disturbing part of this is that nobody in England wants to ask any hard questions and seem quite content with the status-quo.

    Being a valiant loser who play at the level of a Greece is the most England aspire to? Pathetic for a nation of 50 million people who invented the game and who have the wealthiest league in the world.

    Compare and contrast with Germany. Since 2000 when Germans failed at Euro’s in 2000 they have spent 80/90 million Euro’s per year on youth development, coaching and facilities. England despite wealth of EPL have done virtually nothing.

    The EPL’s TV rights are now worth over 1 Billion Pounds per year (including overseas revenue). Where is the visionary stating the obvious? Some of that money could be channeled into a complete re-organisation of the game at the grass-roots level.

    A couple of additional comments as a Liverpool fan. It’s comical that England want to keep 32 year old Steven Gerrard as captain. Given his age and the injuries he’s suffered this is extremely foolhardy and simply won’t work. England play their first World Cup qualifier against the Ukraine a week/two weeks after LFC play Man City and Arsenal for example.

    Your description of Hodgson’s strengths and failings are a sharp reminder of why he was loathed at Anfield. In one memorable game Pepe Reina who had come from Spain as an auxiliary sweeper punted the ball up field over 30 times against Wolves!

    Delighted we have a modern coach in Brendan Rodgers. I just hope he is given time. He had the luxury of arriving at Swansea with a multi-year platform of possession football already established.

  4. Brian – if you are going to post you are going to have to do a lot better than that wimpy, dreary my-Dad-is-bigger-than-your-Dad response. Your sense of history and reality lets you down.
    England represents no country other than England and if you think otherwise then you are simply delusional.

  5. Truth – and do you think progress would be well-deserved as well?
    Conversely Italy succeed with about 25% of their chances and win 7-0.

  6. Alberta Gooner says:

    Excellent piece, Eoin.

  7. rdm says:

    I guess there are very few people who have actually read Soccernomics? Granted it’s only the interpretation of statistics as presented by two people, but considering that based upon population, GDP, and number of tournaments played where their side is faced with opposition not considered shite, England are actually and have been for a long time, punching above their level.

    What does that have to do with the dismal football where it’s considered a good thing to muster no shots in the 2nd half and OT of a 120 minute game? Not a lot, just don’t confuse consistently exiting in the quarter finals as under achieving. Final placement doesn’t have much to do with people’s issues here. The awful football and regressive strategies constantly on display are the big gripe and honestly I can’t find fault in that.

  8. J says:

    I’m not a huge consumer of English media, so I’m probably out of the loop on some of the references, above. It certainly felt like there were more reasonable expectations for the team, this time around, and that many of us felt like a quarterfinal appearance was the reasonable end of the road.

    Would some of us love a mulligan? Of course. I don’t have the Glenn Johnson fetish. If you lift him, you don’t necessarily need Milner as a babysitter. It might have been nice to start Walcott and keep Abate honest.

  9. Truth says:

    Bobby-I see your point. To say England parked the bus like Chelsea is a bit of a stretch. How about giving Buffon some credit? Hodgeson had a sound plan, they just didn’t deliver offensively when they had their chances. In reality, they were choked PK’s from advancing.

  10. Seattle_Loon says:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/teams/england/9354727/Euro-2012-if-England-think-radically-and-act-now-we-can-do-a-Germany-says-Jamie-Carragher.html

    This article might make you choke on your cornflakes tomorrow morning at breakfast. ‘Mr. Hoof-The-Ball-Long’ Jamie Carragher giving a damning and insightful analysis on the standard of English football and what steps might be taken to improve it.

    Gary Neville and Jamie C – good pundits – who would have thunk it? (Has anyone else heard Neville’s ‘When Harry Met Sally’ moment when Torres scored against Barca in the Champion’s League semi this season by the way?)

  11. Truth
    1. It is not my article so I had nothing to say about Chelsea and parking the bus
    2. How many saves did Buffon have to make through 120 minutes or are we giving credit for standing around and looking imposing?
    3. Hodgson’s sound plan? That is the point of the article is it not? Sound or otherwise don’t expect another plan soon – there is only one plan with Roy Hodgson.

  12. Seattle Loon – I wrote a piece about four years ago about then players who would go on to become managers. My top two were Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher.

    A regular contradiction we see is the difference between how a player played and how he then manages.
    Often different extremes.

  13. Seattle Loon says:

    Bobby:

    Four years ahead of the rest of the world.

    Read this on the Beeb website today.

    Number of coaches per country with their UEFA Coaching Badges:

    Germany – 34,790
    Spain – 23,995
    England – 2769

    A pretty illuminating statistic

  14. Alberta Gooner says:

    @Seattle Loon

    Is that UEFA Pro License holders or B License holders?

  15. Seattle Loon says:

    Both I believe AG. (Article by Ben Smith on BBC football in Euro’s section).

  16. shmish says:

    I heard on the radio this morning some pundits blaming the “foreigners” in the EPL as a major reason for England’s lack of success. Poor Daniel Sturridge doesn’t start very often, so it’s no wonder that England doesn’t do well. Ridiculous. English football players have the same chance to play as any other country’s football player, if they don’t play it’s because they’re not good enough. Furthermore, English players can play in other leagues too. The EPL is full of English players, many of which are top-rated and exorbitantly paid.

  17. Shmish – same old excuse coming from pundits bankrupt of any thought other than graft and a long ball forward.

  18. Alberta Gooner says:

    @Seattle Loon

    Found the article and thanks for pointint it out.

    Germany and Spain must have fantastic infrastructure to progress that many coaches through the B, A and Pro licensing arrangements and I’d be interested to know how many of those license-holders are retired professionals who started work on their badges while they were still playing.

    In addition to infrastructure, there would be a culture that encourages players to earn their badges. I wonder if it’s an issue with infrastructure or culture or a bit of both.

    The technical director at my local soccer club did his UEFA A license in Scotland and found it was an outstanding education.

    It is certainly not something that would be easy for a soccer parent. As somebody who is currently working through the B licensing requirements, I can tell you it’s extremely difficult to schedule coursework between holding down a full-time job as well as coaching a select team throughout the year, particularly because Canada lacks the same kind of infrastructure as Europe and, in my province, holds a limited number of courses every year.

  19. Seattle Loon says:

    AG

    That’s fantastic. Good for you. No expert on the subject but have been keen to do a little research on Germany and Spain given their current dominance.

  20. Ed Gomes says:

    Great piece Eion. A wonderful read, where I could agree more.
    I wouldn’t be shocked if Lamps was still being counted on for the WC

    AG good luck in obtaining your license. I have played futebol my whole life and continue to do so in a over 40 league. We actually have an owner and two managers that don’t play.
    We find ourselves too often talking about the horrible coaching we see kids are getting. How nothing is really being taught.
    Like you said, its tough to manage every day life and be able to give even more time.
    Good luck.

  21. Alberta Gooner says:

    @Seattle Loon

    I’d be curious to see what the numbers are for the Netherlands and Portugal as well. Even with far smaller populations, they consistently produce more technically sound, tactially astute players than England.

    @Ed

    Thanks for the kind words. Coaching can be even more fun than playing and a couple of the guys who were at my pre-B assessment didn’t have even kids. They wanted to take the coursework just to coach at their local clubs and learn more about the game. I’d highly recommend it, particularly if there’s a nearby club in need of coaches with the infrastructure to bring in the instructors/assessors. It’s very rewarding and you’ll learn a lot.

  22. Ed Gomes says:

    I appreciate the thought. I actually coach basketball as a volunteer in my daughters school. It’s a CYO league.
    The gentleman that owns our team, he also owns and manages a Level A (just below semi-pro) club, used to coach youngsters. We’ve talked about getting back into it, but it’s difficult. What I’ve seen in NJ, maybe because of a ton of futebol interest, is that it’s become big business. People that have no business running soccer clinics or coach traveling squads, are doing it for the money. Don’t get me wrong, there’s very good coaches an programs, but there’s plenty of bad as well.
    You go to some of these practices and games and you just have to scratch your head.

  23. Alberta Gooner says:

    @Ed Gomes

    I would check out your state soccer federation/association to get a list of affliated clubs.

    Totally agree with you about the fly-by-night charlatans who treat youngsters as a revenue stream. It’s tough in countries where soccer is not a part of the mainstream culture because parents who are not exposed to the game will struggle to make an informed choice about soccer camps/clinics. It’s one reason, by the way, that many programs market themselves as “British” or by a European designation as they will be seen as superior programs by causal fans.

    BTW, one of my players — a real prodigy who is playing up an age level — used to attend an academy in Ontario run a former Sporting Lisbon academy grad and reserve team player — and the results really show. He’s technically light years ahead of other players. It tells me you can introduce kids to technically demanding concepts at an early age provided you understand how five and six-year olds absorb information and can tailor your drills/small-sided games/activities to that age group.

  24. Gbenga says:

    Excellent piece as always Eoin… Excellent write up… The same thing happened before and it’s going to happen again. They just never learn…

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