A country known for long balls and no-nonsense defending has changed its footballing philosophy with sensational results for England

Has anybody ever heard of an England coach complaining about not enough possession of the ball?

“We would have liked the ball a bit more in the first half and that’s normally our style of play. But it’s not always as easy for that to happen. Particularly when you play a World Cup semifinal, a big occasion and against a very good team.” Those were the words of Steven Cooper after his colts defeated Brazil in the semis of the FIFA U17 World Cup.

The philosophy of English football is changing. The focus now is more on having the ball and controlling the match. Gone are the days of a David Beckham sending high bending crosses and an Alan Shearer waiting in the penalty box to head the ball in. What this U17 World Cup has seen is English midfielders reaching the byline and sending back low crosses along the ground and surprising their opponents.

The ball possession stats of England’s six matches so far in the tournament are as follows: Chile – 72%, Mexico – 57%, Iraq – 67%, Japan – 62%, USA – 52%. Only against Brazil in the semifinal did England have less possession (42%-58%), but they had outscored their South American opponents with a thoroughly professional performance.

In these six matches, the English footballers passed the ball 3017 times, an average of more than 500 passes per match. Notably, they only allowed Brazil to pass more (529) than them. However, it was of no concern since the Young Lions had successfully covered their angles while defending.

The undeniable fact remains that the emerging talents from England are more confident passing the ball and owning possession.

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The credit has to go to the Football Association (FA) who had the vision to start the “England DNA Philosophy” in 2014. The National Football Centre started its journey at St. George’s Park and the plan was to “ensure coaches, training sessions and even style of play is replicated at every level.”

A BBC report quoted the FA director of Elite Development, Dan Ashworth, saying, “The only thing that should change is the size of the shirts.”

The 11-page document shared to the media said that the methods used by seven successful nations were scrutinised and emphasis would be given on ‘playing knockout football and living in a tournament environment. More focus will be placed on creative and technically excellent players.”

All these factors were missing from English football from the very beginning. They did not believe in build-up play. It was an unnecessary loss of time in the midfield. They wanted to reach the opponent’s box as soon as possible, hence the long balls from goalkeepers as well as the defenders. No nonsense defending meant clearing the ball as far as possible out of danger. Everything else such as build-up play, intricate passing, having the ball in their own control were considered ‘Continental’, un-British. The Saturday afternoon pastime syndrome had affected English football more than they could comprehend.

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A change in approach was necessary to revive English football. Now, as per the England DNA, it is, “in possession, the national teams will aim to intelligently dominate by selecting the right moments to progress the play and penetrate the opposition.”

See what has been achieved in three years.

England had won the Toulon U21 tournament twice in 2016 and 2017.

The U20 team were crowned World Champions, beating Venezuela 1-0 in the final in South Korea.

The U17 team, although lost the final against Spain in the UEFA U17 Euro final, has the opportunity to be crowned World Champions in the U17 category in Kolkata, by beating Spain (again) in the final on October 28.

The task will be tougher since the style they want to imitate is the style their Iberian opponents have mastered. Another pulsating match awaits the Brewster’s and Latibeaudiere’s since these two talents missed from the spot in the Euro final against Spain.

At St. George’s Park when the “England DNA Philosophy” was launched, the FA Chairman Greg Dyke said, “I want to see England win the 2022 World Cup.”


Come Saturday, England may have two World Cup titles in 2017 alone.

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