When talking ahead of the Euro 2016 kick off, Roy Hodgson said that his main fear was â€“ fear. Now, this may seem like an empty word, a diplomatic or better a tarot answer which really doesnâ€™t say anything, but I differ: football thatâ€™s played on the Island is the closest to being fearless: the attacking mentality teams use when they smell blood, regardless of the score, no time wasting, the shame of passing back to the goalkeeper or going down for no reason or crying like a baby while rolling in the mud like a pig… Although Dier, who played his youth football in Portugal, which is less agressive but au fait with filthy tricks, called upon his team to be more streetwise, Hodgson clearly stated what he expected from his players and effectively ignored Dierâ€™s plea: ‘I wonâ€™t be spending my coaching time teaching players to stay down and feign injury. I want to teach players how to defend better, attack better and thatâ€™s what Iâ€™ve been trying to do for four years and I will continue to do so.â€™
I believe thatâ€™s the key to fearlessness, and fearlessness is key to winning or as Sun Tzu would say: ‘victorious warriors win first and then go to war.â€™ The main disease that spreads fear in chest and mind of every English national teamâ€™s footballer is â€“ (too) high public expectation plus a tendency to, and great skill in, mockery. I remember I always wondered what stops England from attaining greater heights â€“ and tennis enlightened me: in 2001 at Wimbledon, Tim Henman was under more pressure than Syriaâ€™s al-Assad these days. And that kind of (bad) pressure and cynicism instead of enthusiasm is probably one of the main reasons Goran Ivanisevic, a journeyman player, surprised everyone that year. But back to football.
The cure to fear is their young age combined with a couple of experienced players like Rooney and Cahill. Because the metaphysical fear that the English public produces generating enormous amounts of pressure just doesnâ€™t get to younger players in as devastating a manner as it did to Henman. And I truly believe that the midfield made of Dier â€“ Rooney â€“ Alli is the winning combination and the heart of England squad. Despite Rooneyâ€™s many critics, the formula of youth and experience combined this way could bring glory (of at least semi-finals) to England. Walker and Rose are confident support and a possible adrenalin shot to that midfield.
Speaking of confidence, if Hodgson is going to opt fo 4-1-2-3 again, he should replace Sterling with Sturridge. Although Sturridge would be a third choice as a forward (behind Kane and Vardy), his speed, ability to go past his defender and do the unexpected would be much appreciated instead of Sterling who seems to be running well but low on confidence.
I just hope, after todays Russian defeat, the English media and public wonâ€™t be mislead by some kind of primitive score logics and I certainly hope Hodgson wonâ€™t let that impact the teamâ€™s preparation for tomorrow. But nevertheless, any Tottenham fan will be pleased and proud with the fact that we have (or at least had against Russia) 5 players in the starting 11. I canâ€™t see why that would change against Wales also.
Back to fearlessness, which is the key to success â€“ fearlessness is the element of surprise â€“ England showed it can produce a surprise in the 73rd minute against Russia. The unexpected free kick taker â€“ Eric Dier. If only Hodgson would surprise us tomorrow by not giving his top striker the duty of taking corners.
Anyway, at the end of this freestyle article, I wouldnâ€™t say Iâ€™m making predictions, more of a wish as Tottenham and semi-English fan: Bale scores one, Kane scores two. 3:1 for England. Donâ€™t ask me who scores the 3rd one, I canâ€™t know everything.