Arsene & Jose could fit our DNA
IWAS invited this week to a meeting at St George’s Park at the end of March to learn about England’s footballing DNA. In advance of that meeting, I haven’t a clue how that DNA is going to be defined but some smart people will have thought the matter through and I am sure that the presentation will make good sense.
That said, I am highly dubious about the potential and value in a DNA-based philosophy. Not to be negative; not to be controversial. I just see huge difficulties in that strategy here in England.
Our international players come from a wide variety of club environments. Each has a different philosophy.
So, we have Jack Wilshere who has been trained in the Wenger way.We have Gary Cahill trained in the Mourinho way. Raheem Sterling trained by Rodgers. Wayne Rooney now coached by Van Gaal. Fabian Delph earned his chance through the coaching of Paul Lambert. Andros Townsend is learning the Pochettino way.
Each boss has his own philosophy, his own way of playing, his own formation, and his own requirements within that system in the various scenarios. With and without the ball.
When an England team comes together, the players will be indoctrinated in their own ways of going about things. It will never be as easy as to say ‘take off your club hat, you now have to wear your international one instead’. Habits die hard.
In a vital moment, how you continually behave takes over. And you are what you are at a physical level based on your continuous training.
If we are going to progress then we need to inspire our best players to work better together for the betterment of the nation. From time to time. And in between times. But I’m not sure how their DNA can be constructed at a national level. They are products of clubs that do things differently.
Let’s look at some of the difficulties. Using just two examples to keep things simple.
Imagine that Arsenal play a possession-based game in which constant short passing at high tempo is a necessity. Physically, their players need to be prepared to be dynamic, to be in fairly constant motion, with very quick and agile feet.
Meanwhile, Chelsea might play a game in which being able to stifle opponents is important, in which physical power is important, in which rangy counterattacking runs over distances make the difference.
Physically, their players will need to be trained differently; upper body strength is more important, power-based running has a more vital place and concentration on positioning is a more important attribute.
Where is the common ground for players from those two different training grounds to come together? Let alone, the ten different training grounds in a squad.
I guess we could talk about a DNA based on ambition; an ambition to be the world’s best.We could talk about an historical ‘all for one, one for all’ ethos; a DNA based on unity.
But as we start to consider the core footballing philosophy that is essential, inevitable confusion will arise in England.
This is not Germany, where clubs serve the national association to a much greater degree.
This is England, the home of the Premier League, with owners from far and wide around the world. Each with its own, independent view on how to succeed, governed by the Premier League not by the FA.
The clubs are building their own successes, they are focused on their own goals; they are not there to build players for England. So the DNAs of the players are being created on different levels. Embracing and uniting difference must therefore be the key aspect of the English DNA, I have to presume. And doing it for the big picture challenge that lies ahead.
There is no point believing in a way of playing, for instance, that simply will not work at a South American World Cup.
To make everybody feel at home, the united approach to football must be driven by what the players selected in any one squad feel that they can produce.
So if the team is to be populated by five Manchester United lads then inevitably the United philosophies will have to hold a stronger place in the England team philosophy. It seems to me that flexibility is going to be vital in this DNA.
I want to end by going back to Paul McGinley.
What he did in the Ryder Cup was to bring in his players and encourage them to keep their normal ‘team’ around them.
They brought their own people in with them to ensure that they could live in a constant manner within the Ryder Cup team environment.
Each needed to prepare himself to play the golf course. Each needed his usual team to deliver the right preparation.
It is not inconceivable for an England camp to follow a similar philosophy. By inviting club managers and staff more fully into the fold, perhaps we could best harness the talents at our disposal.
Why couldn’t Arsene Wenger coach the England team to play a better possession-based game at Wembley and why couldn’t Jose Mourinho coach them to earn a vital qualification point away in Germany? Let’s include ‘integration’ in this ‘DNA’.
I’m looking forward to hearing the answer. I’ll have missed a lot, I’m sure. It certainly isn’t a simple subject.
SEALED WITH A KISS: Skipper Paul McGinley with the Ryder Cup won by Europe