I read Paul Little on F365 today (http://www.football365.com/f365-says/7957498/F365-Says) bemoan Roy Hodgson's conservativeness at Euro 2012 in comparison to Pearce's more extravagant GB team at the Olympics. The argument was that if Pearce could make a quickly assembled team play winning attractive football, why was Hodgson so adamant that fear induced defensive organization was the way to go for the Euros? Little was particularly keen to point out that such were the low expectations around England going into the Euros that he essentially had a free shot at the tournament - the opportunity was there to experiment with new expressive formations and players rather than revert to a model based on stoic defensiveness. Pearce's GB side have been refreshing. Playing a possession orientated 4-3-3 with Ramsey, Allen and Cleverly controlling the ball in the midfield and the likes of Sturridge, Bellamy and Sinclair providing pace and guile in the attacking third, GB have been able to control games and employ speedy counterattacks to decent effect. Their defence has been at times ropey but this is perhaps due to a lack of availability of the better GB defenders and Pearce's insistence on Richards actually being a good defender. But otherwise GB, since their being outplayed by Brazil, have been good to watch and impressive in qualifying top from a tricky group. So why couldn't England have played a similar 4-3-3 and have been similarly attractive on the eye at the Euros?
The complaint from Little is a bit harsh for a few reasons. Firstly, and this is perhaps a weak but still relevant point, GB have probably benefitted from the friendlier less hostile atmosphere that surrounds a home-held Olympics in comparison to the media frenzied, all-or-nothing Euros. Just look at the attendance of the GB matches and you can see happy faces, genuinely willing the team on, rather than sceptics waiting to sharpen their pseudo-punditry knives for scathing criticism. Furthermore the shortage of time to prepare the team was due to the relatively unprecedented nature of GB having a team at the Olympics. Having not had a team play since Zeus and co defeated the titans (using the esteemed 4-3-3 formation I'm reliably informed), novelty has certainly aided the good feeling towards Pearce's fellowship of the Olympic rings. Even had GB been totally outclassed and thrashed by each of their opponents, they wouldn't have received anywhere near the same antagonism that attaches itself to England at every tournament. If Hodgson had a free shot at the Euros, then Pearce comparatively has a shot that is stark naked and frolicking through fields of Scottish heather (come to think of it, ignore the Scottish bit).
If you add to this the diminished calibre of GB's opposition, then it becomes apparent how nicely things have worked out for Pearce so far. Senegal have been the biggest test so far such was their sheer physical strength and athleticism (and their vicious application of it). GB for the first hour looked by far the better team making Senegal's technical and tactical weaknesses apparent. Senegal got the draw through their greater fitness at that stage of the tournament, but as the first half exhibited, they were not that great a team which was why they had to resort to sheer physicality. UAE were decent, technically good and also able to play attractive football, but GB's talent simply was greater, while Uruguay were clearly not particularly well prepared for the Olympics - sluggish, unfit and lethargic, all very preseason. Compare to this England's opposition in the Euros - the talented (if brattish) France, the nemesis Sweden and the buoyant hosts Ukraine in the group stages before taking the defeated finalists and defeaters of Germany Italy to penalties (yes we were outplayed but Hodgson's defensive organization did succeed in preventing Italy from making it count). GB take on South Korea in the next round, which will be trickier than many expect. GB should win against them, they'll probably play Brazil again in the semis and then we will see just how good Pearce really is - isn't the classic criticism of England that they always lose against any team that is actually any good?
The worrying thing for England is not that they chose a conservative manager rather than A brave one. The problem is that Pearce has been able to deploy a more attacking side because he has had players that Hodgson didn't have at hand - Ramsey, Allen and Bellamy. England were criticised for not being able to keep the ball but Hodgson can hardly be blamed when the best ball keeper in the England squad was probably Jordan Henderson. Without Wilshere through injury and with GB's impressive Cleverly not a realistic option for the Euros also due to injuries last season, the other options for young, dynamic, possession orientated midfielders were either not ready for England (McEachran for example) or too Welsh (Ramsey and Allen). In having Ramsey and Allen available and also at the perfect age for the tournament being played, Pearce has had a luxury not afforded to any England manager - players who can control the midfield through the simple art of keeping the ball and distributing it carefully rather than bombastically. Ramsey in particular has caught the eye with some dynamic performances combining intelligent possession with dynamic running (his form bodes well for Arsenal). If England had Ramsey and Allen to go alongside Wilshere in the future, there'd be significant cause for optimism. But alas, as Giggs was England's missing ingredient on the left wing for so many years, so it seems England will again look to their neighbours and see the missing ingredients from their own team.
Without such luxuries can Hodgson really be blamed for installing organization and defensive rigidity rather than attacking expressiveness? Hodgson's approach was probably the best given the players England had available - without England's best ball cherishing midfielders in Wilshere and Scholes, England were left with a combination of players better suited to the counterattack than to a possession based game that they would simply be outplayed at. Pearce has players that allow GB to play attractive football and credit is due to him for making the best of the players he has available on such short notice in this respect. Hodgson too should still be given such credit. What will be of interest is if Hodgson's conservativeness will continue to do the same in the next two years.