Former England defender Rio Ferdinand has said that the Three Lions need to play with more freedom in attack and that there is valuable experience in young players going to major tournaments even if they don’t get a chance to play.
England kicked off their Euro 2020 campaign with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Croatia at Wembley, before a drab 0-0 draw with rivals Scotland.
Manager Gareth Southgate has come in for criticism regarding his team selection, with his decision not to start Jack Grealish in either game particularly under the microscope.
Ferdinand admitted to 90min pre-tournament that he would like to see the Three Lions’ vast array of attacking talent given the licence to express themselves.
“I want to see the attacking players given that freedom, I think the likes of [Jadon] Sancho, [Phil] Foden, Grealish, players that run with the ball and can draw fouls, draw people, you need more than one player sometimes to stop them and that gives other people space,” he said. “I’d like to see those players given that licence to be able to go on and entertain.”
Ferdinand was widely revered as a defender ahead of his time, comfortable on the ball and breaking the lines. He trained with the England squad as a 16-year-old ahead of Euro 96, and having spent time rubbing shoulders with some of the greats, it’s easy to see where his appreciation for attacking talent comes from.
“It’s crazy because when I was at that age, I still played centre-back, but I was much more focused on skill, taking people on, taking the striker on,” Ferdinand remarked.
“I never used to think about defending that much when I was that age, I was more interested in watching what Gazza would do, or a Paul Ince, or players like [Steve] McManaman, [Darren] Anderton. Then watching [Alan] Shearer and them guys finish…if you asked me about who I watched most in training, then it’d be the attackers.”
While he never appeared at a European Championships, Ferdinand was included in England’s World Cup squads in 1998, 2002 and 2006. He didn’t feature in the first of the three, but explained that there is value in young players riding along for the experience.
“I went to the World Cup in 1998, didn’t play a minute,” he recalled. “Michael Owen broke on the scene, but I went and I think [Glenn] Hoddle took me basically for experience because he knew the next tournament I’d be ready to go, ready to rock and roll, and that experience would be vital.
“When I played in the next World Cup, the value of the experience I’d had by going to a tournament previously and not even playing was huge for me. I didn’t have to work on things, or work out how to prepare for games, how to recover after games and stuff like that because I’d seen it, I’d been a part of it before.”
Rio Ferdinand is a pundit for BBC Sport – where you can watch Euro 2020 this summer.