The England performance was founded by an Italian manager’s footballing roots; a highly adept defensive display that ultimately undid the usually sumptuous Spanish. It therefore begs the question, if England can repeat what is considered unattractive, but rewarding football at Euro 2012 against Europe’s elite, would potential success be embraced by England supporters?
Six years ago with Otto Rehhagel as their manager, the Greek national team arrived at Portugal 2004 as 150/1 outsiders. Six games and just seven goals later they left as shock European champions. Their achievement was criticised by many football purists; a success based on a robust defence was felt unworthy of champion status. However, Rehhagel built a side to play to their strengths, and for that, he deserved credit. This is not to place England and Greece on a par, but as the former have yet to stumble across a winning formula in major competition, the comparison is relevant.
This Greek ideology is emulated regularly on a domestic level, as many Premier League teams cannot match the craft of their affluent contemporaries so the focus shifts to their strengths; look no further than Stoke City. Success sometimes comes at a cost, as barring the most successful sides in world football, winning comes from reversing the old adage of all style and no substance.
The manner of England’s achievement over Spain was not to many people’s taste and was epitomised, despite the victory, with a subdued Wembley atmosphere. However, Capello’s pre-match words emanated from a realism that no team can match Spain at their own game, therefore, a change of tact was required to grapple with a habitually vigorous outfit – and like Rehhagel, Capello warrants some acclaim.
One can only glance to the horror show of Bloemfontein in 2010, where Capello’s men were outclassed by innovative Germany, to see the result of going like-for-like with superior footballers. If the traits of the latest Wembley win were implemented in South Africa then maybe England’s World Cup portrait would have been painted with a different brush. This latest victory then should again point towards the realisation that England have superior opponents awaiting, and actually Capello deserves some praise for finding flexibility in a plan B.
For every team arriving at a major tournament the overriding common goal is to win with a swagger, but again as Rehhagel appreciated back 2004, each country should also embrace their limitations. Some might say then that Capello is in a no-win situation. Attempt to play with genuine craft and face potential humiliation, or win negatively and face the wrath of supporters for placing success above fashionable football. Hypothetically then, would England supporters back their manager with these less-appealing, Greek-like tactics in a major tournament?