Was Saturday, 26th March 2016 a defining date for English football? England’s 3-2 victory against the world champions in Berlin not only hailed one of the best performances by an English team in recent history, but more importantly signalled the arrival of a new generation of home grown technical footballers on the world stage.

Three flashes of individual technical brilliance stood out, moments that changed the game but also sum up this brave new footballing culture on show at the Olympic stadium. There was much emphasis placed on England’s first goal but for me, it was in the run up to this where a moment of pure individual brilliance stood out.

Dele Alli’s Audacious Nutmeg

Dele Alli received the ball in midfield and was surrounded as usual by Germans. Alli takes a touch to control the ball and then with his second touch he effortlessly nut megs’ (plays ball through the legs) of the pressing Emre Can. This may often be seen as bravado or one-upmanship on an opponent however the fact is that this was the most efficient way to get past the player. The play eventually breaks down and leads to the corner, from which the Kane goal comes.

Dele Alli Nutmeg
This moment stands out for me because it epitomises the new found confidence of this new generation of young English players. England were extremely effective on the night off the ball, defending and pressing as a unit, all the things you associate with a Hodgson team. With Alli, Kane, Wellbeck, Lallana and Barkley when he came on, we have players who want and can stay on the ball under pressure. Too many times in the past English teams have been frivolous in possession, giving it away too easy or under the slightest bit of pressure. All evening Dele Alli was prepared to receive the ball whilst surrounded by opponents and more importantly, keep it, suck players in and wait for a passing opportunity.
Kane’s superfluous goal also epitomises this with a 2nd moment of technical brilliance. Surrounded by defenders moving away from the goal he fakes and does a Cruyff turn back into the danger zone, sending several defenders going the wrong way and opening up the goal and a shooting opportunity.

Now this bit of skill comes as no surprise or accident. Harry Kane would have done thousands of Cruyff turns during his time coming through the ranks of Tottenham Hotspurs academy. As a technical coach myself working 6 years within that Academy I can testify on the emphasis that is placed on the ability to turn and dribble past defenders. Learning new skills and endless repetitions of them so that players can master the ball. The last English player to have the audacity to perform a Cruyff turn against the Germans was Gazza in Italia 90.

Harry Kane’s Cruyff & Finish

For too long English football has had a dearth of players of this ilk, Glenn Hoddle, Paul Scholes and Joe Cole are rare examples. Technical masters of the ball who can change a game by themselves. Whilst we are now showing signs of some players coming forward it is also imperative that we ask as a footballing mad culture why we don’t produce enough players like this. To answer this question we have to look at our coaching at grass roots level and how the game is played. How much time do players get to spend on the ball? Are they encouraged to dribble, stay on the ball and make mistakes? Or are they encouraged to kick it forward quickly? Play 1/2 touch and percentage football?

Jamie Vardy’s Sublime Goal

We must give players the opportunity to fail first as this is where brilliance comes, as Vardy’s goal shows us in the 3rd majestic moment that made us gasp in appreciation. A moment of sheer individual brilliance, created by an exquisitely timed run and then a flick behind his other foot. Jamie Vardy has had to deal with failure in his career, being rejected from pro football at a young age for perceived physical inadequacies but look at him now. He never gave up and is now full of confidence and playing at the top level showing us all that literally anything is possible.
Joe Cole scored a similar goal for Chelsea against Manchester United at old Trafford. Hopefully this symbolic similarity is the hailing of a new generation of Maverick creative players! Only time will tell but the signs are very encouraging…

Saul Isaksson-Hurst 
Head Coach at MyPersonalFootballCoach.com

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