John Scales – Euro 2012 Interview

Intelligent, articulate and with constantly insightful views on Football, it is easy to see why so many media outlets including Sky, ESPN and the BBC often turn to John Scales, as an ex-England International, for comments about the game.

Alongside Zinadine Zidane, John is currently an ambassador for Danone, and involved in the Danone Nations Cup, the largest international tournament in the World for 10-12 year olds that will host its World Cup Final in the national stadium in Warsaw, Poland, a couple of months after some of the best professionals compete there this summer.

He kindly took time out to speak to The Substantive ahead of Euro 2012, with his thoughts on the tournament which starts tomorrow.

Who are your favourites for the tournament?

It’s hard to look past the usual suspects. Germany and Spain are the two strongest sides and the Dutch will be threats. Laurent Blanc also has a good squad with France. It will be a tremendous achievement for the Spanish to achieve three back-to-back major tournament victories, but if you had to push me for one team I would go with Germany, who may just travel better to Eastern Europe.

There are low-levels of expectation with regards to the England team, the lowest perhaps going into any major tournament they have qualified for. Do you think they will get out of their group, which doesn’t look as hard as Groups B or C?

I think they’ll get out of the group. The first half-an-hour against France will be crucial though, and set the tone for the rest of the tournament. There needs to be an intensity and a desire to win combined with a good pattern of play, that will build confidence for the rest of the campaign.

What do you think this current England team’s strengths and weaknesses are?

I expect they will be well organised and defensively sound; disciplined although not expansive. And there are players that can win games in the final third – Danny Welbeck, Ashley Young, Wayne Rooney and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – but they will need to be clinical, as there may be games when the opposition will have the majority of possession.

My main worry is ball-retention, and we have got to make sure that when we have it, we don’t look to play percentage balls up to Carroll straight away and lose possession too easily.

To avoid a temptation to knock it long, would you start with Welbeck ahead of Carroll, assuming Ashley Young is going to be the second striker?

I would start with Welbeck although there is a time and place to play more direct football. There are fifteen other well-organised, quality teams in the tournament, and footballing intelligence is the most important thing. There may be occasions in games when opposition defences are so high that playing a direct ball could quickly turn-them-around. It is about adapting to game situations, and being able to be flexible within the game.

Do you think we have enough flexibility in the squad selected?

James Milner could play in central midfield, which would allow Steven Gerrard to be more advanced. And as well as Milner, Gerrard, Rooney and Young are all versatile.

And both Phil Jones and Phil Jagielka could play in central midfield?

I think Roy Hodgson has picked a squad where a number of players can play in different positions. But it may be difficult to make too many changes during the tournament.

The Belgium game on Saturday suggested we were back to playing in straight-lines, a failing of many an England side over the last thirty years. What system would you play if you were Manager?

I’d play 4-2-3-1. I think we have two full-backs that are very good going forward, and when the time is right should be ten yards further up the field, and that system would give them the space to push forward. The two sitting midfielders would provide a solid core, and three more attack minded midfielders could play between the lines, or revert to a five-man midfield when necessary. As I say, the key things are flexibility, movement and footballing intelligence.

Are there any players who are not injured that you would have like to see in squad, but for whatever reason have not been selected? Perhaps Carrick?

Michael Carrick makes things tick over, and seems to be under-rated apart from by Manchester United fans. There is an argument for Adam Jonson as well. And in normal circumstances Rio Ferdinand would have been in the squad alongside John Terry as well. But these are unique and exceptional circumstances, and Hodgson has made his decision.

Are you surprised by the number of Liverpool players now in the final squad?

Considering the season they have had, it is a surprise that more English players from the top seven clubs weren’t looked at, although I am sure Hodgson has well-considered reasons for who he has picked – perhaps he has an eye on the future as he has a four-year contract, and perhaps he wants to pick players he thinks he will feel comfortable working with, and will be receptive to the ideas he is trying to get across.

Considering past experiences, were you surprised that Hodgson was given a contract that lasts for three major tournaments? And why do you think the FA went for him?

It is only a four-year contract though and there needs to be some form of continuity. I think he will fit in well at the FA, and I am sure the fact that he will be happy to be based in the Midlands, and closely oversee developments at St George’s Park, the FA’s new training and development centre, will have been a factor in why he got the job.

St George’s Park is hugely important for the future of English football, but of course as with regards to selection for the England Manager’s role, everything is outweighed by success of the first-team.

It was still a surprise he was selected ahead of Harry Redknapp though?

We all thought Redknapp would be Manager. While they are very different, they both have positive attributes they would bring to the job. Redknapp’s way of motivating players would be different to Hodgson’s, and I’d expect his teams to play in a more flamboyant way. Hodgson is well-respected though; he is bright, intelligent and has a very structured approach. Previous England teams have been too open going into major tournaments, trying to play in a gung-ho manner, buoyed by the hype, and perhaps Hodgson could be the Manager that suits this time, and this group of players.

Finally, looking at the tournament as a whole, are there any players you are looking forward to seeing?

Fernando Llorente looks exciting, but in a way it will be just as interesting to see the well-established star names, who already have big contracts at their clubs and have nothing to prove – in the past they have tended to disappear at international tournaments, so it is always fascinating to see if players can live up to their reputations.

MG

A piece on the last warm-up game, England v Belgium, which reflected on the current apathy towards the England team, the squad selection and pattern of play, is here. There will regular Football Columns on The Substantive throughout the tournament.

The Substantive Football Columnist Mel Gomes’ new e-book ‘Glory Nights: From Wankdorf to Wembley’ is now available to preview and download from Amazon and Smashwords. With past recollections of matches including Clasicos, Milan Derbies and Diego Maradona’s one appearance at White Hart Lane, it covers a journey over land and sea in the 2010-11 Champions League. New, independent writing on popular culture, it is being backed by The Substantive.