The eyes of an expectant nation were on us as we went to the Qatar World Cup. We’d made the Semi Finals of the last one under the old boss and we’d reached the final of the European Championships 2 years prior under my own stewardship. In fact we’d come ever so close of winning our first ever European Championships, only to have it cruelly taken away by late goals and the lottery that is a penalty shoot-out. Not only that but we’d managed great swaggering wins over teams Andorra (13-0) and Gibraltar (10-0) had broken records. Harry Kane alone had scored 11 goals in those two games, goals that had pushed him past Wayne Rooney in the England scoring charts at less than half of Rooney’s caps. The warning signs were there however, despite scoring 11 goals in those 2 games, Kane could only score 5 in our other 8 and 2 in 4 for our subsequent Nations League campaign while also failing to show up for any friendlies. This was far from the all swaggering Harry Kane that single-handedly demolished Portugal in the Euro’s. Speaking of our Nations League performance, we squeezed through, only just piping Switzerland for top spot and Turkey in our group gave us two very hard matches that we very nearly came away from with no points. Our warm up friendlies, which managed to produce a draw with Portugal, a win against Morocco an another loss to Turkey, only intensified my concern.
At this point I’m going to distance myself from this tactic, my Southgate recreation was very much a labour of love, I saw that team analysed it and built a tactic that not only played the same way but played football that I enjoyed watching. It wasn’t perfect, far from it but it was very much a ‘me’ tactic. This 4-3-3 wasn’t the same. It looked like a tactic that I’d think up but it didn’t play like one and the main issue was the Team Instructions. It looked like a duck but it sure as hell didn’t quack like one. In hindsight I probably should have stripped back the instructions, Jonathan Wilson’s writing of that game against Croatia vividly talks about direct wing play being the core intention of Steve McClaren’s England. I just never enjoyed watching them play, it was very much kick and rush football and while my Cambridge side could be accused of that at times, we had much more style to our play that this tactic never replicated. Maybe the issue is that I was trying to replicate, what was, an essentially broken footballing system, maybe the issue was trusting the pre-sets too much. In these situations it’s usually a mixture of both, however one thing I am sure about is that I’ve learnt a lot from this build and that is the basic idea behind all of this.
You may have guessed, from my fairly down second paragraph, that we didn’t exactly come home with any winners medals. Now this wasn’t a disaster, Mike Brazier v2 is still in with job, but it was far more classic 2000’s England than the new generation have pushed to be. We started with wins over Iran and Algeria, both 2-0, both relying on a single player to score a brace, first Sancho and then Nketiah. In both games we produced a load of chances and just couldn’t properly convert our attempts into goals. I say attempts instead of dominance because we were never really dominant. Against both teams we were in the 30’s for percentage of possession. This was a tend that emerged over the course of this campaign, teams seemed to try and sit back and hold the ball against us. I’m no Pep Guardiola but 35-odd% for England against Iran is stupid. Not because we should be dominating them but because we should be using our heads a bit more and working our way through them. This is proper old school England from decades ago and I fear that I’ll have to build very similar tactics to this in a few tournaments time. Those wins saw us through to the next round and meant our last group game against Spain was for first place in the group. I’d love to regale you with stories of our fascinating encounter but it was very much a nervous, edgy 0-0 draw. That draw saw us top the group with 7 points while Spain came second with 5 due to a draw with Algeria. Brilliant, we get the easy draw.
That ‘easy’ draw was Sweden, they’d beaten Belgium on their way to the second round and weren’t about to go down without a fight. We started slowly with Sweden scoring after 7 minutes with a deflected shot off one of our defenders. We evened the score fairly soon after from a Nathaniel Clyne screamer on 23 minutes. Even with that equaliser, we came in at half time the second best team on the pitch. I made the switch that I’d made every game this World Cup and brought my wide men back to the midfield line, that helped and we were on the front foot for the rest of the match but sadly it wasn’t enough and at full tie the score was still 1-1. By this time I’d hooked Harry Kane, he’d been awful all tournament, and had Nketiah and the still inured Marcus Rashford upfront. Both men looked lively and were troubling the Swedish defence but again we failed to score in extra time, leaving us to the dreaded lottery of penalties. To cut a long story short we lost, I always lose at penalties, and that was the end. I feel it was an end befitting the England squad that this tactic was modelled on and a better end than Steve McClaren managed.
The after mouth of this was I managed to keep my job, the England board weren’t happy with the performance but they still trust my v2 to lead England for now, it was also the last tournament for Ryan Bertrand, he retired after the tournament was over, it could be the last one for a few others as well with Jordan Henderson and Kyle Walker just a few that are struggling to get into their club sides at an advanced age. I’m not worried as I had quite a few young players that I’ve been slowly incorporating into the side. You might just say i have a golden generation coming through…..
Thanks to Keysi for hosting me, you can find the rest of my England series here. You can find me in FM Slack which you can join here, my channel is #braziers-england. I’m also on Twitter and Instagram. I also have my own blog where I talk about random rubbish with its own Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and fledgling YouTube.