You wouldn't catch former England striker Teddy Sheringham volunteering to take corners!
There’s an art to scoring goals at any level – and you need your goalscorers in an area where they’re going to get opportunities. Yet England have one in midfield and the other taking corners. I can’t understand it.
Wayne Rooney is the nation’s record goalscorer. He had a few chances against Russia – including an effort that was tipped onto the bar by Igor Akinfeev – but he could have had three or four more chances if he was played further forward. Then you have Harry Kane on corner kicks – why? Anticipation is a striker’s most important asset. They’re on the move, they’re thinking, they’re reading the game – they know the area the ball will drop into and they’re moving a split-second before the defender. That’s what gets you goals. Midfielders and wide players don’t have the same instinct. Strikers do. Yet England have one striker playing in midfield and another taking corners. It’s not right. They should be allowed to play in that 12 yard area, sniffing out opportunities and getting goals. That’s where the money is.
I took the odd corner in my time, but only because I would happen to be in that area of the pitch and we’d want a quick set-piece to keep the opposition on the back foot. I always wanted to be in the box trying to score a goal. As a striker that’s where I wanted to be, and where I had to be.
If Saturday’s match against Russia had been in the boxing ring it might even have been stopped – but in football if you only have a one goal lead the opposition always stand a chance, no matter how well you play. At the top level you have to kill the game off, and England simply didn’t do that. That’s the hardest thing to take. People say it’s not about the performance, it’s about the result, but as a professional footballer you want to have both, and for a long time it looked like England would get both. There was a lapse in concentration, a lack of organisation and Russia were able to pinch a point in the dying minutes. The game was there to be won by a two or three goals – England could have been out of sight, that’s how well they played.
When the manager makes substitutions that don’t come off, they’re always going to be criticised. That’s the beauty of hindsight. I thought it was strange Roy Hodgson took Rooney off so early however – maybe he’s been struggling. Rooney is the man in that England team with the experience, he’s been there and done it, and he knows how to win games. It wasn’t so much the fact that we didn’t see Jamie Vardy or Marcus Rashford, but bringing Rooney off baffled me. There’s been a little bit of talk about Raheem Sterling post-Russia game as well, and a feeling that he may have under-performed, but there were a lot of positives to take from his performance – his movement, his pace and his trickery. It’s hard to see Roy Hodgson changing formation or personnel this week for Thursday’s clash against Wales and their star man Gareth Bale.
The jaw-dropping thing about Bale is that you simply can’t give him a shooting chance from anything less than 40 yards! That’s how dangerous he is. The way he strikes a ball – whether it’s bouncing, running away from him, from distance – it’s always a threat. He runs at people at pace and is incredibly hard to stop. How do England do it? They simply have to get close to him. They can’t afford to give him an inch of space – but at the same time Wales aren’t the one-man team people say they are.
They were an impressive unit in their 2-1 win against Slovakia. They dominated large parts of the game and played some lovely keep-ball when necessary. Joe Allen was fantastic in keeping hold of possession in the middle of the park and he pulled the strings. Allen knew when to speed up the tempo, when to slow it down, and he was able to keep Wales ticking over without ever looking in danger of losing the ball.
This will be like a cup final for Wales, they will be ridiculously pumped up and the England team have to be ready for that. Roy Hodgson has to have his players prepared and fired up, because if they are at anywhere less than 100 per cent, Wales will capitalise. It will most likely be played like a Premier League tie rather than a European one, and there will be tackles flying in and battles all over the pitch. It’s going to be 100mph with both teams going hammer-and-tongs. Wales isn’t a must-win game for England the way the tournament structure works but if the Three Lions fail to win on Thursday it would make the Slovakia clash very nervy, and that helps give this clash a little bit of extra edge. Both teams are in a strong position to progress from Group B – but England have more to do at this stage and they simply have to be more clinical if they want to go far in Euro 2016.