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As you were: England's issues remain

England cannot win these European Championships. They haven’t played that badly, or lost a game, but it is a side with a fundamental flaw that will prevent them from being champions.

England

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May they make me eat humble pie at 7am AEST at Stade de France on July 11 - and how I hope they do - but the cynic in me says it’s not possible.

Every team ever put together has problems and none are perfect, but it’s about how serious they are and how well you cover them.

England’s problems are not on the periphery of their game. It’s a core, philosophical issue that will probably hold back the national team for years to come, as it has done for over 20 years previously.

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No tweak of Roy Hodgson, no twinkle of Wayne Rooney, nor burst of Daniel Sturridge or bustling clearance of of Gary Cahill - who has been excellent, by the way - will lead to glory.

Very few critics will have given England a shot before this tournament began, which may mean that expectations were moderate anyway.

But for some extraordinary reason - most of it down to history - aspirations do get built.  The coach says some encouraging words, the players talk things up, hopes soon follow and before you know it: England expects.

Nothing I’ve seen over their three group games to date surprises me. They were good against Russia without reward, a touch fortunate against a plucky Wales and unlucky against a Slovakian side.

I’d argue those results were all about right. Even if they had come away with nine points instead of five - an entirely plausible scenario - I’m not sure it would prove anything about England’s long-term credentials in France.

The root of the problem is that unlike the best teams at these championships, there is no underpinning, shared philosophy that these players can relate too.

I don’t count ‘run yourselves ragged’ as a philosophy for winning football matches, at least at this level.

What’s very apparent is that the players don’t know where to run to or even if those runs will be seen. They can’t plan moves on the field, because they simply weren’t taught how too.

Forgive me - I know that's a boring answer to an exciting question, one that would be infinitely more tabloid-savvy if England only needed a new number nine or a star like Gareth Bale.

Indeed, having a better striker than Harry Kane - or at least an in-form edition of of the Spurs' star - would help this side a lot. But it wouldn’t solve everything.

Watching Belgium’s second goal against Ireland, which came on the back of 28 passes - a tournament record, it struck me that England could never do such a thing while their players have such little chemistry.

They can’t trust that such passing ideas will work because they’ve not been taught the value of it, and more poignantly, how to execute it.

When Spain do something similar, or Germany or France for that matter, the reason all the players understand each other - even though they all come from different clubs - is that they share an advanced knowledge of some basic tenants.

These nations have developed a complex understanding of the tactics required and possess the technical skills required to execute, having tattooed them on the minds and feet of their youngsters. They're shared fundamentals at every elite development club.

Nearly all of England’s play is based around a fairly simple theorem. Get the ball in the right area by any means and hope individual brilliance can do the rest. Regardless of the tactics, or who plays, that’s generally the plan. And it (sort of) last worked when they had Lineker and Gascoigne.

Perhaps you can get away with it if you’ve got three or four world class players who can win the game off their own boot, as many clubs in the English Premier League do.

But England don’t have even have one player obviously of that calibre. The one player arguably in that category, Rooney, spends his time linking the play and clearly lacks teammates on his wavelength.

I don’t doubt that this Three Lions team is committed, and do concede their immense individual talent may even help them to the final four. It would have been enough for more once upon a time.

But football has changed, and whatever England's final fate, it shouldn’t paper over the bigger cracks. 


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4 min read
Published 22 June 2016 at 9:57am
By Sebastian Hassett