On Monday night, I sat and watched my first game of the Euros since the opening Saturday of the tournament.
It goes without saying, even if you don’t know me, that I am not overly invested in the fortunes of the England football team. Which is lucky for me, I was able to watch England’s slide into ignominy with an air of detached amusement.
Right or wrong, I’ll let you be the judge, but I know that if I had been watching an Arsenal game that performance would likely have resulted in some Scanners-type ugliness.
… I was gonna add the appropriate Youtube clip here, but having just looked at it again, I think I’ll leave it. Here’s a more family friendly film reference instead.
— Rick Burin (@rickburin) June 28, 2016
The legend that is our own Ian Wright, tweet me and thank me later (for not doing the Scanners thing, I mean).
The thing that struck me after the game, aside from the passive nature of England’s defeat to Iceland, was that literally nobody seemed to know what they were supposed to be doing. I guess that’s understandable. I mean if you keep changing personnel and formations and systems game by game, is it not natural that footballers might end up feeling confused?
The writing was perhaps on the wall for England before they even got here; Kane and Vardy deployed as wingers to accommodate Rooney; Rooney then deployed in central midfield to accommodate, er, Rooney.
The team on Monday night, featuring Kane, Sturridge, Sterling, Delle Alli and… you’ve guessed it, Rooney was obviously lacking balance. In the absence of a plan, or more importantly, someone to get on the ball in midfield and feed the strikers, England were dealt a fatal blow.
I am someone who finds Arsène’s refusal to make serious deviations from his tried and trusted 4-5-1 really frustrating.
Of course, I am only frustrated when his system doesn’t work.
On our day, when Cazorla and Özil are mesmerising and Alexis devastating, this lack of flexibility never seems to bother me. I suppose that’s because when we’re on song, our players interchange very flexibly indeed, as if operating on some higher level of telepathy.
I guess it’s not unnatural to think that it is the fact that we go out every week and play in more or less the same way that allows such instinctive, flexible, football.
It becomes much harder to go and execute a game plan if you’re not really sure what the plan is and how you fit into it. The England football team have become exhibit A in the case for Arsène’s defence.
Okay, I have used this very column to bemoan our manager’s refusal to make anything but minor tactical adjustments to his team on a game by game basis.
Now, though, now I see the light.
England’s humiliation at a European competition specifically designed to keep the so-called superpowers of the continent in it for as long as possible has seen to that.
Why would you choose to confuse the modern day footballer by changing his role from one game to the next? Why compound that by changing the system?
We receive anecdotal evidence of the simplicity of the average footballer on an almost daily basis. The fabled superstitions and pre-match routines tell us this, Jamie Vardy choosing to turn down the Arsenal in favour of Leicester City tells us the same.
And, yes, okay Leicester City are the champions, but does anyone seriously expect them to repeat the trick next season? It all comes down to one thing: footballers fears change.
Perhaps, then, it is unsurprising that a man as astute as Arsène Wenger would recognise this and, rather than making wholesale changes to a plan, just tries to make improvements to it.
It’s worth remembering that each of Arsène’s title winning sides featured largely settled sides from day one of the season to matchday 38. And, no, I’m not saying that he didn’t make changes or that we didn’t get injuries, but once we hit on a formula we stayed with it, where possible, throughout the season. Particularly in 2004 – once we were over the fall-out from Old Trafford anyway.
We see more evidence of this approach in the fact that Arsène very rarely makes huge changes to the playing squad in the close season. It’s rare, now, that we ever sign more than two first team players during a summer.
Of course, the trolley dash in 2011 stands out as a time when we went a bit mental, but then we had to. We all remember that Arsène is a man who talked of Spurs own trolley dash in 2013 as a “technical risk”.
Everyone thought the man was stirring, but guess who turned out to be right?
You see, Arsène understands that footballers like it simple. Bringing in five or six players during the close season just complicates things.
It’s just occurred to me that perhaps the reason England lost to Iceland on Monday night is a bit more prosaic than being about changing systems, or personnel.
What did Roy expect when he named five Spurs players in his team?
We all know that the number five and Spurs don’t exactly mix well!