When it comes to accepting that defeat can just be a consequence of being out-played by a better team, the English are not the most liberally minded. Only the Italian media can begin to compare when it comes to ruthless self criticism; unfair blame is always allocated and unfair questions are always bought up. The way in which the questions asked differed from past years however frustrated me more than ever this time around; the differences also pointed out more than ever the severity with which the ‘aesthetics vs results’ argument has been reawakened, following Chelsea’s Champions League win.
Scathing articles and tweets came flooding in questioning why England couldn’t have played a more pro-active and flexible style of football, and people seemed genuinely disappointed England couldn’t have exited the Euros with an attacking performance that fans could’ve been proud of. I can understand the logic behind these comments but still, in my opinion they’re completely wrong and unreasonable. I also think it’s very unfair of the public and of Alessandro Diamanti to claim England “failed to pull a Chelsea”.
Firstly it’s unfair on Chelsea because, as a statement, it doesn’t recognise the intelligence and the ingenuity with which Chelsea adapted they’re regular formation and style of play to stop Bayern, and then it’s also unfair to England, who stuck to their guns against the Italians, keeping faith with the principles that Roy Hodgson had implemented from the beginning. Obviously as a Chelsea fan, I’m happy when a dramatic and hearty over-coming of the odds is referred to as “pulling a Chelsea”, not so happy however when people say it to mean, winning having been totally outclassed. The difference is Chelsea set up against Bayern to defend and let them have the ball, whereas England didn’t – they used the same set up as they did against Sweden and Ukraine (games you would have expected them to dominate)
Ultimately though, I think Hodgson’s overall approach was right for the competition. Considering how he inherited the team at such short notice, and when considering its notable lack of great technical ability compared to other sides, it made sense for him to focus on organization and shape, primarily. I think this section of scornful England supporters should realize that it was the non-performances of Rooney and the wide players, who were so easily dragged inside and left in no position to attack, that let the side down. They should realize that it was the Chelsea-like determination and dedication to defensive duties that England showed, that stopped it from being a humiliation. It’s the reason why England still hasn’t lost a game under Hodgson in regular time as well.
One other small Chelsea-related high point England take away from the Euros will be the knowledge they still have two of the best defenders in the world in John Terry and Ashley Cole. Both were exceptional throughout as per, and no one was talking about Rio Ferdinand by the end. During the tournament, Ashley Cole broke England’s record for appearance at major events, he may yet break the record for appearances from an outfield player with England also. Few men in history have ever been such an outstanding constant for club and country like Ashley Cole.
One other Chelsea-related observation to have been made in the Quarter-finals of the Euros, I think might just have served as conformation of something we all already knew – Florent Malouda looks like he’s finished with top European football. His useless performance against Spain made him look suspiciously to me like someone who’s got their dream retirement move to Brazil in the bag, rather than a recently crowned Champion of Europe looking to build on their impressive career.
I really have no idea what France were trying to do against Spain on Saturday but whatever their plan was, their execution was extremely poor. Still haven’t worked out either what the role of Malouda was supposed to be. If Blanc wanted defensive strength he could have used Alou Diarra, if he wanted someone to shuttle forward and link midfield and attack with some creativity he could’ve used Nasri. After his poor performance against England as well, Malouda’s selection was even more baffling than that of (supposed Chelsea target) Mathieu Debuchy who at least had a clear purpose. Sadly though he failed to neutralize the threat of Jordi Alba on the flank with anything like the efficacy with which Ryan Bertrand had against Philip Lahm in Munich.
For some reason now, I can’t imagine Florent Malouda returning to fight for a place in the Chelsea team, especially given the lack of opportunities he was afforded last season. I have a feeling his rumoured transfer to Vasco da Gama is almost certain to happen and think that’s a good thing for everyone involved. Who agrees?