From Cubs to Lions: How England is Breeding the Next Generation
Who wasn’t impressed by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain versus France yesterday? Okay, I concede he has to learn to finish, but what he brought to the pitch was a good trade-off in my opinion.
The “Ox” proudly donned the three lions jersey yesterday. From the start of the game it was easy to spot his intensity. His challenges were superb. On at least four of five occasions, he stripped the ball in mid-field, and led a quick attack at the French goal. If memory serves me, just four minutes in he did exactly that – he stripped the ball, showed excellent pace to get upfield, though faltered in his pass to Ashley Young. Even so, he created a spark for England that carried them through much of the first half.
So why is this important seeing as how he didn’t figure into the scoring? His persistent pressure had the French backs on their toes. His challenges caused turnovers, which were an especially important objective in Roy Hodgson’s plan to keep the ball away from Ribery, Malouda, et al. With England’s well-documented injury woes, Hodgson was forced into a more defensive gameplan then he might have gone with if, say, Rooney, Cahill and Lampard were cruising down the centre of the pitch. At first glance at the starting XI it was easy to arrive at that conclusion. It was the pace, intensity and work ethic that earned the 18-year old Arsenal mid the start.
I think the inclusion of Oxlade-Chamberlain in the lineup is an excellent sign of things to come for England. Giving the experience of top-flight football to young players, provided they have the head and feet to handle the situation, is such an important step in creating a quality football program. We have seen other players brought up a bit too prematurely – even his mate, Theo Walcott, who was in a similar situation six years ago when he was named to England’s roster for the World Cup 2006. There is sometimes a downside to starting players with very limited experience.
First, there are many players on England’s bench with much more experience. I am quite certain that Hodgson’s decision to start the Ox surprised Steward Downing as much as it did Theo Walcott. Downing, who plays the same left position, has had a decent career for England since his inclusion in the World Cup by Sven-Goran Eriksson in 2006. While he only had two goals in all competitions for Liverpool this past year, he would have been a safer choice.
And then there is teammate Theo Walcott, who has been in and out of the national team for six years. While if you ask him he will say he’s a centre-forward, he assumes a winger’s role more often than not, and he could easily have been asked to fill the same position as the Ox.
The fact that Hodgson played Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the toughest group match England will have is quite telling. He clearly has the confidence to develop this youngster, and believes he’s ready for the world stage. He held his own against a vastly more experienced French defence, and certainly was not out of place patrolling the left side for England. In fact, his energy propelled the team through the first half – so who cares if he can’t finish?
…until tomorrow, lads.