Before everyone gets all up in arms because they think the England “DNA Plan” is almost the Holy Grail, or the United States National Team needs some “Identity” or “Style” to justify themselves as officially having arrived or something, let’s take a step back. We can start by looking at Croatia as an example, they are currently a country that play a specific style, which makes perfect sense for them. Croatia is a small country that produces large amounts of very technical players, but they do not have many players with world class pace, I can’t personally remember any. The federation in Croatia also have great influence over player development because the country is not large, it makes everything easier, including talent identification. The logical national style of play for Croatia would be a ball possession approach, where attacking has to be with the entire team because they don’t have the pace to hit long balls or counter without speed, and they are all so technical they can keep the ball. If we look at Spain, they are the masters of positional play, but they are another country that is not known for rapid pace players, so for me Spain’s national playing style makes complete sense for many reasons and influences, including the Dutch influence at Barcelona. I can go on using many other examples, the Iceland national style makes perfect sense for Iceland, but let’s jump to countries where it doesn’t make as much sense to establish a national style of play.
Any country that is blessed with having large diversity in their soccer communities with literally people from all over the world; these countries are probably better off not having a national style or DNA. Let me start with a country like the United States. Go to any field in NYC and it looks like the united nations, every summer in Harlem there is an African World Cup, with local teams representing almost every African Country. California, Florida and Texas are known for their exceptional Latino talent. Aside from the player diversity in America, think about all the coaches in the US from all over the world, coaching in their local communities. To come up with one plan for the development of all US players is crazy, and to carve out one identity or style for the US National Team is silly to me. The reality is that one year the US National team may play a certain way and the next year they might be different, it depends on the players they call up, and the players you can call up are really diverse. Diverse in soccer upbringing, height, body type, pace, skill sets and much more. The same is true for England, France, and so many other countries that share this type of diverse community make-up. Brazil might be the outlier in the conversation, because their culture and history comes together produce a national style that no coach could take away from.
This brings me to the England DNA project that everyone is talking about now. I don’t see much correlation with the DNA plan and the actual way England play. In fact, in the Euro’s England didn’t dominate the midfield as their DNA suggested, instead they relied on special guys like Sterling to create pretty much on his own. England opted to use two defensive center midfielders in Phillips and Rice, taking an ultra-conservative approach, resulting in the midfield being far from dominate. When it comes to Sterling, I wouldn’t credit any English DNA, I would credit Guardiola for helping Sterling the most out of anyone, and I would bet if you ask him, he would agree. That being said, England have a lot of very good players, but they also have the ability to set-up and play in radically different ways. What if they played Kane, Vardy, Sancho, and Sterling as a front four, with Grealish, Foden, and Phillips as the three center midfielders in a 3-5-2. That sounds pretty dominating to me in terms of a midfield and attack, much more like the DNA Plan. However, take out Grealish and Foden, and the “DNA” is radically altered. My point here is simple, England are a nation of diversity, there is no single Long-Term “DNA Plan” that can best use all the diversity in the English Soccer Community. England can sit and counter one game, then pick a separate 11 players to dominated possession and counter press in the attacking 1/3 the next game. England have the ability to play so differently because of the wide diversity of quality players they have, which is a direct reflection of the diversity in their soccer communities. Take a look at the below excerpt from the England DNA plan.
“IN POSSESSION PHASES”
England teams aim to dominate possession intelligently, selecting the right moments to progress the play and penetrate the opposition.
To do so, we aim to develop England players with outstanding skills and decision-making abilities in all four aspects of the in-possession philosophy:
– Retaining the ball to build the play
– Progress and penetration
– Creating and scoring
– The fluid nature of the game means each aspect of possession is closely linked. Similarly, possession may be lost at any stage, prompting a transition to the defensive philosophy.
The future England goalkeeper will play an important role in all aspects of the in-possession playing philosophy.
RETAINING THE BALL
England teams aim to dominate possession with the aim of creating opportunities to penetrate the opposition and create goalscoring chances.
What are the benefits of effective ball retention?
Ball retention allows teams to manage the momentum of a game, requiring a patient and controlled approach.
How does ball retention happen?
A combination of intelligent passing, dribbling, and support play all contribute to effective ball retention.
England goalkeepers will play a key role in this phase of play, fulfilling the role of the 11th outfield player and adopting effective positions to support the play.”
I mean this DNA sounds more like Spain or Barcelona. Swap out the word England and put Spain, and nobody will even question it. My point to the writing this is simple, countries who have all types of different players to choose from don’t need a national style, they need to get it right for the opponent that day. Southgate I can’t criticize at all, because he navigated his team to the final, but please don’t say the DNA is working. There has never been and never will be a linear way to develop players that works in every single environment, and England’s soccer environments are diverse. This DNA project reminds me of the English FA’s “Winning Formula – Direct Play”, which was an attempt to say there was one best way to play the game. It came with its own completely faulty data-set to back up a false premise. The DNA document itself is nice, says all the right things, looks great, blah blah blah, but it’s not reality. I can go on and on, maybe mentioning the “Proving Grounds” in London where 14% of all current Premier League Players come from with pro scouts taking notice. The proving grounds are not in the DNA plan are they? They should be. Watch the training sessions on the website “The Coaches Voice”, the word robotic and mechanical jump out at me when I watch them, the coach is basically Jesus in a soccer warm-up with a whistle, the coach is the source of all knowledge, everything revolves around the coach, the environment and interaction between the players and the environment is secondary to the objectives of the coach There is a reason Brazil produces more players than any other country in the world, it’s not in the Brazil federations DNA plan