What was the factor that made the Spanish football team of the 2008-12 era, who conquered both the 2010 Fifa World Cup and Euro 2012, such an apparently invincible side? Or, coming to the present, what is it that makes the scintillating German football team, who crushed the Brazilians on their home turf in the semi-finals of the 2014 Fifa World Cup en route to winning the title, overwhelming favourites in any tournament that they participate in?
There is one crucial characteristic conspicuously common between the current World Champions and the World Champions prior to them(Spain are, incidentally, the current defending European Champions).
The modus operandi of these national teams consisted of a specific core of players from a particular football club belonging to the respective nations. Spain had a core of splendid treble-winning Barcelona side of 2008. Thus, both teams were masters of the tiki-taka tactic and dominated football for quite a few years, Spain at the international level and Barcelona at the club level. Similarly, players from Bayern Munich, which is a team considered as one of the very best in club football, formed the core of Germany. Joachim Leow adjusted his tactics according to the Bayern’s style of play and thus made Germany a force to be reckoned with.
It is quite an irony that England, which boasts of the English Premier League, considered by many as the toughest league in the world, has failed to come up with a set of players who can guide English football to national glory. In the last 20 years, the English team has had the likes of David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney and many such players in their lineup, but have surprisingly failed to live up to their expectations in every major tournament. The English side which participated in the 2014 Fifa World Cup was certainly not worth being eliminated in the first round.
The main reason for England’s unexpected failures has been that the national team hardly comprises of a core from an English club which dominated in the league. Unlike Spain in 2010 and Germany in 2014, who were mirror images of Barcelona and Bayern Munich in terms of core players and tactics, England had to devise a successful tactic that could fit in players from Manchester United, Arsenal Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, etc, which is pretty tough. Also, the 4-2-3-1 formation, which is hardly used by any of the top football clubs outside England, let alone the national teams, is widely used in the Premier League. England is the only national team which employs this out-dated tactic and hence struggles even against underdog oppositions.
This time around, though, Roy Hodgson seems to have attempted to rectify the mistake that England has made so many times in the past. The 2015-16 season of the English Premier League saw the rise of Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspurs as the new challengers to in the race for the English title. Though Spurs imploded towards the end of the season, thus losing out on what would have been a well-deserved 2nd place, they have been fairly consistent in the league against heavyweights such as Manchester United, Arsenal Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City.
Hodgson has included a set of players in his final 23-man-squad for Euro 2016, who were the chief architects of Spurs exceptional campaign. Kyle Walker has been consistently good for Spurs at the right-back position. Danny Rose was terrific throughout the season at left-back and would be a constant threat on the left flank. In the midfield, the Delle Alli – Eric Dier combo could replicate what Xavi and Iniesta did for Spain.
The 20-year-old Alli has been sensational for the north-London side, scoring 10 goals and creating many more this season. Eric Dier can add to England’s strength with his versatility. Harry Kane will be the key in front of the goal as Wayne Rooney is no longer the striker he was while Daniel Sturridge has hardly made any impact this season for Liverpool due to recurrent injuries. Kane has been nothing short of prolific as he scored an incredible 31 goals last season and won the Golden Boot this season for his 25 goals.
England has always had the some terrific players at their disposal but has always lacked a core around whom a unique tactic can be built upon. Going into Euro 2016, England seems to have identified what they were lacking when compared to title-winning sides like Spain or Germany. And if the Three Lions are able to build on this, it should hardly come as a surprise if they are crowned the European Champions in France.