Reputation or form; an England manager’s dilemna

Rooney and Kane

A lot has already been written about England, our chances at Euro 2016, our attacking squad, defensive frailties and the bizarre formation in the final friendly against Portugal.

The somewhat insane kung fu kick from Bruno Alves saved Hodgson from having to answer some awkward questions. The press have seemed to accept that the manager has used the friendlies since qualifying to test formations, new players and new systems, and so what we should have seen on Thursday was the culmination of all those months of research and analysis; the final tweaks.

Instead, we saw a new formation that featured 4 players in unfamiliar positions:

  • Vardy – has scored 24 goals this season and terrorised defences all season, playing as the most advanced central striker.
  • Kane – has scored 25 goals this season and the Premier League’s top scorer, playing as the most advanced central striker.
  • Rooney – played the entire season, except for one slightly mazy run, out of form, as a versatility option.
  • Alli – played all season as a central attacking midfielder.

People seemed excited by the attacking nature of the squad when it was announced. When the starting 11 for the Portugal game was announced the TV pundits seemed to think that it showed real attacking intent from the manager. Nobody questioned how these players were all going to fit into the same team. It instantly made me think of the Gerrard vs Lampard debate… could these four play in the same team together? And perhaps more importantly, do they all deserve a starting place?

The problem with the England team seems to pass down from manager to manager. They can never decide on talent (or perhaps reputation) and form.

Is Rooney world class?

Rooney’s performances this season, or indeed last season, or the two seasons prior to that, for club and country, do not merit a place in the starting 11. If you use Shearer’s definition of a world class striker, “somebody who can score 25-30 goals a season,” then Rooney’s previous four campaigns (12, 17, 12, 8) would put him at a similar level to, if not slightly behind, Olivier Giroud (11, 16, 14, 16), and yet, week-in, week-out, we are told that Arsenal themselves are in need of a world class striker. If you assess the striking options at Hodgson’s disposal, based purely on form, Defoe’s record would surely stand him in better stead. However, there remains a strong argument for including Rooney, simply because the opposition still fear him.

Kane, the best English striker?

Kane remains a question mark for me at the top level. He has had two fantastic seasons, but against the stronger sides he struggles to perform. His record last season against the other teams in the top four (Leicester, Arsenal and Manchester City) and the rest of the big four/five (Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea), saw Kane net 6 times. That’s a goal every other game, so not bad at the top level, against the best opposition. He has a fantastic record against Arsenal (2 goals), but his other 4 goals included a penalty against Manchester City and an offside finish. The divisions two meanest defences, Manchester United and Leicester, kept Kane out. Can he really step up and spearhead and England attacking line-up, the jury is out.

Does Vardy The Movie have a happy ending?

Vardy, the subject of a £20+ million bid from Arsenal. His performance against Portugal, admittedly out of position, showed he is not going to transform the big matches. I don’t want to say anything negative about him, but at 29, he is still too raw. That itself is an important attribute to his game, especially in the Premier League, but in tournament football with European referees, and intelligent defenders, he will just give away free-kick after free-kick and get more and more frustrated.

Returning to Rooney, his inclusion was the big debate two years ago as we travelled to Brazil. Sturridge was on form, and accepted as one of the best finishers, so could Rooney fit into the starting 11? Sure enough, Roy found a place for him, out on the left wing. The problem: we were playing against high quality opposition. The Italians isolated our weaknesses and exposed Rooney’s unfamiliarity with that position. With the same situation likely to happen again, albeit, not Rooney on the left wing, people will be played out of position to accommodate him and the team will be weaker because of it.

If Vardy did say “I only want to play for England if I’m used in a central attacking role”, then I have a lot of respect for him. Perhaps he understands that there are better left wingers at Roy’s disposal than him.

The solution

Hodgson, and the future England managers, need to decide on a system and find the best players to fill those positions. If that means Vardy and Rooney are on the bench, because Kane is seen as our most dangerous centre forward, then so be it. In fact, if Townsend is selected in the squad ahead of Vardy, then so be it, because we need a left winger to play in that wide role.

So, pre-tournament, I’m going to go out on a limb. We should drop Rooney for the Russia game. If Wilshere is fit enough to be included in the squad then play him in a central role with Dier and Alli. Play Lallana and Sterling as the two wide men of a front three, with Kane up top (actually, I’d play Sturridge, because he’s the better forward, but that will never happen)! If we win, then we stick to the system. If we lose, we have two group games remaining, so Rooney comes back in, and hopefully goes out there with a point to prove. And that tends to be when we see the best from him.

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