Roy Hodgson should have enjoyed the closing stages of Friday’s 4-1 World Cup Qualifying victory over Montenegro wearing an expression of contentment. After all, this was an evening when almost everything had gone to plan.
However, as the TV cameras closed in on the England manager during the hosts’ period of swagger which preceded Daniel Sturridge’s game-closing penalty the manager looked anything but tranquil.
The source of the 66 year-old’s dismay was his side’s momentary disregard for the importance of maintaining possession. Twice in quick succession Wayne Rooney put the ball at risk – firstly an attempted back heel, followed by a failed around-the-corner pass. Both lapses occurred in areas from which Montenegro could have mounted a counter. Visibly irked, Hodgson didn’t hesitate in administering a few carefully chosen words of guidance to the Manchester United forward.
Turning to his support staff to share his exasperation the camera lens captured a moment of significant contrast.
Supporters in the seats next to the England bench found the manager’s reaction humorous. For them this was a celebratory moment, a time to relax. Why all the anxiety? For the England coaching staff it was the first signs of a worrying habit; a trait that in a different context - say, a South American one - may have held a more serious consequence.
On this occasion Rooney and Hodgson encountered artistic differences. As supporters grinned at the manager’s technical area frustration, what they failed to see was merely a desire for a more nuanced, sophisticated and mature level of decision-making from his charges.
This shouldn’t be mistaken as the promotion of an unimaginative approach; Hodgson’s adventurous team selection more than answered that line of questioning.
Creative play has a faithful sidekick named risk and the expert player and the coach of the future must dedicate themselves to understanding this game of risk and reward. Sometimes the most creative response is simplicity; especially at international level where possession is treated as treasure.
For a footballer, creativity must include the ability to make excellent decisions based on the state of the game. As part of The FA’s Youth Award coaching strand, coaches study the decision-making processes players are processing at any one moment during the game.
Before receiving the ball a player must scan and assess the field of play, taking a snapshot of the changing arrangement of team-mates and opposition whilst simultaneously predicting any possible changes in time and space. Then comes a final assessment of risk and reward before execution and resultant supporting run.
For players of Rooney's calibre, this process is completed sub-consciously with the relevant calculations made in a split-second. Drawing on a comprehensive library of previous similar experiences creative solutions are selected and applied through instinct and intuition.
Instead of sitting back to enjoy the showboating, here was evidence of the England manager’s desire for his players’ to add a section on expert game management to their decision-making repertoire.
It is the type of calculated and clinical mind-set that will be required tomorrow night at Wembley and the one which the most cunning operators in European and world football will be carrying with them to Brazil next summer.
Peter Glynn is the Editorial Manager at St. George's Park and editor of The Boot Room, The FA's Coaching Magazine.
Peter is a journalist and has been with The Football Association for six years and holds the UEFA B Licence and The FA Youth Awards 1 and 2.
The Future Game Tactics Column takes a weekly look at the evolution of the modern game, linking to practices from The FA's Future Game philosophy and providing advice and tips for grassroots coaches.