Last night I was reminded of so much that is wrong with English football. It wasn’t how our players, especially defenders, lost possession, seemingly carelessly, but how we reacted to it. “Don’t arse about with the ball when it’s in and around the box,” we cry. “Put it in Row Z.” Which is what the vast majority of kids’ teams’ coaches tell them to do. Whatever you do, don’t try anything clever. This explains, in a nutshell, why we have no world class players.
Take John Stones. Other than Rio Ferdinand and Colin Todd, England prefers stoppers. Big, hefty stoppers who are good in the air and don’t need to be told twice to “get rid of it”. John Stones’ DNA is playing football. This does not fit in with English football.
The vast majority of kids team coaches want the big lad who can run all day. It doesn’t matter if he can pass the ball, or dribble, but if he can run and tackle, he will be the first name on the team sheet. Big lad will always play safe. By the time he is 16, he will be doing something else. Believe me, I have seen it. I have seen little boys given an enormous bollocking for losing possession, particularly in their own half. “Just get rid of it,” comes the instruction from the seething kids’ manager, often a man who has never played the game at any level and boy it shows. The good coaches tell their kids when they foul up to try it again. Pass and dribble out of defence, don’t just boot it. The result in kids’ football doesn’t matter. And that’s another subject altogether.
“Experts” like Glenn Hoddle and, God help us, Ian Wright (coaching experience = zero) damn John Stones for having the brass neck to do what he is born to do. Can you imagine the Spanish equivalent coach berating the young Zavi, the young Iniesta, for retaining the ball? While they were thinking world domination, we were thinking Geoff Thomas and Carlton Palmer.
And that Adam Lallana – he gave the ball away a bit, didn’t he? Yes, he did but that’s what happens with the best players and he is becoming one of the best players. He gambles a bit, like Gazza gambled, and sometimes it goes wrong. Don’t bloody stop him trying to be creative. The same with Daniel Sturridge too. Let them breathe.
What of Jordan Henderson, who attracts heavy criticism for always wanting and retaining the ball and who is vilified despite being a first pick for any manager who can pick hum? He doesn’t lump the ball either, preferring to keep the ball moving. Did you notice what I said there? Keep the ball moving. Xavi Hernandez kept the ball moving like no other player in history, rarely doing anything flash but by being the beating heart of the possession game, occasionally throwing in the stellar slide rule pass. Henderson isn’t Xavi – for five years Xavi was in the best three players on the planet – but what an asset if you want to play football. Jurgen Klopp, one of the best managers in football, has set Henderson free and picks no one on the basis of sentimentality.
I enjoyed near the end of the England v Scotland game, the final half hour when Scotland were either worn out or had given up (I think it was a little of both) because even this limited England side had half-passed them to death.
John Stones is not Franz Beckenbauer and never said he was, but he wants to be as good as the Kaiser and what better way to encourage him by allowing him to play? Guardiola does and he knows a thing or two, doesn’t he?