Passion With Panache

By John Cartwright

We have watched our national team disappoint once again at another major football competition. The regularity of inferior performances has become an almost expected occurrence amongst all followers of the game here. ‘Pre-hyped’ frenzy is dissipated by poor performances from both individuals and teams decade after decade, yet we continue to fall into the trap of   believing that ‘all will be well this time’.

Let’s be brutally honest, our game is woefully short of quality in individual and team standards. We have become addicted to the acceptance of mediocrity to such an extent that true quality is not recognized and our game falls further behind more enterprising football nations. Don’t try to convince me that the performances of England recently were good enough. Reaching the knock-out stage and being beaten on penalties is seen as success by those who need to ‘camouflage’ poor quality for the sake of greed and a selfish disregard for the future of our game. Similarly, don’t be too critical of Roy Hodgson; his late appointment to the job plus the fact that he has very mediocre players to work with made it extremely difficult to do much better than he did, although his pragmatism, although useful in the qualifying stage, became a hindrance in the game against Italy. My concern for Roy, is that he has been ‘hoisted high into football’s Crows’ Nest’ but has been given little or no control over the ‘crew running the ship’ below him. He is a man of vast experience and his position as England Manager should also involve him in overseeing the whole of the development chain from junior to senior levels.

For once and for all, let us pin-point the true reason for our football demise; it’s down to extremely bad development methods! The teaching and playing infrastructure that is supposed to develop the game’s raw material and prepare it for senior football is woefully inadequate – not suitable for purpose would be a more defined comment.  I have criticised development methods here for many years and have been consistently ignored by our football hierarchy – but I am not wrong in what I have said!  Development methods here have produced nothing more than basic performance standards; to accommodate poor individualism, simplistic playing styles and tactics have been embraced.  Our so-called ‘stars’ find playing with tactical variations an almost impossible task and rely on outdated systems that are exposed when set against better prepared nations.

We are NOT Spanish; Dutch; German; Brazilian; Italian etc; we are English and need to find a game-style that retains the best ingredients of our game whilst introducing the skills and tactics from abroad that we deem lacking here. Would ‘Ticki-Tacka’ football be appreciated here even though the Spanish have displayed its qualities? I don’t think so. Therefore, what we must do is ‘find an appropriate playing style that is both ATRACTIVE to watch and highly EFFECTIVE in terms of results that suits the culture of people in this country………Fans must enjoy watching it; coaches must be taught to deliver it; players must be skilful to play it.  OUR GAME MUST CONSIST OF BOTH PASSION AND PANACHE TO SATISFY CULTURAL DEMANDS AS WELL AS THE PLAYING STANDARDS FOR SUCCESS.

The point I have been trying to emphasize in numerous ‘blogs’ on this website regarding the importance of establishing a playing ‘vision’ with progressive programmes of work to achieve it, is now becoming obvious to all. The ‘bits and pieces’ approach to teaching and playing that has marred the quality of our game for generations must be discarded and a properly designed development and playing experience must replace it.

Our game at senior levels is full of ‘cracks’ in skills and tactics, these faults are ‘papered over’ to hide them but the ‘paper’ covering these game deficiencies becomes detached under pressure from better prepared opponents. We must accept that what we are watching in our domestic game is far from the quality it is reported to be. We must begin to question all areas of the media who voice their opinions onto vast numbers of the ordinary football public. Unless we establish a solid playing standard for our game and stop relying on ‘hyped’ levels to glorify poor quality we will continue to live in hope when it comes to success at major football events.

Spain, have just won the UEFA 2012 Cup competition; they have shown style in both play and attitude and fully deserve the title of ‘World’s greatest football team’ in my opinion. What we must do is work hard to improve on the standards they have set; it won’t be easy, but nothing really worth doing is easy. However, this is England and I must remind everyone that the disappointment of UEFA 2012 will soon be forgotten as our domestic season begins in about 5weeks from now. All the vile and criticism of our performances along with any good intentions for resolving the mess our game has become will find their way under the same ‘ up-lifted carpet’ used so often in the past after previous disappointing results. This time the ‘sweepings’ will contain the hopes of those who desire to watch and play a style of football that is passionately English but with a touch of ‘continental panache’. But, as the new season draws near, the ‘hyped call’ to action will once again ‘stir the blood’ and our domestic version of the ‘beautiful game’ ….  ‘fightball’ will continue to deliver the same old ‘rubbish’!………………..WILL WE EVER LEARN?

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14 thoughts on “Passion With Panache

  1. I agree that we must retain our own natural style and blend into it the technical qualitiies of the the leading continental nations such as the Spanish.
    When we had our only ever international success 46 years ago this was what actually occurred. Ron Greenwood had developed a potentially outstanding team at West Ham United of exclusively English players, and the best – Moore,Hurst and Peters – were key components of Englands successful 1966 World Cup winning team.
    The problem was that although many people were full of praise for the work which Ron Greenwood did in that era at West Ham, too many followed a different path. English football became faster and faster, ‘hatchet men’ ruled the League and talented indiviuals were kicked out of the game. I believe that that the all-consuming media
    hype also started at that time.
    There was more talent around at that time, especially when you consider that Worthington, Hudson, Currie and Marsh barely got a handful of caps between them. But the football public was brainwashed by the media into believing that we would dominate the game, but when this failed to materialise in the internaional arena we were told, oh well our clubs will dominate the European club competitions. This did happen, but we failed to acknowledge that before the days of foreign imports many of our leading clubs were still ‘foreign’ in that they were full of Scots,Welsh and Irish and it weas clear that the reservoir of English talent was gradually
    drying up.
    So i believe that our present state can actually be traced back to the heady days of 1966. The player development work that Ron Greenwood was implementing at West Ham was not properly acknowledged. It was around this time that the physical educationalists gained a grip of our national coaching scheme. I remember because I started doing courses around that time and it was the period when Allen Wade’s “FA Guide To Training and Coaching”
    became required reading for everyone taking the basic Prelim Award.
    This was not appropriate to the majority of youth workers,teachers etc who took the courses and we have suffered accordingly in the decades since.
    It has taken the introduction of the Premier Skills concept to arrest this decline and give the chance to turn things around, but it is clear that we must be prepared to put in many years of hard work before we see the fruits of success at international level.

    mostly theoretical, with allen wade’s “FA Guide to Training and Coaching”

    • Hi Steve.I was at west Ham when Ron Greenwood became the Manager replacing Ted fenton. Ron was a terrific coach and a gentleman and i made a huge mistake leaving the club to go to Crystal Palace -i’m sure he would have brought out the very best in me. However, Ron inherited an exceptional group of young players many of whom became domestic stars and some who became players of world renown. All of these players ‘arrive’ at WHU through the hard work of the chief scout Wally St Pier, and the dynamic personality and coaching ability of Malcolm Allison. But the main skills, game understanding and physical qualities of the boys had been acquired in the streets and debris of London’s East End and surrounding Boroughs’
      Young players today who train and play at pristine training grounds would be truly amazed if they saw the archaic facilities that players of the past were forced to use. Evening training for schoolboys signed at West Ham, usually took place on the tarmac entrance to the the club but would be transferred to the ‘debris area in front of the old Boleyn Castle that stood in front of the club’s Main Stand when the entrace was in use for car parking. The dressing room for apprentices was the Boiler room below ground and training opportunities were only possible if the Head Groundsman had no other work for us to do work .

  2. Paradoxically, all of the above countries possess a ‘hyped-up’ media machine; that is the nature of the business. One could even say that some are more ‘hyped’ than the English – Brazil are the most prominent example.

    However, and here is the rub, all the BIG FOOTBALL COUNTRIES – with the exception of England – know to bigger or lesser degrees ‘how to play.’

    When they fail as the Dutch and the French did, the criticism is fundamentally different from the Englishes. There’s is about ‘in-fighting and mentality’ NOT TECHNICAL ABILITY, in the collective and individual senses.

    While countries all have their own characteristics the best can all combine, conjoint and exhibit high levels of individual excellence. The English have qualities of hard work, effort, never-say-die, keep going even when its lost, dig-in etc etc. This mentality is wonderful if it is interconnected with skill, subtlety and intelligence. Shankly, Paisley and Dalglish’s formative Liverpool knew this in spades and as Souness said this week it WAS INGRAINED EVERY DAY THAT ‘ POSSESSION IS EVERYTHING.’ Spain has happened in took this philosophy to the nth degree.

    To my way of thinking this GLOBALISATION of the game ( keeping the ball) that everyone understands, has been forgotten by some of the English.

    The English like to head a ball and can witness Andy Carroll, or John Terry etc. But then the ball spends more time in the air than on the ground. In essence it eats up distance quicker; lacking quality as an end product. Let’s face it at the highest level, seemingly the ONLY final ball is aerial in the English cannon.

    I know that John has not been critical about Roy Hodgson’s tactics, and that is understandable, BUT top illuminaries such as Hoddle, Venables and Wilkins were not exactly complimentary. Why persist in 4 – 4(flat) 2 against the Italians. Curiously, while the English Press suggested the growing influence of Gary Neville do we assume that he did not put the case strongly enough – or actually put the case – that the midfield four would be overrun!

    Patently the Azzurris’ diamond allowed PIrlo, Del Rossi and co to much space to lift their heads. England tried to engage but failed. Not enough firemen got around the ball.

    The ‘hyped-up’ press corps FAILED to ask important technical questions of Hodgson:

    Why did you persist with 4 -4 -2?

    Why did you not overload the midfield?

    When it became obvious that Rooney could not get around Pirlo, why no new tactical input? Or did you?

    Are the players unable to carry out your tactical instructions?

    Yes, questions that might put a ‘bright’ journalist into Coventry as far as the new man is concerned, but needed to be asked!

    Every lesser football nation playing against a better team, as England were against the Italians MUST COME UP WITH A TACTICAL SOLUTION.

    And England failed on two accounts – One as John states is technical and the other tactical. The former being ‘acceptable’ as Hodgson could do nothing about that, the second is well, to put it politely, slightly questionable.

    While the English coach wants big, strong, abrasive men; it will be hard to progress as a nation.

    Change the philosophy, establish a vision, and look for small boys with technical ability… Maradona (5.5), Zola (5.4), Giresse ( 5.4), Keegan (5.7), Dalglish (5.8), etcetra….. Xavi and Iniesat are not giants BUT GIANTS IN THE GAME.

    The FA should GO FIGURE…. IT IS not working.

  3. in england we appreciate fighting spirit & power not skill on the ball and finesse & until that changes we will all ways produce robotic athlete of players not skillful ball players

    and it is the team that is the most skillful that wins at international football not the team with the best athletes

    in boxing they allways say a boxer will beat a puncher well in football skill & technique will allways beat power & pace

    and unfortunately england are punchers & the rest of the world are boxers

  4. Hi, I really enjoyed reading this article. I agree with the statement that we are English, different to other nations and should try to create a style which works for us. Although it’s unfashionable, I believe, if we are innovative and not reactive it will benefit our football teams in the long run.
    I’ve wrote a similar piece about the differences between Spanish and English coaching techniques. Concluding with similar sentiments. I’d really appreciate it if you could take a quick look http://footballshortsuk.wordpress.com/ Keep up the excellent work. I’ll be sure to keep an eye on your articles.

  5. So England have come back from Euro 2012 unbeaten in 4 games of actual match play. Roy Hodgson took over at short notice and as John Cartwright has intimated on this blog, he can only work with the very limited talent which is at his disposal.I feel that at the moment England have returned to the ‘hard to beat’ category’.
    But what has changed? Very little. Go back 30 years and England returned from the 1982 World Cup unbeaten. The format then was that they progressed through the initial group stage into a further group alongside Spain and West Germany. Two draws against the Spanish and Germans was not enough for England to progress.
    That is 30 years ago but there are so many similar parallels. Then England had arguably two world class players, Keegan and Brooking, but injury robbed England of their services until the last 15 minutes of the final game. In 2012 England have arguably two world class players again, Rooney and Wilshire. Wilshire missed the entire season due to injury and Rooney was unavailable in Ukraine until the third match due to suspension for a stupid red card.
    Hodgson set the team up with a solid defensive foundation just as Ron Greenwood, with the assistance of Don Howe, had done in 1982. But it is clear that 1/4 Final is the limit that such qualities as those alone will take you. We are not alone in losing key players on the eve of tournaments, you can see many examples at every tournament with other countries, but because our resources are so threadbare we simply cannot afford to be without Wilshire and Rooney in 2012 any more than we could afford to be without Keegan and Brooking in 1982.
    You just need to look at the development background of these key players to see why we find ourselves in such desperate straits. Brooking came though Ron Greenwood’s exceptional Youth Section at West Ham in the
    sixties. Keegan had been a star at Liverpool but really developed when he went to Hamburg and came into the hands of a brilliant Yugoslav coach, Branko Zebec. Fast forward to the present day, and Wilshire has benefitted from the Arsenal production process and Rooney has seemed to be a ‘one in a million’ who seems to crop up once in each generation.
    We can’t seem to to arrive at the development stage of producing players who are both talented and have, as John Cartwright terms it, ‘game understanding’.I recall back in 1982, there was divided opinion about the merits of two top players of the time – Glenn Hoddle and Trevor
    Francis. Their talent was not in doubt, but at the highest level, when playing such as the Brazilians or the Italians, they were found wanting.
    ron Greenwood was criticised for often leaving them out, but he was not convinced about their game understanding, which you need at the highest level.
    Thirty years later and we still have the same problems. We do not producee these truly international class players. In the intervening 30 years, between the 1982 World Cup and the 2012 Euros, their have been a smattering of talented English players. Waddle, Gascoigne, Platt, Lineker, but usually they had to go abroad and receive superior coaching at foreign clubs to realise their potential. Hoddle also became a much better player after playing under Wenger at Monaco.
    Anyone who saw the UEFA Under 19 match, Spain-Portugal, on Eurosport last week must have been enthralled by the technical ability and game intelligence of the players on both sides. I have not seen the England team in the competition yet, but that was an enormously high standard to measure up to.
    I have tried to show that in the 30 years between major competitions of 1982 and 2012, we have made no progress whatsoever. Maybe we have even gone back, and you could go further back than 1982 because for the previous two World Cups we had not even qualified. For a time I do not think that we could even be classed as ‘difficult to beat’ but Roy Hodgson’s organsiation seems to have re-established that.
    But are we happy with just being ‘difficult to beat’?

  6. John has spoken about using the ‘half ‘ positions, yet the English manager failed in some people’s eyes to set up the English team effectively against the Italians. Steve Haslam, as a man who was at the Euro championship what do you think? Difficult to beat in the much -maligned 4-4-2. Yes it seems, but could they, despite limited(diminishing) technical resources, have done better with a different structure? And if so, why did Hodgson stay with his structure. As I said previously surely Gary Neville discussed this with him! Or Not?

    Incidentally, my understanding about Keegan/Brooking 1982 vs Spain is that they both got 27 minutes. In that time Brooking almost scored and Keegan should have done so with a header. I also am led to believe that both Brooking and Keegan felt they were fit enough to start and it seems that Greenwood was talked out of it! By starting England may have scored the required number of goals to see them through to the Semi-Finals.

    However, as has been pointed out, England are ‘Difficult to Beat’ but in the future will they be???

    I am afraid that the FA cannot see the light because they are blind.

  7. Hi Brazil94……I could not remember how long Keegan and Brooking played against Spain in England’s final game of the 1982 World Cup but i knew it was not long. Ron Greenwood, I recall, was in something of a quandry because these two were by far technically England’s two best players but were well short of match fitness even if, in fact, they were recovered from injuries. England needed to win that match by two goals to progress into the semi finals but were held 2-2.
    I have cited the comparison between Keegan and Brooking in 1982 and Wilshire and Rooney in 2012, to show how thin on the ground we have been for so long with truly world class players; in fact, maybe not world class, but simply international class players.
    i feel that Roy Hodgson has done a good job at raising the morale of the players and probably does understand the English professional’s psyche better than Fabio Capello, resulting in a happier, more relaxed band than was evident in South Africa 2010. However, i admit that I have been surprised that he has gone back to what has been thought to be an outdated English-style 4-4-2, which seemed to give Italy in general and Pirlo in particular, more space and freedom in the middle of the pitch than was wise. Since the last World Cup up until his resignation, Capello had set England up in either a 4-3-3 line up or 4-2-3-1, so it is a matter of conjecture how England would have fared in Ukraine had he still been the coach. It is often said that English players are at their happiest when lining up in a standard 4-4-2 and perhaps that was Hodgson’s reasoning.
    This all comes back, of course, to our inability to develop highly skilfull players with tactical intelligence. The inability to adapt to different tactics is a malaise in English football, or at least, among English players, and has been for a long time. I watched the England-France Under 19 UEFA championship match last night which England won 2-1. It was difficult to form a definate conclusion because England played very defensively and i think that both teams were safely into the semi finals. France left out a number of first choice players and their keeper was badly at fault with the winner. England dropped back to the half way line when France had the ball and defended their half of the pitch. This is consistent to how the senior team have played under Hodgson so far, whilst under Capello he was trying to get England to press higher up the pitch and win the ball closer to the opponents’ goal.
    This particular England team have been together for a while, I believe, and two years ago won the Under 17 UEFA tournament, beating Spain in the final. A number of the players have played first team football at their clubs, although below Premier League level, (such as Redmond at Birmingham and Kane at Millwall). Perhaps if they could be kept together as a squad at Under 20 and Under 21 level then maybe real dividends could by reaped for the future. They now play Greece in the semi final when both teams will really be going for it. That should be a proper test and should they reach the final and beat a team like Spain then perhaps we have a group that could lead us to better times.

  8. Thinking about the England team – how many of the side which played against Italy actually play in club sides that opt for 4-4-2? Certainly not Hart, Lescott, Cole, Terry, Parker, Rooney, Milner from what I understand. Although I might be corrected on this.

    Hodgson should have developed the team along the Capello lines. Certainly, if the FA had turned the clock back to Hoddle or Venables they would have done something different. As would a Mr Harry Redknapp.

    Old thinking I’m afraid – surely he can’t persist!!

  9. Hi All. Surely it is time we accepted the obvious,—- we won’t win anything of any repute whilst we continue to play a style of football in which fight is preferred to finesse. The ‘bullyball’ game-style that dominates all levels of our game is a ‘chain around our neck’ . We are being throttled by continuing with a playing style that denies players’ with ability the ‘platform’ on which to express their skills.
    Any victories achieved a junior levels will come on the back of organization and strength not on skill and tactical innovation. Our junior players are a mirror-image of the ‘Bullies’ who have gone before them. It’s not their fault, they have been directed down the same path as their counterparts. —- Will we ever change —do we want to change!!!

  10. An online weekly coaching newsletter recently conducted a survey in which they asked readers, who comprise coaches of grassroot junior teams across the width and breadth of the country, if they favoured an individual approach to their coaching, with the emphasis on developing the individual, or if they look upon their role as coaching in purely a team situation, where you based your approach on strictly a group mentality with the team ethic projected over and above any emphasis on individualism.
    A whopping 94% of respondents came out in favour of the team approach in preference to any form of focus on individualism. Clearly, if we need any evidence of where we are going wrong in this country then there it is. If the FA is really trying to put the message over as to how we can emulate the recent years of Spanish success and achievement by dragging ourselves out of the international wilderness, then clearly that message is not getting through.
    It just underlines that Premier Skills is the only organ really emphasising the vital need to first of all base your coaching on individualism, and only after that develop team play by getting skillful players to conjoin. This is not being faced up to by our National Association and we shall never get anywhere until it is.

    • Hi Steve. It just goes to show the extent of the problems we have in the important area of Grassroots football. The FA have provided inexperienced coaches with ‘certification’ to work with young players in the most important time of development — the beginning! The importance of providing a methodology that recognizes the need for individualism to be taught and nurtured from the very first introduction to the game is clear for all to see — to those who want to look! As i have previously stated in a ‘blog’, a ‘fifth column’ has been inadverdently connected to grassroots coaching and it has caused and continues to cause enormous problems at the very foundation level of our game.
      As you quite correctly state, ‘Premier Skills is alone in emphasizing the need for individualism to be developed before team-play.

  11. People need to see the survey… For example

    1) Are your players individually good enough?
    2) Can they screen when surrounded by opponents?
    3) Do they possess excellent ball manipulation skills?

    And so on to lead into the key question.. The lead up or lack of it can make a difference.. as can the phrasing of the question; so you would need to analyse that.

  12. The UEFA Under 19 tournament has now been completed with perhaps, predictably, Spain triumphing in an international competition yet again. Their short passing style is evident in all age groups and further success in senior international tournaments in 2014 and 2016 would not be a surprise. However, even the Spanish have problems, highlighted on this blog a number of times by John Cartwright and in the Eurosport commentary by Stewart Robson, on the subject of their high ball possession. In the final against Greece their winning goal, in a 1-0 win, did not arrive until 10 minutes from time, but they really should have tied up their win much earlier. The amount of possession they enjoyed was not matched by the same degree of penetration, and possession without penetration is becoming a problem for them. It was a simialr situation in the semi final when they should not have needed a penalty shoot-out to beat France.
    However, there was a stark contrast in quality between the Spain-France semi final and the one between England and Greece. England were beaten 1-2 by Greece in spite of the Greeks playing with 10 men for more than half of the match. England had enough of the play to win the match but I felt that many of our old failings were evident in the match. A laborious build up where the ball is worked out wide to produce the inevitable cross, instead of quick, incisive play through central areas to open up their defence. We have seen this so many times from English teams at all levels. Admittedly, England’s goal came from a left wing cross and was headed home well by the England striker. But where the Spanish keep the ball with their short, triangular passing movements, probing for an opening, we want to get the ball into the danger area as quickly as possible.
    So it is ironic that both England and Spain, in different ways, both have problems. And in Euro 2012 Spain’s senior team did not always turn the amount of ball possession they enjoyed into sufficient penetration, until the final. England’s problems mainly surround the general lack of quality and have been evident for generations. To be fair, we do have some talent at that age group and if Oxlade-Chamberlain and Wickham had been available then they could have made a difference. But the UEFA tournament proved that we still have much ground to make up in the area of youth development when you look at our counterparts in Spain, France, Germany etc.

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