While watching Great Britain (I refuse to call them ‘Team GB’) against the UAE, I was confused. I’d assumed that Stuart Pearce was playing a 4-3-3 – the personnel for it was perfect. Three technically assured central midfielders, two wide-men, one of which who’s particularly suited to playing as an inside forward in the 4-3-3, and one striker.
In the recent past I’ve disagreed with those who say England shouldn’t play 4-4-2 at senior level, as they suit the formation with the current players, but the team that Stuart Pearce set out was perfect for a 4-3-3. However, it seemed like Pearce was sticking to the more pragmatic 4-4-2. It was slightly less rigid than the usual 4-4-2, with players roaming freely at points, but 4-4-2 all the same.
The first thing you get with 4-4-2 is defensive security. That’s useful when you’re likely to be on the back foot most of the time, but with respect to the UAE, Great Britain are the better side, and were always likely to dominate the possession. This meant that the “two banks of four” that you get from a 4-4-2 weren’t needed, as Great Britain rarely had their backs to the wall.
In the end, a lack of a proper playmaker meant that Great Britain had to rely on counter attacks to create opportunities – not ideal when you’re on the front foot for the majority of the game.
Something that 4-3-3 (or rather 4-2-3-1 as it probably would have been) does is to ensure that there are good transitions from defence to midfield and midfield to attack. Rather than two central midfielders you have three, with one or two taking defensive responsibility and the other/s going forward to create.
Aaron Ramsey would have been perfect for this creative role, with one of Joe Allen and Tom Cleverley bursting forward to offer support, yet Pearce had Ramsey on the right hand side. In the end, a lack of a proper playmaker meant that Great Britain had to rely on counter attacks to create opportunities – not ideal when you’re on the front foot for the majority of the game.
Cleverley, Ramsey and Allen are all midfielders who are comfortable in possession – the type England has been crying out for – and are therefore suited to a formation with three central midfielders. That way they have team-mates in close proximity and can recycle possession as Brendan Rodgers had Swansea doing – playing short passes between each other helps recharge the team as a whole before going on another attack.
Pearce could have helped his charges with their footballing education by playing a formation suited towards free-flowing football. He had the same chance at under-21 level, yet was far more pre-occupied with winning and getting himself the glory.
Lots of countries are ahead of Great Britain tactically and technically, and it would have been a great way of continuing the revolution which is geared towards making the individual countries in Great Britain more technically adept and suited to free-flowing football by playing 4-3-3; 4-4-2 isn’t particularly suited to technical football.
While the Olympics is a huge competition in athletics and many other sports, it’s far from the pinnacle in football, and Pearce could have helped his charges with their footballing education by playing a formation suited towards free-flowing football. He had the same chance at under-21 level, yet was far more pre-occupied with winning and getting himself the glory.
That’s a problem in Great Britain – there seems to be this mindset that winning is the most important thing at all levels. In Holland, for example, at the famed Ajax youth academy, they put winning at youth levels lower down on the list of priorities, and even believe that losing is an important step in the development of youngsters.
Sadly, as long as stubborn egotists like Stuart Pearce are around, football in Great Britain will struggle to move past its primitive nature.
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