James Lawton: It's the formation that's best for our players – as Ramsey proved in '66

The 4-3-3 system that Alf Ramsey unveiled on the approach to the 1966 tournament remains the best vehicle for a significant England challenge

When fabio Capello met Sir Bobby Charlton on his first working day as England manager he told one of the heroes of the nation's only World Cup success in 1966: "Charlton, I wish to take England to the final of the World Cup in South Africa."

Charlton restricted himself to some encouraging pleasantries and the private thought: "Well, it will not be before time."

This may have been a pity because, if the man who for all his sumptuous gifts was given the job of marking Franz Beckenbauer in the Wembley final had carried one unshakeable regret down all the years, it was that a series of England managers had failed to see what his own coach, Sir Alf Ramsey, had understood so clearly.

It was that the 4-3-3 system he unveiled on the approach to the 1966 tournament – and earned his team the derisive nickname The Wingless Wonders – remained, by some distance, the best vehicle for a significant England challenge.

Capello, who was weaned on the 4-4-2 approach of his brilliant mentor Arrigo Sacchi at Milan – it brought both of them European Cup triumphs – has now embraced 4-3-3 to the enthusiastic response of an otherwise largely critical audience.

He likes the clear demarcation lines of responsibility it imposes through the team, the emphasis on good-hearted performance and the creative scope it provides for young players like Jack Wilshere and, over the last two games, Ashley Young.

Best of all, it puts a new premium on solid contributions from such underperformers as Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.

As even the luminously talented Jimmy Greaves found out 45 years ago, in 4-3-3 there is no hiding place for anything less than total commitment to the team ethic. Capello may just be saying that, if he is fighting for his credibility, so must be even the most entrenched of his high-profile performers.

Greaves lost his place in the World Cup team because Ramsey in the end concluded that just as he had to find places for such valuable players as Alan Ball and Martin Peters at the expense of traditional wingers, the potentially deadly finishing of the Tottenham striker, who had been ill in the build-up to the tournament, did not exceed the value of the hard work and strength of Roger Hunt and Geoff Hurst.

Charlton's frustration at the neglect of a system which had proved so adaptable to the virtues of the English game reached a high water mark in Portugal in the European Championship finals of 2004, when Paul Scholes became so disenchanted with the tactics of Sven Goran Eriksson that he retired from international football.

Scholes had long been one of Charlton's all-time favourite players and one he believed particularly suited to 4-3-3.

Charlton said: "I've always believed the system was best suited to English players. For me, the greatest strength of 4-3-3 is its power to bring teams together, and this is especially noticeable in outstanding players who are playing in different systems for their clubs. Over the years, players like Scholes, [David] Beckham, Gerrard and [Frank] Lampard had been successful at their clubs, then struggled in the England team. I was amazed that 4-3-3 was a way of playing almost completely shunned by Eriksson and [Steve] McClaren.

"Scholes, who in my opinion has always shown the most natural instincts for a true midfielder, became so frustrated by being played out on the left he just quit the England team. It was a terrible loss."

Now Jack Wilshere has a chance to reopen a door closed on Paul Scholes. It is a possibility that may just have the force of most relevant history.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Jerry Seinfeld Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee
peopleSitcom star urges men to be more supportive of women than ever
Life and Style
Living for the moment: Julianne Moore playing Alzheimer’s sufferer Alice
Jay Z
businessJay-Z's bid for Spotify rival could be blocked
footballLouis van Gaal is watching a different Manchester United and Wenger can still spring a surprise
The spider makes its break for freedom
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot