Graeme Le Saux: The players do not demand enough of each other

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Watching England on Wednesday night brought back memories of one of the worst afternoons of my career, the defeat to Germany in the last game to be played at the old Wembley. Kevin Keegan resigned immediately after the game and, though we were all shocked, we were not that surprised.

Unfortunately, despite Kevin's enthusiasm and the respect we had for him, it had reached a stage where we struggled to understand what was expected of us. A player, however talented he is, needs to go on the pitch knowing what his role is. A player needs to feel in tune with the tactical side of a game, he needs to know his options, what the structure is, what players should be around him. It is all part of his picture of the pitch. If players are not on same wavelength it takes that much longer to make decisions, to move the ball around. People are not as confident. When there is no coordination you keep finding yourself in the wrong place. You arrive late, the ball bounces 10 yards away. The dynamics are very subtle. It's not about effort – you need less effort when everyone is working together.

The England players on Wednesday seemed as unsure of what they should be doing as we were seven years ago. There was no lack of effort, but there was a shortage of cohesion, of structure. Quality players have not gelled. That has to come down to the manager, he is responsible for picking the right blend and instructing the players.

In the build-up to France '98, under Glenn Hoddle, we played 3-5-2, a system which was alien to most of us at club level. But we knew what was expected of us and had the ability to learn the system as a group of players. It worked it very well. Glenn took a risk in using that philosophy but if your manager is convinced in his own mind of the system, and can get across to the players the value of it, players can adapt.

With England, it seems, the roles have not been defined for the players, or if they have they have, the players have not been carrying out their duties as instructed. If that is the case it adds a different dimension to the inquest. It is all right players giving 100 per cent , but some appear to have been doing it as individuals, trying to win the game off their own bat. That is not the right approach. Great individual touches and pieces of skill contribute to the performance but players have to remember they are one-eleventh of the team.

On Wednesday the players did not seem to be disciplined tactically. I do not want to single out an individual, but to show this was not a one-off take a player who was not involved on Wednesday, Wayne Rooney. How many times have you seen him running back down the pitch after he has lost the ball, sometimes ending up by the corner flag to win it back? People say "well done, look how hard he is trying", but it is not his job to do that. That's his frustration taking over. You have to have a tactical structure.

Wednesday saw a combination of things. The fact that only a point was needed – and I hate the way people say "only" a point – together with the negative set-up meant in the players' minds it was very easy to find yourself holding back, not making that supporting run, not making the effort to exploit a team move. Then the defensive game plan went out of the window and we just hit the panic button in terms of any shape and plan we had.

That has been a problem throughout the campaign. We've never been able to develop a strategy. Being tactically adaptable is a key component at that level. We do not seem to have enough guile. The frightening question is whether this well-respected group of top professionals are playing better for their clubs because they are around foreign players. Can Cristiano Ronaldo get the best out of Rooney in a way his England team-mates cannot? Does Michael Essien do the same for Frank Lampard?

Sometimes I wonder if at England level it has all been a bit cosy. There has been an acceptance of who will play going into the game which does not help. I don't think the players are demanding enough of each other at international level. People respect each other too much. We had players like Tony Adams, Paul Gascoigne, Paul Ince, Alan Shearer, who would scream at people. They were not always in the right, but it did create a sort of club spirit and it was taken in the right way. That doesn't seem to be there now.

Comments