Harry Kane is England’s quick fix and key element to Gareth Supremacy | Barney Ronay

Estimated read time 6 min read

Everyone likes a quick fix. Simple Solutions to Complex Problems: this already sounds like a hugely successful podcast hosted by an inspirational former speedway presenter in a roll-neck jumper. It also sounds like a familiar response to England in Germany, and a classic slow-motion descent into sludge and uncertainty.

How to fix this? During the final minutes of the agonies of Frankfurt, during which England seemed to be trying to play football with an over-steamed white cabbage, the TV director cut to the unused Cole Palmer on the England bench, in the process forging a narrative. Here we have it, a clear and obvious oversight, an unused silver bullet. Chuck on another attacking player to go with the seven already tried. Only this time: a slightly different one.

This is, of course, a chimera. Germany has a word for it: the Eierlegende Wollmilchsau, the pig that also gives you milk, wool and eggs, and which, of course, doesn’t exist. There are no quick fixes. In fact, in sport the opposite is more often true. Small fixes create larger problems, tinkering makes for referred pain.

In a sense that is what has happened to a previously competent England team. Gareth Southgate has tried to foster new elements while neglecting weaknesses he had previously solved, like a coder introducing bugs into his own architecture. Here is another way of putting it. The problem is Southgate has forgotten he’s not a very good manager. When he remembers this then he becomes, paradoxically, a good manager.

This is intended as a compliment. Self-knowledge is key to good leadership. Southgate is a very good culture guy. He’s not a great tactical intricacies guy. He is also, if England keep playing like this, conceivably only two games from his last serious outing as manager.

With this in mind, he does need a quick fix. The good news is England have one. This involves remembering that Harry Kane is the centre of the team, the key element of the Gareth Supremacy, and arguably the most effective footballer the England’s men’s team has ever produced. And yet Kane has been a bystander in the current iteration, lost in the haze of new things, like a favourite fleece-lined waterproof jacket prematurely shoved to the back of the wardrobe.

England head coach Gareth Southgate and Harry Kane of England during the match against DenmarkView image in fullscreen

In a formation crammed with hopeful creative elements, Kane has been told to stay high up the pitch, to ration his duties. This despite the fact Kane as a floating No 9 has been the key attacking part of the Southgate years, arguably the only high-functioning creative plan England have had since the 1990s.

It hasn’t worked. Instead a proven super-strength has been transformed into a blunt edge. After the Denmark game, Bild published a gleeful full-page jeer, asking what Kane’s role is in a formation that highlights his one obvious weakness, a lack of speed, while neutering the clever, deeper movement that has brought 64 goals and a key playmaking role.

Southgate has instead been intent on opening the door to new patterns, on an act of self-disruption. So we have funky positional experiments. We have clogged forward areas in a relatively new 4-2-3-1. We have picking-all-the-good-players. We have the sense of a geography teacher trying very hard to breakdance. We have fresh elements interfering with things that were already solved, most notably the loss of the calm solidity at the centre of the team, the one really significant change of the Southgate era. Above all, we have a meandering, blunted Kane.

The good news is Kane is also part of the solution, and not just the solution to the attack, but in the knock-on rebalancing of the team. It will require honesty and an abrupt reverse-ferret. But this is what England have now. Make Kane work again and the team might just work too.

So what are those problems? The midfield is too open. There is no left-sided balance. Hey, it’s 2006 again! As a result we have Jude Bellingham running around like the biggest kid in school. Declan Rice seems lost, the spaces around him too large. Trent Alexander-Arnold has been chucked into a hole with too little prep and is trying to dig himself out.

But the main issue is England have too many players in the No 10 role, or rather vaguely present in those spaces. They have too few in the base of midfield, where suddenly vast and alarming open spaces have opened up, like fissures people fall into in an earthquake movie.

skip past newsletter promotion

You could point out it isn’t Southgate’s fault England don’t have high-quality left-footed players or deep midfielders. But problem-solving is also a thing. Has Southgate managed these deficiencies adequately? Clearly not.

Instead he has been disoriented by access to talent, has forgotten the key note in the Didier Deschamps playbook; that you pick players for a role, for the way the ingredients fit together, that you can’t make a convincing main course out of ice-cream, jam and Easter eggs. Worse, Southgate seems to have forgotten his own first principle, that creativity comes from a solid base, that your forward strengths must always be seen through that prism.

Harry Kane is closely marked by Morten Hjulmand, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Joachim Andersen of DenmarkView image in fullscreen

The quick solution is to get his best player working again. Fix Kane and you might fix the midfield too. There is one obvious way to go about trying to do this. Cut out the massed No 10s and go back to a 4-3-3, with Kane given licence to float deeper and transform the wide forwards into attacking weapons high up the pitch.

England need a deep midfielder who can keep the ball. Adam Wharton is in the squad to do this. He should form part of a Rice-Wharton-Bellingham midfield. In attack Phil Foden deserves to keep his place. England also need speed and a comfortable left-sided player. So the attack should be Foden-Kane-Anthony Gordon. Fill up the middle. Give Bellingham a little more structure. Allow Kane to be Kane. The balance is better. And this is still a seriously starry team.

One other way would be to go full 2018, with a three-man backline of Kyle Walker-John Stones-Marc Guéhi. But it won’t happen even if that solidity is what England need, not Southgate suddenly doing improv.

There is nothing to lose, really, from this point. The most obvious fix is basically this. Un-chain Kane. Go full Southgate. Go Deep Gareth. Come back to what you know. England have two, maybe three weeks to go in Germany. And what is certain is that things really don’t look like much fun as they are; with the sense above all of something vital being lost.

Source: theguardian.com

You May Also Like

More From Author