It came to me early this morning while I was in that blissful realm between sleep and full-consciousness: Jordan Henderson will be England’s Xavi Hernández. My semi-comatose mind wasn’t joining too many dots to get to this point; the simple formula is that under Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool Henderson will be refashioned into a metronomic passing machine that never gives the ball away.
No doubt I had been wrestling internally with the age-old problem of how supposedly technically gifted footballers with Three Lions on their chests can turn into clumsy carthorses when in possession. Every other international team on display at the Euros (bar Ireland, of course, and possibly Sweden – partly thanks to Roy Hodgson’s sabotage work there in the 70s and 80s?) have been far more comfortable on the ball than England. This much we all know. Taking the extreme example of Spain, their midfield containing Xavi-Busquets-Iniesta (with Cesc roaming just in front) greedily take care of the ball and look to control the tempo of their games. There are many reasons why England don’t do this (skill, bravery, fatigue, etc), but having a core of players dedicated to possession-football at club level is a huge advantage to Spain.
Given that Rodgers can take a midfield journeyman like Leon Britton and get him playing like Xavi at Swansea City, then with a little time working on Henderson he should be able to give this much-maligned misfit the tutelage to become Liverpool’s passing linchpin.
England’s great midfield hope is Jack Wilshere, who’s seen his stock rise even further by virtue of not having being out in Polkraine. He, too, is schooled well at Arsenal. Wenger has never before trusted an English player to be the bedrock of his midfields, certainly since moving to the Barça-lite method he’s intent on pursuing in the rough-and-tumble Premier League. Wilshere can thus be the Xabi Alonso to the Xavi of Henderson; reading play in front of the back line and giving Henderson space to operate.
Possession football is just one way to win a football match. But right now, it seems like the best way, if carried out well. Germany was supposed to provide a Third Way between the Chelsea/England-style backs-to-the-wall strategy and Barça/Spain’s tiki-taka. That Bayern and Germany have both fallen just short in recent times perhaps suggests their dynamic approach isn’t yet fully honed. All we need now is for Roy Hodgson to renounce everything he’s espoused for the past 40 years and for Rodgers to turn Andy Carroll into Andrés Iniesta.