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.

News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own