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.

Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Caption competition
Caption competition
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

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick