England’s dismal World Cup defined by lack of creativity

By Rhys Hayward
joe cole

Many England fans would have opted to start Joe Cole (Photo: Ryu Voelkel)

In the aftermath of England’s ‘Golden Generation’ surrendering to their most pitiful low, the clamour for an overhaul of the side and coach is deafening.

Perhaps more intriguing however has been the mass critical and public outcry against 4-4-2.

The English endearment to the supposedly antiquated system is legendary, yet this campaign has been marked by the number of critics of 4-4-2, with even Harry Redknapp weighing in during the BBC‘s coverage.

That Redknapp’s Spurs are one of the few Premier League sides still using 4-4-2 might have passed some by yesterday, but his comments summed up the national crisis with its favourite formation.

England’s tactical struggles in South Africa were however as much to do with their comical inflexibility as their system.

Modern football is played at such a pace that fluidity rather than positional rigidity defines the best attacking teams.

For much of this tournament England were playing anything other than a 4-4-2 with Stephen Gerrard and James Milner, both central players at club level, consistently drifting infield.

But it was startlingly clear from the opening fixture with the USA that England had neither the confidence nor the wherewithal to penetrate organised defences.

England attacked in straight lines and with laughable transparency.

Fabio Capello deserved his criticism for a reluctance to alter England’s tactical approach but he was handicapped severely by Wayne Rooney’s baffling absence of form.

With a fully firing Rooney, England are a different prospect regardless of their formation.

The 24-year-old forward typifies the modern front-man, capable of playing off the shoulder of defenders as well as dropping deep to create.

Former Manchester United man Diego Forlan has inspired a Uruguayan team, also playing 4-4-2, to the quarter-finals by excelling in the role Rooney should have fulfilled.

When Rooney plays with confidence, as he did for so much of England’s qualifying campaign, space seems to open up for him and his teammates, in particular Steven Gerrard.

But with form so evidently beyond him this summer, England looked completely bereft of ideas.

On his arrival in England in 2008 Capello instantly identified the Liverpudlian as his key asset and recalled Emile Heskey to extract the best out of Rooney.

It worked initially, but as Rooney evolved under the ultimate tactical revolutionary Sir Alex Ferguson, Capello persisted with his plan.

There are other reasons why England exited as pitifully as they have, a shambolic, sluggish defence the most pertinent of them, but England’s absence of creativity will define their 2010 experience.

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