I always love it when one of the top UK soccer writers turns his or her attention to the US national team. Why? Because their often unbiased and well-trained eye will point out obvious, painful truths and occasionally reasons for optimism. One of the best things we forget as US fans about US players and the US team is we give a good effort for the full 90 minutes. Coaches often complain that certain players from South American countries that will zoom in and out of games mentally, or turn off completely on defense or at the 60 minute mark. Not Yanks. Be proud.
Thus, I’ve decided to return the favor by looking at the English team as objectively as possible.
Please note, I am a Manchester United fan. Do I troll Liverpool fans on twitter? Yes. But I still follow and am followed by many of them. Thus, based on the past EPL season, it’s no surprise that Roy built his England side around the Scousers. They were amazing. Gerrard has turned into a reliable passer, Henderson is a workhorse, Sterling brings pace and ingenuity to the midfield, and Sturridge is 20% swagger and 80% brilliance. In the closely contested game against Italy, Roy’s 4-3-3 hummed and clicked even in the adverse conditions. Both Johnson and Baines provided width, and they were unlucky to lose.
Thus, it was with great shock that I read Roy was planning to switch to a stale 4-4-1-1 with Rooney in the hole behind Sturridge. Why? As a United fan, I’m not soured on Wayne – but he looked unfit vs, Italy and I don’t think a week of training will get him ready for Uruguay. Rather, he arguably should be dropped from the team – not have things built around him. His cross set up Sturridge for the goal, but Danny is the in-form striker for England. His confidence, movement, and finishing mean Roy should accommodate him – not Wayne.
The Wayne situation, though, reminds me of Landon Donovan and the US. What do coaches do with a thirty year old star who is not fit? The World Cup is basically a quinceanera, a coming out party for prodigiously talented and fast teenagers and twenty-somethings. Yes, you need a veteran spine, but only if those veterans know their roles and are a positive influence. What is easier to imagine: Rooney cheering on teammates from the bench, or crossing his arms and pouting?
We all remember Rooney’s breakout performance at Euro 2004, but this switch to a 4-4-1-1 reminds me of when Sven abruptly changed from a diamond with Scholes as playmaker to the dreaded Lampard-Gerrard combo of yesteryear. Does England have the talent to make any formation work, reach the Round of 16, and lose on penalties? Yes. But with a young, exciting, and bustling core of Sturridge, Sterling, and Henderson, you need to build around the present, not the past.
Wazza’s time in the sun has passed. He does have a role to play, but it’s as a roll-player.