Belfast Telegraph

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers' example can start tika-taka revolution at home

By Kevin Garside

Away from the summer fete atmosphere dominating domestic sport at Wimbledon and Silverstone, the football machine is beginning to churn. The teams are returning to work after the recess.

Brendan Rodgers began the tika-taka transformation of Liverpool with his first training session last Wednesday. West Ham lost a pre-season run-out in Vienna on Saturday and Nani tells us he is committed to Manchester United.

It is a time of hope, optimism and excitement, when all our teams are level on points with the great powers and we dream impossible dreams. On the beaches of Spain and Portugal, Turkey and Greece, the great diaspora of football followers pores over English newspapers, gorging on the transfer tittle-tattle that tells of the impending arrival of the player who is going to transform our team. He bears the exotic stamp of some faraway place, his foreign passport enough to convince us of his credentials as a footballer to stir the heart.

In 10 years from now, perhaps that player will be English, a boy falling off a production line of similarly well-coached lads fluent in the language of the modern game, a kind of footballing Esperanto. The crowning of Spain as European champions coincides with the opening later this year of the FA's national footballing centre at St George's Park in Burton. Please let that happy coincidence inform the thinking of all who file through the doors.

The prospectus reads like a Monaco health spa; in addition to the 12 full-size pitches there are hydrotherapy suites, treatment rooms and sundry gyms all set in 350 acres. The project has cost £100m, the going rate for a Messi or a Ronaldo. This must be the aim, to produce one of those of our own, a precious jewel to whom the whole world defers. And around him pack the team with a cluster of shimmering feet to pass the opposition into oblivion.

This is, of course, the Spanish experience. Spain's display against Italy to retain the European crown dealt for all time with the ridiculous argument that the passing game is not the way to footballing nirvana. It is fundamental to the prospects of England's revival as an international force. Roy Hodgson has created a positive impression in his first weeks in charge, dealing with a difficult challenge with dignity and calm. He made some bold selections and gave England a recognisable shape, got them organised.

Italy trampled over English ambition. Spain subsequently did likewise to them. It did not lead to anguished cries in Rome, Turin and Milan about the failure of Italian technique. In the wake that followed England's demise, that predictable lament echoed around the chat rooms. Hodgson, correctly, opposed that notion. Englishmen can pass but do not move like their Continental cousins. That is where the improvement must come and why Hodgson so let himself down when he distanced himself from the Spanish model.

He wouldn't want to trade the English virtues of passion, spirit and industry, the willingness to run through a brick wall for the cause, for Spanish art he said. This is an insult to Spain. Which team embodied more of the attributes so beloved of Hodgson than Vicente del Bosque's side? The new season is six weeks away, insufficient time to overhaul English DNA. In the years ahead the job of St George's is to institute a coaching programme that preaches a new way of seeing the game, that teaches players and coaches to love the ball, not fear it, where phrases like "get rid of it" are banished from the game. In the meantime the hope must be that the managers and coaches in charge of our clubs are inspired by what they have seen at Euro 2012 and are brave enough to change.

In this the work of Rodgers at Anfield takes on huge significance. A student and devotee of Spanish football culture, Rodgers has the canvas and reach to spread a gospel that made Swansea such a delight on their return to the top flight. Tony Pulis justifies his commitment to Seventies hoof and chase at Stoke on the grounds that he does not have the resources to buy players capable of a more refined output. The Rodgers ensemble at Swansea was an elegant rebuttal of that argument.

It is manifestly absurd to maintain that an English professional footballer lacks technique. He might not be Messi or Ronaldo but he is not wanting for a grasp of the basics. Rodgers showed what can be achieved by players most would regard as middling. At Liverpool he has an opportunity to move the story on at a team with global appeal. It is important not just for fans of Liverpool but for lovers of the game in England that he succeeds.

We are told Rodgers has an open invitation to the house of Del Bosque to discuss ideas, but has been too busy to attend. Maybe Pulis can take up the offer. What's "long ball" in Spanish?

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph