For Eng­land, prob­lems run deeper than Wayne Rooney

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

So, it turns out drop­ping Wayne Rooney isn’t the sim­ple cure to Eng­land’s prob­lems. They run much deeper than that. “We have taken over a mess, re­ally,” in­terim man­ager Gareth South­gate said after see­ing his team stut­ter to a scarcely de­served 0-0 draw at Slove­nia in World Cup qual­i­fy­ing on Tues­day.

South­gate has been in charge for two weeks after com­ing in as an emer­gency re­place­ment for Sam Al­lardyce and clearly un­der­stands the chal­lenge fac­ing him and the na­tional team, which pos­si­bly reached an all-time low in los­ing to Ice­land in the last 16 of the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship in June.

Given four matches in a care­taker role be­fore the Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion de­cides on a per­ma­nent suc­ces­sor to Al­lardyce, South­gate has presided over a te­dious 2-0 home win over Malta and then the draw in Ljubl­jana.

The mid-term re­port on South­gate? That pretty much noth­ing has changed.

In fair­ness to South­gate, he has had lit­tle time to im­ple­ment his own ideas and he was brave enough to make a call many Eng­land man­agers wouldn’t have taken — drop­ping the out-of-form Rooney.

But the two games high­lighted many of the fail­ings that have blighted Eng­land’s play­ers for years.

Poor tech­nique un­der pres­sure. No con­fi­dence. No iden­tity. No plan.

Some of that might be un­der­stand­able at this point in time, given that the team has had three coaches — and there­fore three dif­fer­ent man­age­rial ap­proaches to take in — in the past five months.

Eng­land has a young side, es­pe­cially in at­tack, and it showed in a fran­tic, er­ror-strewn dis­play against Slove­nia.

“We’re very much a work in progress, as far as I can see,” South­gate said.

“It is dif­fi­cult to judge how hard to go in when you’ve only had them for such a short pe­riod of time and a lot of them are as in­ex­pe­ri­enced as they are.

“I’ve got to bal­ance set­ting the chal­lenge right for them as a team, de­mand­ing as much as pos­si­ble, but also be­ing re­al­is­tic about how quickly we can adapt to a style of play.”

Eng­land has been crit­i­cized in re­cent years for the pon­der­ous na­ture of its build-up play and South­gate is clearly urg­ing his play­ers to get the ball for­ward quicker and sharper. Hence, the de­ci­sion to drop Rooney.

But it sim­ply made Eng­land’s play­ers look pan­icky as they launched at­tacks. There were also some ba­sic er­rors in tech­nique and pass­ing, not for­get­ting the two woe­ful back-passes — by Eric Dier and Jor­dan Hen­der­son — that led to one-on-one chances for Slove­nia.

Goal­keeper Joe Hart saved Eng­land on those oc­ca­sions, as he did a few other times.

With­out him, Eng­land, which had only three shots on tar­get, would have lost. As it is, the draw left the team top of Group F by two points after three games.

Put sim­ply, Eng­land’s play­ers are still fail­ing to per­form in a na­tional jersey at the same level they do for their clubs in the Premier League.

Rec­ti­fy­ing that is the chal­lenge for the next per­ma­nent Eng­land man­ager, whether it’s South­gate or some­one else.

For now, after a whirl­wind fort­night, South­gate just wants a break.

Asked about his chances of get­ting the job full­time, he laughed and said: “I’m go­ing to have a cou­ple of days to go and sleep.”

Wayne Rooney, left, and Gareth South­gate, right, ad­dress the me­dia ear­lier this week

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