Posts Tagged ‘England’
The French may not have a direct equivalent to the word ‘teenager’ (there being no numerical suffix akin to ‘-teen’ in the language of Molière), but that doesn’t stop them remarking on the novelty when a player under the age of 20 is called up by the national team.
It happened twice earlier this month, when 19-year-olds Raphaël Varane and Paul Pogba were both included in Didier Deschamps’ squad for the World Cup qualifiers against Georgia and Spain. Pogba rather spoilt the symmetry by turning 20 the following day, but it was such a rarity that L’Équipe marked the occasion with a photographic slideshow of the players to have graced the blue jersey while still awaiting the end of their second decade.
Varane and Pogba are exceptions. The expectation, in France, is that players will earn their spurs in the junior versions of the national team before eventually graduating to the senior side. France’s under-21 squad – known as les Espoirs (literally, ‘the hopes’) – brims with exciting players such as Milan striker M’Baye Niang and the Lyon pair of Clément Grenier and Alexandre Lacazette, but although they play for some of the biggest clubs in Europe, there is no clamour for them to be promoted to the senior squad before they are ready. That is partly down to the depth of talent already at Deschamps’ disposal, but it is also, partly, cultural.
Exceptional indeed is the player who is excused an apprenticeship in France’s representative youth teams. Despite Pogba’s widely acclaimed performances for Juventus this season, Deschamps has admitted to reluctance about allowing him to stroll straight into the first-team set-up. As recently as January, the former Marseille manager said the midfielder still needed “some carrot and stick” before he could be considered for selection. Both Pogba and Varane impressed on their debuts against Georgia on Friday, but afterwards the word on Deschamps’ lips was “potential”.
“LONDON: When Michael Owen comes to reflect on his career, he may have cause to remember New Year’s Eve 2005 with particular regret. After an underwhelming season at Real Madrid, Owen was back in England with Newcastle United. He had missed the start of the season with a thigh injury, but since making his debut in September, he had scored seven goals in nine league games, including a hat-trick at West Ham United a week before Christmas. Aged 26, he still looked like the lean, livewire striker who had scored 158 goals in 297 games for Liverpool, but in first-half injury time of a league game at White Hart Lane, disaster struck.”
My AFP profile of Michael Owen, who announced his retirement from football on Tuesday, can be read here.
“LONDON — England beat Brazil 2-1 on Wednesday to end a 23-year wait for victory over the five-time world champions and consign Luiz Felipe Scolari to defeat in the first game of his second spell as Brazil coach.”
My match report on England’s unexpectedly assured victory over Brazil at Wembley can be read here. There’s also a reaction piece here: Hodgson encouraged by England’s young lions.
“LONDON – Joe Cole’s return to his roots at West Ham United is his latest bid to revive a career that has been flat-lining ever since he left Chelsea for Liverpool in 2010. One of his generation’s stand-out players, Cole has been a household name in England for the best part of a decade but as he returns to Upton Park after a 10-year absence, there is a feeling that his talent remains unfulfilled.”
My profile of Joe Cole for AFP can be read here.
I’ve been fortunate to report on some fantastic games of football since starting my new role at AFP in London four weeks ago. Here are some of the match reports from my first month in the job:
“DONETSK, Ukraine — Wayne Rooney scored his first goal at an international tournament for eight years as England beat Ukraine 1-0 on Tuesday, but his performance, like his team’s, was laboured.”
My take for AFP on Wayne Rooney’s England comeback can be read here.
“DONETSK, Ukraine – France’s players admitted to frustration after failing to turn their dominance into victory against England in their Euro 2012 opener but took heart from their reaction to falling behind.”
My reaction piece on France’s 1-1 draw with England on Monday can be read here.
Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, Saint-Etienne. The Englishman receives the ball inside the opposition half and embarks on a purposeful run towards the goal in front of the Tribune Charles Paret. He is with new company in unfamiliar surroundings but, with the ball at his feet, he is reassured to find that the sensations are the same. Defenders disappear in his slipstream before a body-swerve takes him past another opponent and into the penalty area. With one sweep of his right foot, a new chapter in his life begins.
Michael Owen, 1998. Joe Cole, 2011. Two English players have experienced life-changing moments at Le Chaudron, home of Saint-Etienne. For Owen it was that goal against Argentina; for Cole, a dazzling dribble culminating in an assist for Ludovic Obraniak on his Lille debut in September.
If the comparison is apt, the context is very different. Owen was 18 when he left the Argentine defence for dead, but he was on the threshold of a career that, though sprinkled with trophies, never quite hit the giddy heights to which it aspired. Cole’s career appeared to be stagnating too but at 29, his move to France has revitalised him. If Owen’s goal represented the beginning of his professional life, Cole’s Geoffroy-Guichard moment was a re-birth.
While Owen is content to sit on the bench at Manchester United, insistent that last year’s Premier League title represented the “pinnacle” of his career, Cole – two years Owen’s junior – has put his reputation on the line by turning his back on the comfort of the domestic scene. Lille president Michel Seydoux confessed his surprise at his club’s success in luring a star from the Premier League, admitting that “seen from England, French football is a bit like the Third World”. Cole, though, had long been intrigued by the challenge of pitching himself into a foreign championship. “Sometimes I feel if I’d been born in a Latin country I may have been coached better to play as a number 10,” he once told Champions magazine.
“Imagine, if you will, that every few weeks, you and a select group of people from rival companies were summoned to work together on a special project for which none of you were paid but which was considered more important than anything you could ever achieve in your day-to-day job. Sound absurd? Welcome to the world of the international footballer.”
This week’s Pitchside Europe column for Eurosport, on the dislocating experience of international football, can be found here.
In the third instalment of an intermittent series of interviews about coaching badges and the standard of coaching in the United Kingdom, Football Further spoke to Pavl Williams, a Level 2 coach working towards his UEFA ‘B’ licence.
Pavl has been coaching youngsters of varying ages since 2004 and is (amongst other things) currently working with elite local players aged 6-16 at Manchester United’s Carrington training centre. He is also the editor of Better Football, a coaching website that offers advice and learning resources for developing better coaches.
FF: How has formal coaching education made you a better coach?
PW: Like the vast majority of coaches I came into the role with no experience of playing high-level football and very little experience of talking to children. The most important thing that formal coach education can provide is information about kids. Great coaching is about tailoring the practice to the participants. So without a thorough understanding of your player’s motivations, experiences and perceptions, it’s very hard to communicate with them in a meaningful way. The Youth Award qualifications are great for this and have especially restored a lot of my faith in The FA’s development plan.
Another crucial aspect is that I grew in confidence when I attended my coaching courses. Getting a Level 1 certificate (and the requisite Child Protection and First Aid certification) relieved a lot of the pressure associated with parents watching critically from the sidelines. Similarly, going and completing the Level 2 and Youth Award qualifications has afforded me more credibility in the eyes of my players and more respect within my club [AFC Urmston Meadowside], where, despite being one of the country’s best junior clubs, there are still only a handful of coaches who have gone beyond the mandatory Level 1 certification. This confidence allows me to experiment with new ideas and, I believe, become more effective at what I do.
The imminent departure of James Milner to Manchester City means that Aston Villa’s 3-0 win at home to West Ham on Saturday represented the end of an era at Villa Park, but the positioning of Ashley Young meant that it also marked a potential new dawn.
Young has reportedly been angling to play in an advanced position behind the striker and in Villa’s opening game of the Premier League season he was granted his wish. Operating in a roving role in support of John Carew, he spent most of his time on the left but was able to flit from flank to flank and set up Stiliyan Petrov for Villa’s second goal with a delicately measured cross from the right-hand side.
The diagram below contrasts Young’s performance against West Ham with his contribution in the corresponding fixture last season. When the sides met in January, his remit was strictly confined to the flanks and there was an aimlessness to his crossing borne out by the fact he completed just 40 percent of his attempted passes. On Saturday, he spent much more time linking the play in the centre of the pitch and, although he tried to make fewer passes, his distribution was markedly more accurate.
At the dawn of the tournament Football Further posed ten tactical questions that the World Cup would answer. Three days after Spain’s tense extra-time victory over the Netherlands in the final, the answers to those questions reflect a tournament in which defensive rigour was overwhelmingly de riguer and tactical innovation conspicious by its rarity.
1. Will freshness or preparedness prevail in Group A?
Having played just one game in the build-up to the tournament – a 4-1 win over Israel in Montevideo on May 26 - Uruguay took control of Group A before scrapping their way to the last four for the first time since 1970. How much of that was down to their fitness, and not the obliging manner in which the big teams benignly opened up the path to the semi-finals, is debatable. Mexico played 12 preparation matches and also made it out of the group phase, while their 3-1 defeat by Argentina in the last 16 showed no discernible signs of fatigue.
2. Will France’s 4-3-3 work?
How to put this? Not only did France’s 4-3-3 fail to work, but Raymond Domenech lost all faith in it before the tournament had even started. In their opening game, a 0-0 draw with Uruguay, they reverted to their tried and tested (if not actually effective) 4-2-3-1, with Jérémy Toulalan and Abou Diaby in the holding midfield roles and Yoann Gourcuff as the playmaker. The 4-2-3-1 remained in place for the 2-0 defeat by Mexico, but this time with Franck Ribéry in the playmaking role (to which he is wholly unsuited) and Nicolas Anelka reprising his great disappearing centre-forward act until matters came to a head at half-time. It was not until the 2-1 loss to South Africa that the long-awaited 4-3-3 finally made its appearance, but by then it was already too late. Over to you, Monsieur Blanc.
With the World Cup now deliciously within reach, Football Further looks at ten tactical issues that could have a decisive influence on the outcome of the tournament.
1. Will freshness or preparedness prevail in Group A?
Attention on the tournament’s opening group is likely to focus on the travails of Raymond Domenech’s France and the efforts of South Africa to avoid becoming the first World Cup hosts not to make it beyond the first round, but both Mexico and Uruguay go into the tournament with high ambitions and two very different approaches to preparation. Mexico, like South Africa, embarked upon an exhaustive pre-tournament schedule, with coach Javier Aguirre dragging 17 players out of the Mexican championship early and overseeing no less than 12 friendly matches since the end of February, culminating in the superb 2-1 defeat of Italy in Brussels last Thursday. In the same period, Uruguay have played just once – a 4-1 win over Israel in Montevideo on May 26. Oscar Tábarez, who led La Celeste into battle at Italia 90, says he wanted to avoid tiring his players out. “This tournament is a drain,” he said. “Whoever turns up tired gets knocked out immediately. Teams with much bigger pools of players than ours, Argentina and Brazil, have lost for neglecting this aspect.” The battle of the fresh and the fit takes place on June 22, when Uruguay and Mexico will contest a potentially decisive final group game in Rustenburg.
2. Will France’s 4-3-3 work?
As discussed in detail last week, France are expected to deploy a 4-3-3 formation that they’ve worked on for only a matter of weeks after Lassana Diarra’s withdrawal forced Domenech to ditch the 4-2-3-1 that France have used since the eve of the 2006 tournament. After an encouraging 2-1 victory against Costa Rica, France drew 1-1 with Tunisia before slumping to a 1-0 defeat by China, and there are growing calls for ineffective right-winger Sidney Govou to be replaced by Arsenal central midfielder Abou Diaby, with Florent Malouda moving forward to the left wing and Franck Ribéry switching flanks to the right.
A renowned pragmatist, Fabio Capello is not the kind of coach likely to take a gamble on a completely untested player when he names his England squad for this summer’s World Cup. Should he feel inclined to assess his options in the friendly matches that will precede England’s trip to South Africa, however, one player unlikely to have escaped his attention this season is Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere.
Currently on loan at Bolton Wanderers, where he has started seven of the last nine Premier League games, Wilshere is beginning to show glimpses of the talent that has made him perhaps the most talked-about English teenager since Wayne Rooney. The diminutive 18-year-old scored his first Premier League goal in the 2-1 victory at West Ham United last month and in Bolton’s 4-0 defeat at home to Manchester United last weekend he demonstrated a vision and a range of passing beyond most seasoned midfielders in England’s top flight.
“He surprised me,” admitted Capello back in August. “I saw him twice in the Carling Cup last year and he has improved a lot now. We have time before we have to decide if he will go to South Africa. He plays without fear, with confidence. And the other players passed the ball always to him. This is not normal to be so young and so good.”
The news that Michael Owen will miss the rest of the season with a damaged hamstring prompted strange paroxysms of grief from those pundits who felt the injury had crushed the 30-year-old’s dreams of playing at a fourth World Cup with England this summer. In reality, his hopes have been dashed for some time.
As an out-and-out central striker whose game is fundamentally about scoring goals, he is a dying breed. The modern striker must do more than just score and all of Owen’s rivals for a seat on the plane to South Africa give more to the team than goals alone.
The following diagrams, screenshots from ESPN Soccernet, are heat maps detailing the involvement of Owen, Aston Villa’s Emile Heskey, Tottenham’s Peter Crouch, West Ham’s Carlton Cole and Fulham’s Bobby Zamora in the last Premier League home games in which they completed 90 minutes.
Michael Owen, Manchester United 3-0 Everton (21 November 2009):