There was the Thrilla in Manila, the Rumble in the Jungle and, on Tuesday night in the Ukraine, England have given us the Chicken in Kiev. I have seen more footballing shape in a dancing dodecahedron at a disco.
A dodecahedron is of course any polyhedron with twelve flat faces, so assuming Roy Hodgson is the polyhedron, then … well you get the point.
The England boss at least got the point he needed with the goalless draw in the Ukrainian capital, which places them in control of their World Cup qualification group with two home games to go.
However, to put this into perspective with regard to the World Cup proper in Brazil next summer, let us assume that the top footballing nations in the world were all an item of fruit in a bowl.
Brazil would be the mango, delighting us with their juicy and bright football. Germany would be the apple, nothing fancy but always reliable. Current world champions Spain would be the cherry on top of all the fruits – and England would be the lemon.
As a die-hard England fan that was in the stands of Japan in 2002 and France in 1998, I personally find this distressing as England do have enough players of quality.
However, as Eric Morecambe put it after being told by Andre Previn that he was playing “all the wrong notes”, he quipped: “I’m playing all the right notes – but not necessarily in the right order.”
England have all the right notes with Jack Wilshere’s vision and touch, Theo Walcott’s devastating pace, Steven Gerrard’s brilliant range of passing, Daniel Sturridge’s skill and deadly finishing, and Wayne Rooney’s footballing brain and exquisite technique, and it is fair to say that those last two aforementioned were missing through injury on Tuesday night.
However, if Wilshere is to work with Gerrard in the heart of a creative midfield (which is the right choice), then they should have the right cover in behind.
Frank Lampard is one player that I have a tremendous admiration for. He is an outstanding professional, but he is not and never has been the natural holding midfielder that England need at the highest level.
To play as a protector of a back four, the holding midfielder must have a high percentage rate of successful tackles and read any potential piercing pass delivered by the opposition a split second before it is made and then make a timely interception.
There is no better at this in the English game than Scott Parker. Parker is now at Fulham, but there is no one English that plays in his role at any of the bigger clubs.
A holding midfielder is essential. When Chelsea won the Champions League final in 2012 they had John Obi Mikel protecting the back line. Barcelona and Spain have Sergio Busquets, and that should be reason enough to appreciate the value of such a role.
Hodgson insists on a variant of a 4-4-2. Gary Lineker described this “as a step back to the dark ages of two lines of four”.
The other problem is James Milner. A sound enough player in his own right, and reliable as a work-horse. However, that is not what you want from a wide man.
Furthermore, the opposition know Milner’s weakness: he cannot run fast. Any opposition also know that, on an attempted attack from a break away, any ball over the top or diagonally passed behind the defence is going to be aimed solely at Walcott, so Theo is thus doubled up on by defenders as there is no left-sided threat of velocity.
The requirement is simple. To complement Walcott’s pace on the right, there has to be someone of pace on the left, and for that England must use Daniel Sturridge, who is additionally blessed with a natural left foot, something that England have always lacked in this department.
Sturridge just happens to be pretty good with the right leg too. He can play as a left-sided winger that comes inside, or as an out-and-out striker, and can alternate in this role or even play alongside Wayne Rooney depending on the nature of the opposition.
My England team for the World Cup would be as follows: Hart, Walker, Jagielka, Cahill, Cole, Parker, Wilshere, Gerrard, Walcott, Sturridge, Rooney. That is 4-1-4-1, which can even operate as a 4-1-3-2.
The problem is in the mind of the Hodgson-hedron – there will be no specialist back four protector and only one-and-a-half wingers with pace.
There is, of course, another option: Hodgson can play 4-4-4-4 and hope that the other team doesn’t notice. If England play with the same faceless shape that they did against Ukraine, no one would care how many players they have on the pitch.
Bob Morton has a first-class degree in Media and is the only person in history to win the Daily Mirror’s ‘You The Manager’ World Cup and Premier League Manager of the Month prizes back to back in July and August of 2010.