Reasons to be cheerful part three.
Stewart Downing was, fittingly, named man of the match in a fluid display that saw the Villa winger swap positions regularly with team-mate Ashley Young and Manchester City’s James Milner, marking a new approach for England. However the real star of the show, and the man giving England’s forwards their freedom, was Jack Wilshere.
That the Premier League’s emerging star was one of the few players to retain his starting place from the Wales game to face Ghana at Wembley is by no means suggestive that he is a part of the second-string. Rather, it demonstrates his emerging importance as chief tenant of England’s engine room.
Analysts were, last night, hailing Fabio Capello’s turn to a 4-3-3 formation as a long overdue embrace of flexibility; a timely discarding of the structure and stability that restricts any team playing England’s historically favoured 4-4-2 system.
But Capello is shrewder than his poor English allows him credit for. His utilisation of the 4-4-2 formation throughout the world cup qualifying campaign, and in the desperate disappointment of South Africa, was borne out of circumstance.
His sudden embrace of 4-4-3, first against Wales and again last night against Ghana, is not an epiphany; it’s pragmatism, plain and simple, because his controversial reign as England coach is now clearly marked out in two epochs: pre-Wilshere and post-Wilshere.
Before the Arsenal youngster burst on to the scene as the Xavi-esque player that England is not supposed to be capable of producing, Capello knew that even the greatest talents of his squad – Gerrard, Lampard, Rooney – were accustomed to 4-4-2. They were brought up on a rich but flawed diet of direct, old-school English football; a diet giving of passion, but not composure. Wilshere, on the other hand, may as well be called Jacques. He is a child of Wenger, and he is a new breed.
In Wilshere, Capello knows that he finally has the player that he needs; the player that he can build a side around. That his foundation stone is but a teenager is neither here nor there. Wilshere is blessed with immense talent, and already has ample capability.
The Arsenal youngster is fundamentally different because he is not in a rush to hurtle forward. He does not make the driving runs for which Lampard and Gerrard are renowned, and which often cursed England with rushed attacks. He sits, he waits, he passes. He builds the play; whereas Lampard and Gerrard attempt to force it.
In a post-Wilshere world, Capello knows that he can create a more fluid side and employ a flexible formation, because the 19 year-old is England’s long-lost conductor, orchestrating the attack with outstanding vision and a stunning range of passing. He is England’s new beating heart and around him everything else can flow.
Credit is due to both Wenger and Capello for recognising so quickly that Wilshere’s time has come, and has come at an incredibly early age. Against Ghana, and with Wilshere, England were exciting to watch and their forwards difficult to mark. Intelligent runs were frequently made and picked out as the side seemed fresh and inspired, shaking off the stagnation of the world cup.
Capello should be excited about the future, because much can and should be improved upon as the players adapt to the new system. Most excitingly, this set-up should finally accommodate the attacking talents of either Gerrard or Lampard, with Parker and Wilshere providing the stability that England’s old men crave but could never be expected to provide in tandem.
With promising displays from Ashley Young and Leighton Baines, and a well-taken goal by Andy Carroll adding further cause for optimism, Capello has an opportunity to fashion a blend of youth and experience that is the hallmark of many a great side. Get it right, and England could go far at Euro 2012.
Read more from Ben Williams at his excellent blog Three O’Clock Kick-Off by CLICKING HERE