English football as a foreign language

In my last piece, I commented that Sven would need help from above if England failed to beat Wales. I don't know where he goes to for salvation now (except for maybe anywhere in Poland) after the Windsor Park debacle.

Now, I am not going to debate the possible successors to Eriksson. Given that if England qualify for the World Cup by beating Austria and Poland next month, a feat they should theoretically accomplish, Eriksson will remain in his job until after the World Cup. Therefore, it only seems prevalent to discuss his existing dilemmas as any sensible reasonable form of debate.

What is clear is that Eriksson's main problem is flexibility. The Swede has achieved all he has in the game with a 4-4-2 formation. He knows no other way. It’s like that scene from the (underrated) comedy show Big Train, where an English family travelling abroad stop a local and ask "Do you speak English?" The local replies, with perfect diction, "No, I am sorry. I don't understand you."

If you say 4-3-3, or (an effective) 4-5-1 to a manager who is paid £4m a year and achieved great things at Lazio, you can imagine him staring blankly beneath what people mistakenly see as an ice-cool exterior. The 4-1 defeat in Denmark has panicked Eriksson into changing a formation that has its shortcomings, but seems to isolate less players than the new one.

I don't profess to understand the tactical nuances of international management, but even the idiot know-it-all down the local knows you play your best players in their best position. From my managerial experience, which is an extensive Championship Manager history in between girlfriends, you build your team around your best players.

For the first time in years, England have recognised stars throughout the side. Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard were two of the best midfielders in Europe last season, and in Wayne Rooney we have a lad capable of winning any game he plays in. All three were horribly unaccomodated by 4-5-1, and all the Hollywood Beckham passes in the world cannot make up for it.

Rooney must be restored to his favoured deep lying striker role if he is to be the tournament winner England hope he is. If Gerrard and Lampard cannot play together in the middle, and by that I mean they don't have the nouse between them to ensure one of them holds, then drop one of them and play a holding player. Lampard is too busy lisping "Super Goals" to death in his Sun advert to think about his positioning for England, and Gerrard does not exert the same influence for club as for country.

So is the answer not to play, for argument's sake, Michael Carrick as a holding player and either Lampard or Gerrard based on current form? Eriksson would be terrible at picking horses, because form seems almost irrelevant to him.

My feeling is that upon taking the job in 2001, he realised that the knives would be out for him quickly if he did not succeed. So, he insulated himself from a mutiny from the players by making certain core members of the squad undroppable. Rio Ferdinand, David Beckham, Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard are the first group to come out in defence of their manager when he is criticised. They know if he goes, their place in the England side is not guaranteed.

With this atmosphere, playing for your country becomes less of an honour and more of a job. And so, grinding out a result against a side who will fight until the last becomes altogether tougher. I don't think England lacked fight, however, I think they were genuinely confused by the system on Wednesday night.

England have played some decent stuff under Eriksson, and I don't think getting rid of him is the way forward. He needs to shake it up and inject some passion into the England setup for the next two games. Hopefully, the defeat to Northern Ireland will make him realise he needs to make some tough decisions about his formation and players who are out of form. On paper, England have the team to go close in Germany, if we get there.

But then again, what do I know? It took me four years to get Doncaster out of League One.