THE BLOG

Roy May Be Holding Us Back

01/06/2014 22:35 BST | Updated 01/08/2014 10:59 BST

I've risked major mockery in the last month for asserting confidently amongst friends that England are different this time around, that we can match the fluent approach play of more successful nations, because this time we have the personnel. After watching our 3-0 snooze-fest against Peru, I stand by this marginally fantastical statement.

We certainly have the personnel. Lallana was a bag/box/human of tricks: all darting runs, deft flicks and elusive dribbles. Sturridge showed off his touch, skill, and explosive shooting.

Why were these all the positives I could draw for two thirds of the match? Because Hodgson elected to start with three strikers in a formation catering for just one. Why play Rooney, Welbeck and Sturridge in a 4-5-1? The answer is that Roy, I have a sinking feeling, is just too cautious and tactically inflexible to use the full raft of exciting talent at his disposal.

To all who surveyed swashbuckling Liverpool slice deftly through packed rearguards this season, it's immediately obvious that Raheem Sterling should be a starter in the playmaker role. He boasts qualities the majority of our team lack, and it's exactly those qualities this country has been desperately grasping for in the last ten years, as we've seen Germany, Spain and Italy run rings round us.

Perhaps his most important quality is his use and awareness of space. Xavi Hernandez, a man brim-full of talents which may not fill headlines, and as such was referred to by the Spanish press as the 'Windshield Wiper' in his early days because of his predilection to pass sideways, has said: "That's what I do: look for spaces. All day. I'm always looking. All day, all day." This awareness of the areas between lines is precisely what Sterling has, and he has the range of skills to exploit it. He plays with his head up, as noted by the insightful and thankfully England number two Gary Neville, has excellent decision-making and passing accuracy, and if all else fails, an incredible burst of pace and trickery to get away from defenders.

It's unthinkable to me that Hodgson would leave him out of our starting eleven in place of workhorse-Welbeck. I like Danny, I think he serves the team admirably and is not short of quality. But he's not the answer to our international woes - and despite the upbeat noises from the camp, England will have plenty of woes up against the higher-ranked nations. He is a man brought on to stretch tired defences, not to work through them.

As soon as Wilshere and Sterling were introduced in the 64th and 66th minutes against Peru, we looked a different proposition. Suddenly, there was guile, freedom of movement, and imagination to our play. It was like a mini-Renaissance. We'd thrown off the restrictive shackles of our uncultivated, one-note thinking and introduced a progressive, multifacteted style. It's imperative that these two start in Brazil, otherwise not only will our World Cup dreams die a death through direct football, but my computer screen will die a death as I direct my head through it.

It's unbelieveably frustrating to see England play a stodgy, restricted game now, worse than ever before, because I know we have the available players not to. In addition to those two there's Lallana, a tricky customer and mainstay of the team who boasted the highest possession in the league last season, as well as Barkley and Oxlade-Chamberlain. Both play for club teams with an ethos of short-passing and patience, albeit their roles tend to involve the introduction of direct running and power. But they play with intelligence and vision, and are one of our new forward-thinking crop who would rather retain possession with a simple short ball than panic and hit it long. It's this panic, revert to hit-and-hope default mode that has been the bane of England for some years. It's not American football. Each team is allowed as many touches as they want, they don't have to surrender it after a set number of plays. It's cool to knock it sideways and even back while you wait for a gap to appear.

Hodgson has to allow our front five to interchange positions as they're comfortable doing, to float into pockets of space at will, and to play with creative freedom. He, and to be fair most England bosses ever, seem to equate flair with a dereliction of defensive duty, but as Liverpool and on a grander stage Barcelona have shown, this does not have to be the case. Granted, 'Pool crumbled at the back at seriously inopportune moments this season. But this was largely due to a lack of quality rather than the system, in which even Coutinho and Sturridge were required to harry opponents and put a shift in off the ball.

Should we fall once more in the quarter-finals following a miserable, soul-draining 0-0, we should not look towards the penalty-fluffers or squad for scapegoats. Rather, it may be time to bring in a coach capable of lateral thinking and able to utilise what, at last, is a well-stocked arsenal of attacking weaponry.