England – A World Class Nation?
Euro 2012 has seen many world class teams take to the field. We’ve been spoilt for choice watching the current World and European champions Spain, the youthful looking German side, an unlucky Dutch team, as well the fluid passing Italians. Many more sides are also showing their world class pedigree; France, for example, have two players who would slot into any of the top Champions League teams in Ribery and Benzema, Portugal have Cristiano Ronaldo, and even Russia are showing their potential this year. But what makes a national side ‘world class’, and do England have what it takes to wear this prestigious title?
If we take the term back to its most literal sense in the dictionary, we find this: ‘Ranking among the foremost in the world, of an international standard of excellence; of the highest order’ – does this sound like the England national team? Currently, I would have to say ‘no’, but first, let’s take a look at how FIFA rate the national side.
Currently Roy Hodgson’s side sit 6th in the FIFA World Rankings. They are behind Spain, Uruguay, Germany, Netherlands and Brazil, and if we were to take the rankings as they are, we would have to accept that FIFA believes England class above Argentina (7th), Portugal (10th), Italy (12th) and France (14th).
Is 6th place in the Fifa rankings, a world class position?
Ideally, our national side would be a world class team and we would be in the position to win not only Euro 2012, but many other competitions too, but alas, we are not there yet. So what exactly does England need to do to be categorised as world class?
What characteristics can be found in a World Class team, and do England have them?
In Roy Hodgson, England has stumbled across a very capable manager. The 64 year old has already managed international sides (Switzerland, UAE and Finland), as well as top quality clubs (Inter Milan, Liverpool, Udinese, Fulham and Grasshopper). He wasn’t the nation’s first choice, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Since Hodgson’s appointment, he has proved his worth to the national set-up, he has both the experience of managing both internationally, abroad, and in England as well, taking unfancied sides far in European competitions.
Hodgson is on a four year contract which will see him through Brazil 2014 and France 2016, during which time he should be able to make the side his own, and only after that time, will we be able to properly judge his time in charge.
I say this because Euro 2012 isn’t Roy’s tournament; he hasn’t had the time to implement his own changes. He has, however, shown that he can make bold decisions. Rio Ferdinand and Micah Richards both failed to make Hodgson’s 23 man Euro squad, but they haven’t exactly been the first names on England’s team sheet in recent years.
A world class manager knows exactly what to do when the chips are down, and Roy should be judged accordingly. Against France, the national side showed spirit, and even after conceding, they never lost their shape or their spirit. If this is down to Hodgson’s man management, then he should be applauded.
In 2010, we all saw Fabio Capello’s tactics fail at the World Cup. His 4-4-2 system was too weak for the tournament and the side went out in the second round. Hodgson has changed things slightly and moved the side into a 4-4-1-1. This puts one more player into the midfield area, and allows for a slicker passing setup.
The tactics are hardly innovative, but Hodgson’s England is yet to be beaten (3 games in), so they are proving to work at the current time. Hodgson will, however, need to change them around throughout the next four years, as he wouldn’t want England to get boring and predictable. We’ve seen Spain surprise the footballing world by not playing a recognised striker upfront – is this the innovation that England need?
Every top side have a strong defence. England’s current Premier League Champions Manchester City have Joleon Lescott and Vincent Kompany in front of England’s goalkeeper Joe Hart, Champions League holders Chelsea have Gary Cahill, John Terry and David Luiz in front of Czech goalkeeper Petr Cech.
England currently have Lescott and Terry as their centre back pairing and Joe Hart in goal. It’s a strong defence and Hodgson’s England will rely heavily upon them. Thus far England has conceded 1 goal in 3 games under Roy; which makes for a promising start. The future does look bright for English football, as Gary Cahill (missing through injury) is aged only 26, Phil Jones is a mere 20 years old and Chris Smalling (also missing through injury) is also only 22. These three make up for a good bedrock for the future, and with Hart stood behind them in goal, it should make up for a great English defence.
Roy Hodgson’s England side have scored three goals in three games, which is hardly going to set the world alight. The strongest attacking threat England possess is Wayne Rooney, but because of a foolish kick at the end of our Euro 2012 qualification campaign, we are currently missing him. The side does have a lot of attacking quality however, with Ashley Young, Danny Welbeck and even Steven Gerrard capable of scoring a goal or two.
If we again look to the future, we would see the likes of Young, Rooney and Welbeck taking England forward, as well as linking in players such as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Connor Wickham, Wilfried Zaha, Jonjo Shelvey and Jack Wilshere.
Are England world class?
I believe that England only have two genuinely world class players in their current 23 man Euro 2012 squad – Joe Hart and Wayne Rooney. We do, however, have capable players waiting to break through into the England side, and I do believe that Hodgson is the right man to push these players’ careers forward.
For now, I don’t believe that England possess a world class squad, we have a few players who are good enough for this distinction but not enough to warrant a threat to Spain or Germany.