I haven’t posted a blog for a while but after watching England lose there second game at this years World Cup in Brazil, I felt passionate enough to put some thoughts and opinions down. I’d be very interested to get some expert opinions on this..
I’m not going to go into technical or tactical detail about the England team. Everyone will have their own opinions about Roy Hodgson’s selections and system of play, what i’m going to focus on is what I believe to be a big factor in England’s knack of not performing on the big stage when it really matters.
Is it in their heads?
I’m convinced a lot of England’s failings at this tournament and in those in previous years come down to their mentality and ability to cope with the scrutiny they are subjected to at major tourmaments. My journalist friend @Andrew_Gourdie tells me that it’s all part of being a top level footballer. I certainly think there is some truth in that, those are the demands of the modern player and the modern game but why do English players playing for England seem to be worse at dealing with it than say the Germans or the Brazilians?
The English media and many supporters seem to believe England have a right to consider themselves contenders at World Cups, that they should go out and beat the best teams in the world because they are England. Where do these expectations come from? What facts, stats or history suggest England will buck the trend and start winning big important tournament matches? Or do the English media build the England team up to knock them down again to help them sell newspapers and fill column inches? If England had World Class players like Messi, Neymar, Ronaldo, Bale or Suarez in their team then I’d agree expectations should be higher but they don’t. What person would consider Jagielka and Cahill to be World Class defenders? Even Rooney, he’s good but is he World Class in the same bracket as the five others I mentioned.
So the English media create fake expectations, euphoria and hype which leads to more external pressure on the players which creates resentment (which is negative feeling) and we have a situation where the players resent the media and the media resent the players (for failing to perform to their standards).
I actually feel England are achieving to their level at the moment, but thats just my personal opinion and another discussion point.
So lets talk about some mental qualities you might need to succeed at a world cup. What about freedom and being brave. That seems to have served Chile quite well so far, that bravery and freedom worked well for Holland against Spain and also for Columbia in their opening two matches. England showed a decent amount of freedom and some bravery against Italy and gave their best performance at a major tournament for a while (not their best result obviously). However the first game allows freedom, the second game there is more pressure so England go back to that negative mentality and weren’t brave enough. Even the coach.
“Baines is a great player, his biggest strength or overlapping, what does he get? A system that restricts his ability to get forward”.
“Rooney is a great players, his biggest strength is getting into the box, what did he initially get? A system that wasted him out wide.
“Henderson and Gerard have been brilliant in a midfield three, what did they get? A midfield two that left them exposed”.
“Sterling shone as a number ten in the first game, what did he get? Shifted out wide and his impact greatly reduced”.
All good points which highlight a mentality to turn strengths into weaknesses because of the lack of bravery & belief.
Now you may not be able to get everyone into a system that suits their strengths, but shouldn’t you try and maximise as many or the best ones you have available?
Are England players top level players? Yes they are, they play in the best league in the world every week. So I’m not convinced technique is the biggest frailty even though it could be better and not as good as the top nations. I think the biggest flaws could from a mentality problem.
- Can’t cope with demands and pressure (Always fail to deliver when it matters most)
- Won’t be brave or allow freedom (Revert to negative choices when it matters most)
- Can’t be flexible, adaptable or intelligent (Blame the system or the tactics)
- Can’t execute the correct skills at the desired moments in game (Lack of focus which is mental)
So would England be better off investing more time in building their mentality, I believe they did for a bit before the World Cup but I mean, really invest significantly in this area. If they improve their mentality by 10% that could be the difference. It’s always an area that gets overlooked or is certainly down the pecking order when it comes to priorities. Or i it just a cultural thing? The Germans seem to be pretty good at it!
I believe England need to invest in a plan for the future that creates a style that suits their culture, stick to it and believe in it. Look at Spain (not this World Cup!) they have won 3 major tournament in a row, I’m pretty sure they used to under perform and fail on the big stage all the time too! They helped their players mentality because they gave them a style and a system of play. A revert to type mechanism so they can always go back to the system, trust the philosophy and belief in the philosophy. It bonds them, makes them one and allows them to put their focus in one place regardless of what happens.
I’m not a psychologist so I’m not sure how much of this makes sense but from a coaches perspective I don’t see England demonstrate the mental qualities like bravery, intelligence, focus, flexibility, trust and positivity that are needed for them to become a successful team. The closest the come is Sturridge and Sterling who normally play with a smile but id say Brendan Rodgers know about mentality more than most.
Listen to what Chris Waddle says “Its not about talent” http://www.101greatgoals.com/blog/chris-waddles-brilliant-rant-on-england-we-never-ever-ever-learn-audio/