The fans in the Bernabeu may have given in to the odd bout of impatient whistling, the home defence may have been exposed with worryingly familiar frequency and Ruud van Nistelrooy may have spurned a hatful of chances before notching the goal that proved to be the winner, but there was enough in Real Madrid’s 2-1 win over Werder Bremen in the Champions League on Tuesday night to suggest that Bernd Schuster’s post-Capello revolution is well underway.

Mindful of the Madridistas’ disdainful attitude towards the defensive tactics of his predecessor, Schuster arrived at the Bernabeu promising to create a team capable of a brand of fluid, attacking football more in keeping with the traditions of Puskas, Gento, Di Stefano and co.

The key difference against Bremen was one of shape. Whereas Capello favoured a 4-2-3-1 with Diarra and Emerson (who has now been shipped off to Milan) protecting the back four and van Nistelrooy ploughing a lone furrow up front, Schuster fielded a 4-1-3-2, with Fernando Gago the sole holding midfielder, Raul alongside van Nistelrooy up front, Wesley Schneijder and Gonzalo Higuain attacking from the flanks, and Guti setting the pace in the middle.

The tactical shift made for more cohesive use of the ball in the final third, with Schneijder, Guti and Higuain linking up well with Raul to provide chances for van Nistelrooy. Raul seems to relish being restored to the role of centre forward, and he turned in a tigrish, industrious performance illuminated by some wonderful touches.

Playing with no less than three attacking midfielders enabled Madrid to introduce all manner of different patterns to their play, and with Bremen’s central defenders and central midfielders preoccupied, there was plenty of room on the flanks for full-backs Sergio Ramos and the impressive Brazilian Marcelo to exploit.

Typically, Madrid were often caught short at the back, and with the impish, artful Diego prompting in midfield, Bremen went close on occasion. But then, that is the beauty of Madrid, as it is with Brazil. They exist to play attacking football, and when it clicks – as it did on occasion here – it is wonderful to behold.

And with Diarra, Gabriel Heinze, Royston Drenthe, Arjen Robben, Julio Baptista, Robinho and Javier Saviola also in the squad, this might just be the season that Madrid add another European Cup to the nine they have already won in such sparkling style.


England coach Steve McClarenEngland 0-1 Spain. A dismal home defeat against the notoriously underachieving Spanish, and calls for Steve McClaren’s head. There are big problems with English football. But they have nothing to do with passion or ‘balls’ or desire, and everything to do with coaching.

Chris Waddle makes some valid points in this article for the BBC from October last year. England just isn’t producing exciting players. And it’s a problem that stretches all the way down to grass roots football.

As soon as a boy shows any interest in football, he is given a shirt, put into an 11-a-side game and told that he is a goal-keeper, a full-back, a centre-half, a central midfielder, a winger or a centre forward. And he will play that position all his life, because the 4-4-2 formation always prevails. And it prevails to such a ridiculous extent that when an England manager dares to experiment with his formation, we hear stories about groups of senior players lobbying him to change his mind. A top player should be able to adapt to a change in formation.

Look at the last World Cup. Germany were the only team that achieved any kind of success playing 4-4-2. Finalists Italy and France both played a variation of the 4-4-2 that was closer to 4-2-3-1. England were the only ‘major’ nation who did not consistently employ at least one dedicated holding midfielder.

One problem is that England doesn’t produce dedicated holding midfielders. It produces all-action, box-to-box marauders like Lampard and Gerrard, but not patient, composed ball-winners like Claude Makelele and Javier Mascherano. And nor does England produce classic deep-lying centre forwards (with Wayne Rooney being the obvious recent exception). Why? The 4-4-2. If a player is a good all-rounder, he becomes a central midfielder. If he is pacy and skilful, he gets stuck out on the wing.

And the blame for this lies with the coaches. Look at the disdain with which a lot of managers regard coaching badges. Look at the mass support that Glenn Roeder and Gareth Southgate received in their battle with the League Managers Association. We in Great Britain like to think that our players know the game so well they don’t need to be taught how to become coaches. And so we allow players to go straight into management, and then decry their ineptness when their tactical limitations are inevitably revealed.

It is not so in Italy. It is not so in France. It is not so in most European countries. They understand the importance of injecting fresh thinking into the game. In Italy there is the Coverciano coaching school, where trainee coaches are taught about a plethora of different tactical systems, and encouraged to bring their own ideas to bear on how they coach. Giovanni Trapattoni, Fabio Capello, Claudio Ranieri and Marcello Lippi are all Coverciano graduates, and look at the success they have achieved.

And now look at the Premiership. The top clubs are all managed by European or Scottish managers. But there are very few genuinely innovative English managers. Too many are slaves to the 4-4-2, to the old, English way of doing things. Even Steve McClaren – a very highly regarded coach during his time at Derby County – appears to have lost his way. At least the influence of Jose Mourinho has encouraged a few more managers to experiment with the counter-attacking 4-3-3.

English football has to realise that it is no longer a world leader. The Premiership may be “the most exciting league in the world”, but that’s only because we have so many foreign players who can make up for the technical deficiencies of their homegrown colleagues. English coaches need to realise that there is no shame in being coached. And only when England learns to follow the example of places like Italy and France will it break the stranglehold of the 4-4-2 and begin to produce more players capable of producing that little piece of inspiration that is the difference between moderate success and greatness.