The sight and sound of Adrian Chiles and friends having to ‘fill’ for 40 minutes while lightening engulfed Miami’s Sun Life Stadium was, if nothing else, a reminder that we have a long month ahead.
In truth England’s tournament could be over by June 24, at which point we’ll all be able to devote our attentions 100 per cent back to City’s preparations for the Championship, but for now its impossible for the yellow and green not to be accompanied by a dash of white.
Because, for me at least, it’s inconceivable that an international tournament, especially a World Cup, won’t dilute (just a tiny bit) the intensity that is normally the sole preserve of your club. If only the proverbial 110 per cent did really exist – then I’d be fine.
I should be worrying over Neil Adams’ next move in the transfer market, or whether Robert Snodgrass and Martin Olsson are having their heads turned by overtures from Steve Bruce and Big Sam (I do wonder if Neil is a little too svelte to be a success at this management lark) – and I am – but equally I find myself stressing over the fitness of ‘the Ox’ or whether Glenn Johnson is really good enough.
I don’t need the heat and humidity of Manaus to feel physically drained.
And yet there are similarities.
One of England’s biggest tests over the next few weeks will be their ability to keep the ball – particularly in the aforementioned heat and humidity. While it is all well and good to enjoy 63 per cent of possession against a Honduras side who were far more intent on kicking lumps out of their opposition than kicking the ball, it is quite another do to it against the Italians when the pressure is on.
In addition to my recurring ‘quicksand’ nightmare of Gareth Barry and Mesut Özil in Bloemfontein, I also have one that revolves around England’s last meeting with Italy – in Kiev in Euro 2012. In the dream Andrea Pirlo plays keep-ball – with the modicum of help from his teammates – as England’s leaden-footed midfield adopt hot-potato mode on the rare occasion they are afforded a touch.
Any resemblance between England and an international football team is merely coincidental. Instead they resemble the hapless opponents of the Harlem Globetrotters.
Except it wasn’t a nightmare, and neither was Gareth bloody Barry.
I’m not a huge fan of stats in football – as you may know – but for the record, in Kiev, Pirlo passed the ball 131 times. England’s most effective midfield passer on the night was Scott Parker. He did so 35 times. And on that occasion it was England’s opposition who had 63 per cent possession. Enough said.
It was almost unbelievable that England managed to take the Italians to penalties that night, but still their class shone through in the shoot-out.
And so it’s not just a Norwich City problem, although, having said, that I still dare not examine the Premier League stats for 2013/14 to see how we compared to the other nineteen teams. I suspect I know.
Whether Adams sees ball retention as key to success in the Championship as it is in the Premier League is unclear, but his pledge to get the side ‘passing the ball’ suggests he at least recognises it’s an area that needs massive improvement.
As painful as it is to recall, I can still vividly picture Big Joe’s Ipswich giving City a passing lesson in the Carrow Road leg of the local derby in season 2003/04. We ended up winning 3-1 that day – one Malky Mackay (not sure what’s happened to him since) scored a brace – but it was the way ‘that lot’ passed the ball that stuck in the mind.
So, on that evidence at least, Royle should be keen to make ball retention a priority. Equally the ‘Dogs of War’ in his Everton side of the mid-90s suggest that hard work and graft also figure highly in his list of priorities. Along with Gary Holt’s well publicised penchant for discipline and hard work I suspect the class of 2014/15 will, if nothing else, be well up for the battle.
The other obvious similarity between England and City – certainly on last night’s evidence – is their profligacy in front of goal. And while I’m not about to tar Daniel Sturridge with the Van Wolfswinkel brush – hardly a fair comparison – it would be good to think his, and England’s, ability to convert chances will be of a more clinical nature when the heat is on.
And the same applies when all eyes eventually return to the Championship. The signing of Lewis Grabban is obviously intended to go at least part of the way to addressing the lack of goals, but whether or not we see another striker heading eastwards will, I suspect, be down to Gary Hooper’s desire for another crack at the Championship.
While the former Celtic man struggled for goals in the Premier League – being asked to perform as a lone striker did little to help – he’s a proven goalscorer in the second tier. His goal every other game ratio is not dissimilar to Grabban’s and if Adams and co were to find a way to successfully use them in tandem we’d have the makings of a decent looking strike force.
The big ‘if’ of course remains the future of Hooper and were I a betting man I’d be lumping on a move to West London.
But, for the next 16 days at least, Roy Hodgson’s England will be afforded a disproportionate amount of our footballing fervour.
For On the Ball City read God Save the Queen. For “Yeellooow” read “Eng-er-land”. For ‘bloody Johnson’ read ‘bloody Henderson’. For “you don’t know what you’re doing” read…
Right, that’s enough from me, I’m off to get the St George flags for the car.