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England still searching for clear identity after adapting once more against Germany


While Gareth Southgate talked about what he learned, Hansi Flick just said what he saw.

“England is a great football nation, and the Premier League is the best league in the world,” the German manager began after his side’s 1-1 draw in Munich.

“But we put the opponent on the back foot. We forced them to play long. We exerted a lot of pressure on their possession.”

Germany, it was implied, didn’t have to suffer any of that. Flick then made it explicit: “The way we played today is exactly how we want to play football.”

Flick could have been talking about the high press, the high line and the intensity of the attack, but it is really something that goes deeper than that. So does the statement.

<p>Hansi Flick has already revitalised Germany’s playing style</p>

Hansi Flick has already revitalised Germany’s playing style

(AFP via Getty Images)

Flick is able to talk about how Germany play exactly as they want to play football because he has such a clear idea of it. He has an identity, that he has managed to impose on this team impressively quickly.

It is very occasionally clear – mostly, in games like this – that is still one of a few elements missing from Southgate’s side.

England have clear football principles, but they don’t have that same underlying philosophy of play. It means that, while Germany and a select few sides always seek to impose their game on everyone else, Southgate is always adapting.

That is what Flick was getting at in Munich. That is why the game felt better for Germany than it did England despite the 1-1 draw.

<p>Joshua Kimmich has helped instil Hansi Flick’s style from their time together with Bayern</p>

Joshua Kimmich has helped instil Hansi Flick’s style from their time together with Bayern

(Getty Images)

You can see exactly what they are about. With England, it can be still hard to know, and it is why we had the oddity of Harry Kane stating they still have a bit to do despite eliminating Germany from the last 16 of Euro 2020 less than a year ago.

That’s the greater benefit of a greater football identity, though. It can take more patience to apply, but raises the ceiling for a side and maximises more of their talents.

Some of this is circumstantial, of course. Southgate constantly has to compromise his approach because England, for all their talent, are short in some key areas. Joshua Kimmich highlighted one with a high-class through ball in the second half, offering the kind of pass from a notional holding midfielder that England haven’t had since Michael Carrick or Paul Scholes before him. And, of course, they never used Scholes there.

Kimmich is also one of a core of Bayern Munich players who have played under Flick. This Nations League match took place at their stadium. It all makes it much easier to impose an idea.

<p>Hansi Flick embraces Timo Werner after the Nations League match in Munich</p>

Hansi Flick embraces Timo Werner after the Nations League match in Munich

(Getty Images)

The foundation is there. The framework is there.

It doesn’t even really need construction, given Jogi Loew applied many of the same principles. It just needed restoration and a touch of modernisation.

That does point to something else, though.

Flick will be one of just a few coaches at the World Cup to have won major club honours, let alone one of the two – along with Spain’s Luis Enrique – to have won the Champions League. That speaks to real managerial quality, that is now naturally lacking at international level since all the money is in the club game.

Flick is a rare example of someone eschewing a job at one of the top leagues just as he is at a managerial peak. It consequently means he brings the standards of the club game to international level, and one of those is that the majority of dominant champions have a defined ideology.

It is all the more impressive that he has imposed it so quickly, but that again reflects his quality.

This is not to say it is impossible for England, or any side without a deeper ideology, to win competitions.

<p>Gareth Southgate embraces Hansi Flick</p>

Gareth Southgate embraces Hansi Flick

(Getty Images)

Southgate still came within a kick of Euro 2020 victory despite constant adaptation. It’s just, to a certain degree, that means England are always playing catch-up.

That’s both true of possession of the ball on the pitch, and what their rivals at the top of the game are doing.

Flick has shown how quickly an elite team can have an idea, something all the more striking given how poor Germany looked a year ago.

He knows exactly what is required.

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