There is a certain omnipotence which surrounds this German national side, even when facing their second string. This is what England will be up against on Tuesday night, the fringe players, the rearguard of Joachim Löw’s side. But this counts for nothing when you consider the abundance of talent at Löw’s disposal. Roman Weidenfeller, Marcel Schmelzer, Marco Reus and Sven Bender are four of the expected changes, players who were part of a spellbinding and dazzling Dortmund side who lost in last years Champions League final. Then there is Julian Draxler, another of Germany’s bright young stars in their golden generation. And it was Mr. Draxler who was speaking to the BBC ahead of Tuesday’s clash at Wembley.
What is the difference between the styles of Germany and England he was asked. After a brief description of Germany’s playing style his conclusion was succinct:
“…they work football and we play football”.
He may have hit the nail on the head. England’s style can be workman like, at times arduous on the eye and joyless. The best teams in the world always look like they are having fun. Draxler’s analogy reminds me of comments made by one of England’s young talents – Jack Wilshere.
It was around the time of the Adnan Januzaj saga, “Only English people should play for England”, should we naturalise players who have come here solely for footballing purposes? Who qualifies as ‘English’? Et cetera et cetera. Perhaps without realising the Arsenal young gun had conflated a number of contemporary issues in society. But it was one comment in particular which instantly grabbed my attention.
“We have great characters. You think of Spain and you think technical but you think of England and you think they are brave and they tackle hard”.
My immediate thoughts were why on earth are you endorsing such archaic attitudes . Then I reassessed. In a week where England had two crucial World Cup qualifiers they were being attacked left, right and centre. Gregg Dyke had announced the new FA commission tasked with improving the fortunes of the England team. His comments regarding England’s chances at the world cup (or lack of) and the failure of young English players in domestic football were necessary yet untimely. Wilshere’s comments were a valiant defence of both the current national side and English traditions. It was a statement with jingoistic sentiments.
Being brave, having character and tackling hard are all useful traits for a footballer, however these traits alone aren’t going to win you European and World Cup medals. Lest we forget it is the Xavi’s and Iniesta’s of this world that have been picking up the International honours of late – two players certainly not renowned for their hard tackling and tough demeanor. And this is where England’s quandary lies. But what is the solution? I am neither talking about a whole sale importation of a foreign style nor a whole sale rejection of existing traditions but a fusion of anglo-continental styles.
Wayne Rooney is a case in point; he has combined English grit and ruggedness with ingenuity and class. A balance needs to be struck and this doesn’t just come down to harping on about improving technique (as important as it is). In an article by Didi Hamann for The Independent, he spoke of the desire in England to find the new Gascoigne, the new Rooney, the new hero that can reignite England’s dream of success. It is a culture that hinders the overall cohesion of the team.
Hamann recently mocked the English hysteria surrounding Andros Townsend and he makes a valid point. Indeed his sudden rise to prominence has seen him become England’s next hero ‘pulling the sword out the stone’. If the hopes of a team are projected onto one or two individuals then the team will struggle to take collective responsibility and will inevitably suffer as a consequence. The individual is perpetually the hero or villain of the piece. Thus the future not only lies in ‘technique’ but also in the sculpting of attitudes. But this is a job for the future and Wilshere was talking about the here and now.
The team won’t change over night and Brazil is edging ever closer. England will play a German team at Wembley who have combined talent, passion and intensity with a technically entertaining brand of football. It is a model to which the English aspire. England have characters on the pitch who tackle hard and work hard, they always have done. This is the root of Draxler’s comment. As we all know England have a number of talented individuals and collectively they still have the potential to perform. It is the first time in a while England will approach a world cup with scant expectation of success. I say embrace this. In the words of Julian Draxler England need to go to Brazil and “play football”.