Montenegro 1 England 1: Would Rio Ferdinand have made a difference?

Tom Cleverley the water-carrier must tackle different loads

Would Rio Ferdinand have made a difference? As Joleon Lescott ambled around allowing Montenegro to steal possession, and Chris Smalling sat transfixed on his backside as the ball ricocheted around the box before their equaliser, it was hard not to think he might have.

But England did not surrender victory because a 34-year-old centre-half who last played international football in June 2011 was unable to interrupt his “intricate pre-planned [fitness] programme”. Ferdinand’s last match was a 2-2 home draw against Switzerland so it is not as if his presence would have guaranteed a clean sheet.

There were times when Lescott looked lackadaisical, but not often, while Smalling was generally composed. Both could have done better when in possession but they were not alone. As Steven Gerrard said, England drew this match because they lost control of the ball. Their passing was occasionally sloppy in the first period when Montenegro inexplicably stood off them; when they were pressed in the second it fell apart.

The pitch did not help, these players are so used to playing on billiard tables they find it harder to adapt than in the past, but the failure was down to more than the conditions. In the first period England moved as a unit, supporting each other, passing short and sweet, pulling their opponents around. In the second they became stretched, the passes became longer and possession was squandered.

Hodgson’s solution, done as the stable banged in the Balkan night and the Montenegrins celebrated their leveller, was to withdraw Tom Cleverley. That was so much not a reflection on the player as his team-mates. There is an inbred English suspicion of midfielders who are not charging up and down the pitch, crunching into tackles and fizzing in shots. The only exceptions allowed are “flair” players, those who have magic in their feet and either dribble past people or play defence-splitting 40-yard passes.

Cleverley fits into a different category. He is a water-carrier, as French World Cup-winning captain Didier Deschamps was once sneeringly referred to by Eric Cantona. He gets in good positions, receives the ball then passes to a team-mate. Simple, but effective. However, when the team become stretched those  10-yards passes, the little give-and-gos, are harder to play. That is when Cleverley needs to be prepared to carry the ball more, and maybe seek to switch the play with a raking pass. Paul Scholes, the man he wishes to emulate, has a far greater passing range.

Cleverley has time on his side, and so does the England manager. The 23-year-old is the only player to start all England’s nine internationals this season – remarkably his first nine caps. He is in many respects the consummate Roy Hodgson player. Disciplined, quietly efficient, reliable. Looking back over those matches the only memory that leaps to mind is a bad miss against Brazil – finishing is a weakness given the positions he gets in – but Hodgson keeps writing his name on the team-sheet.

When a team are on top he facilitates play. Always on the move, drifting into space  between the lines, Cleverley  demands the ball, then moves it on. But in a side which is struggling to gain possession he is less influential. Then the need is for a tackler or a ball-carrier, which is why Hodgson eventually swapped him for Ashley Young, one of the latter.

With better officiating it could have been very different. It was Cleverley who broke forward then slipped the pass to Danny Welbeck which led to the latter being clipped by Stefan Savic. It prompted, however, a booking for Welbeck rather than the penalty from which England may well have sewn up victory.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest in Sport
Sport
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms
What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist? Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories

What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist?

Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories
Chinese web dissenters using coded language to dodge censorship filters and vent frustration at government

Are you a 50-center?

Decoding the Chinese web dissenters
The Beatles film Help, released 50 years ago, signalled the birth of the 'metrosexual' man

Help signalled birth of 'metrosexual' man

The Beatles' moptop haircuts and dandified fashion introduced a new style for the modern Englishman, says Martin King
Hollywood's new diet: Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?

Hollywood's new diet trends

Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?
6 best recipe files

6 best recipe files

Get organised like a Bake Off champion and put all your show-stopping recipes in one place
Ashes 2015: Steven Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Middlesex bowler claims Ashes hat-trick of Clarke, Voges and Marsh
Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Atwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works