By Liam Twomey
It is depressing and yet also fitting that, less than a fortnight after the Football Association’s new national football centre in St George’s Park finally opened for business amid much fanfare and a glowing appraisal from major figures throughout the domestic game, Roy Hodgson’s England travelled to Poland and delivered a timely reminder of why change is so desperately needed.
On the surface, emerging from a rain-soaked and intimidatingly raucous Warsaw National Stadium with a draw is but the latest so-so chapter in the solid if unspectacular story of this World Cup campaign. But the majority of those who witnessed the afternoon’s events will be left in a far more dejected state of mind.
In truth, England escaped with a point after being dominated by a team boasting only two players of significant European pedigree and ranked some 49 places below them in the world.
The problems which plagued England on Wednesday afternoon were nothing new or surprising, but the pain of witnessing them never dulls. Misplaced passes evading statuesque, isolated team-mates, a side pushed back by superior competence in possession, and a trademark rearguard action eventually failing in the face of wave upon wave of unrelenting pressure.
Hodgson’s midfielders all exhibited different symptoms of the English malaise. Steven Gerrard went into quarterback mode, consistently playing high-risk diagonal passes to colleagues incapable of receiving them. Shunted out onto the left flank, Tom Cleverley looked lost and confused.
James Milner, as ever, toiled admirably, but performances like this risk him being cast sneeringly as the quintessential ‘honest’ English footballer. Michael Carrick, often touted as the forgotten man of the national team, did nothing worth remembering, ponderous on the ball and passive off it.
For midfielders widely considered to be among the very best the country has to offer, none showed the required poise, intelligence or technical aptitude to thrive on the international stage. The qualifying process is more forgiving of England’s glaring weaknesses but, on this evidence, Brazil 2014, should they make it there, will end in humiliation to far superior speed of thought and foot.
A still more depressing truth is that a glance at Hodgson’s wider midfield options reveals only one with the necessary qualities to dominate a modern battle in the middle of the pitch – one who has been forced to watch his countrymen toil on the television with the rest of us for the last 18 months.
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With his seemingly unerring ability to pick a pass in any area of the pitch, combined with the natural tenacity which provides the industry and defensive awareness to match his sensational talent, Wilshere is the only player gifted and versatile enough to be England's Xavi or its Iniesta. The lack of other viable options means the burden of creativity - and of hope for a brighter future - falls squarely on his shoulders.
Such a lengthy absence at such a young age, of course, raises legitimate and worrying questions about whether he can ever be the talisman both his club and, far more pressingly, his country need him to be. Arsene Wenger likely ran out of fingers to cross while anxiously watching the youngster complete the full 90 minutes in a training ground friendly against Chelsea on Wednesday.
Based on the evidence of Warsaw, though, he was far from the only one.
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