World Cup 2014: Preference for team formation over individual flair and fireworks looks like going up in smoke for Roy Hodgson

 

The supremacy of team shape over individual skill is perhaps too deeply embedded in Roy Hodgson’s football psyche to let him begin letting it go now. It was engrained in there over 40 years ago when he arrived at the Halmstad club in Sweden, at a time when the national team’s failure to qualify for the 1970 World Cup had led the country’s football association to introduce a unified playing style – a German-style libero – throughout the Swedish game.

A very topical section of Jonathan Wilson’s excellent history of football tactics, Inverting the Pyramid, relates how Hodgson and Bobby Houghton – the friend who brought him into Swedish football – had no time for the association’s top-down philosophy. They were only interested in their own concepts: the shape and distribution of players on the pitch, a zonal defence, high offside line and counter-attacking through long passes played in behind the opposition defence.

Wilson quotes a Swedish academic, Tomas Peterson, describing how Houghton and Hodgson “threaded together a number of principles, which could be used in a series of combinations and compositions, and moulded them into an organic totality”. It doesn’t sound like razzmatazz but the system won through, seeing Houghton and Hodgson to five out of six Swedish league titles while Houghton took Malmo to the 1979 European Cup final.

Some players have loved these Hodgson powers of organisation. Jimmy Bullard, who worked with him at Fulham, described him as “the most boring manager I’ve worked with but the best organised”. But maybe it is an awareness that the modernity has gone from these kinds of football precepts that make Hodgson so unwilling to define what his playing style actually is these days. “You can do the defining; we work on attacking and defending,” the England manager said five days ago in response to the question.

That answer seemed to run against the grain of what the Football Association, under director of elite performance Dan Ashworth, is currently attempting to introduce: a consistent English football philosophy, running through all the age groups. Ashworth and his team want to develop individuals who play with fearlessness and technical excellence and they are already establishing a rigorous method of identifying the players who are best equipped to deliver it, by scouting the length and breadth of Britain and the professional pyramid, week-in, week-out. You imagine that Hodgson, who fought off one national association’s attempts to impose a style of play all those years ago, is sceptical about the FA’s current attempts to instigate what the Swedes once did.

But whatever his views, the incontrovertible truth is that “organic totality” will just not do for England in the weeks up ahead. Hodgson’s English conservatism and defensiveness has served him well but now he is entering a cup competition in which those qualities cannot take him and his team as far as they need to go. “You have to go for it from the first whistle,” one former England international says of what lies ahead. “It’s cup football now and when you’re on the plane home there can’t be any ‘if onlys.’ He has to use the players who can get him through and abandon his natural conservatism.”

The evidence suggests that Hodgson may not be willing to do that. His game changers include Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling, who delivered more in 24 minutes than most did in 90 against Peru last Friday and yet whose part against the Italians in Manaus 11 days from now still seems uncertain, judging by Hodgson’s apparent irritation with the focus lavished on him in Friday night’s post-match inquisition. It was “infuriating” to see players who come on in the last 10 minutes be compared to those who had played from the start, Hodgson said of someone who has done enough to start against the Italians.

If the starting XI against Peru was – as seems to have been the case – a prototype for how Hodgson will play things in Brazil, then Ross Barkley is another who has reason to have doubts. He probably isn’t the right individual to start against the Italians. The midfielder is not at his most potent when playing against sides who sit deep, as the Italians will. But it doesn’t feel as if Hodgson is ready to unleash him on the world, either.

Events in Miami against Ecuador tomorrow night might tell Hodgson more about what these players can contribute and perhaps also more about why Daniel Sturridge should not be sacrificed to make a five-man midfield behind Wayne Rooney in Manaus. But a view of the history books can also offer an education to England’s most learned manager.

Wilson’s book on the national football team, The Anatomy of England, which is recommended reading for the fast encroaching weeks, tells the story of how England faced Italy in searing heat of Turin’s Stadio Comunale in May 1948, preparations for which included intense stamina training at Stresa, on Lake Maggiore – such were manager Walter Winterbottom’s concerns about his side not wilting.

Their 4-0 win was one of the high points of this nation’s game, achieved amid electric tension and insufferable heat, and was a triumph of the counter-attacking style which Hodgson subscribes to. Of deepest significance was the presence of individualists – Tom Finney, Stanley Matthews and Stan Mortensen, Billy Wright and Neil Franklin – with the individual flair to seize the ball and carry England home.

What’s to lose by giving brilliant Buttler a chance?

There are no signs that the changing of the guard is about to inspire England to new heights on a cricket field this summer and banish the desultory memory of that horrendous winter in Australia. And so it was that while the captain Alastair Cook spoke an eminent common sense by declaring that Jos Buttler’s fastest one-day international century was not enough to make him “quite ready for Test cricket yet,” the heart did sink at the prospect of the West Countryman returning to Lancashire when cricket in its long form resumes against the Sri Lankans next week.

Buttler spoke of the “fun” of his 133-run stand with Ravi Bopara, in Saturday’s narrow defeat, and that is certainly a commodity which has gone out of England’s game, with Alex Hales’ omission from the one-day side just as baffling. Buttler’s wicketkeeping is certainly raw but England need players who can do what the Australians did last winter – deliver free-spirited aggression with bat and ball  and shake off the shackles.

Hang all the common sense. Let the boy play.

News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Caption competition
Caption competition
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

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn