Jumpers for goalposts? Why not a man marker for Pirlo then?

Italy's Andrea Pirlo during the win over England. Italy's Andrea Pirlo during the win over England.

Chris Lakey
Monday, June 16, 2014
10:27 AM

“Self belief. I can do it. I can do it. I can do it, I can do it, I can really move from my head right down to my blue suede shoes. Isn’t it? Rubettes, 1973? Marvellous.”

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Anyone acquainted with The Fast Show will now know why the character Ron Manager and Phil (re-christened Philip it would appear) Neville have never been seen in the same room.

Neville’s delivery. As expert summariser. During England’s match. Against Italy. On Saturday. Was stop start. Just like Ron’s.

No wasted words.

It put me off my stride somewhat in trying to work out why England lost the match.

“Far cry from small boys in the park, jumpers for goalposts. Rush goalie. Two at the back, three in the middle, four up front, one’s gone home for his tea. Beans on toast? Possibly, don’t quote me on that. Marvellous.”

It is a very simple game which we love to complicate. We have the number 10 role, someone playing “in the hole”, the holding midfielder, the attacking midfielder, the full-back who’s a wing back and the striker who might be an old-fashioned number nine, or an out-and-out striker, or a deep-lying striker.

Amidst all the analysis the fact is, against Italy, England we needed was the World Cup equivalent of, say, an Andrew Crofts (not actually Andrew Crofts, that would be silly. Anyway, he’s Welsh). Why wasn’t anyone given the task of standing in Andrea Pirlo’s next footstep every time he moved his legs? In the 1966 World Cup final, Franz Beckenbauer was told to man-mark the brilliant Bobby Charlton, the man the Germans most feared.

What England needed on Saturday was someone to stand all over Pirlo. They wouldn’t have found a better player, but they would have had a fitter, younger player who would have harassed him all night. A Crofts-style player, only better.

Instead, England allowed Pirlo lots of possession and therefore handed the initiative to Italy.

They also exacerbated the problem by playing one of their most talented players, Wayne Rooney, in a position which doesn’t tend to produce his best football - even though his cross for Daniel Sturridge’s goal was magnificent.

Rooney is an easy choice for England scapegoat, but he doesn’t pick the team, and he doesn’t choose where he plays. Roy Hodgson does, and he got it wrong. Forget that in defeat England were probably better than they had been at a major finals for quite some time. They lost, and they can’t afford to do it again.

The positives? Raheem Sterling - pace frightens opposition footballers and he was afraid to use it. But putting him into the starting line-up was a no-brainer. Imagine the outcry had he not started...

The downsides?

Uruguay losing to Costa Rica means they, maybe with Luis Suarez back, will be like wounded animals. It could get tasty.

And Rooney, who is in a similar position to Paul Scholes, who quit international football at the age of 29 because, despite being England’s best footballer for donkey’s years, he was asked to play out of position on the left.

Ron Manager would never had allowed that to happen.

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