'Make Carrick central to new England'

Former Liverpool and Denmark midfielder Jan Molby argues Michael Carrick should be emblematic of a new approach for England under Roy Hodgson.

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'Make Carrick central to new England'
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England's Steven Gerrard (left) and Michael Carrick look on during the training session at London Colney (PA Photos)

The World Cup qualifying campaign, starting with Friday's trip to Moldova, is where things really get going for Roy Hodgson and I think he knew that when he took the job. The Euros was a free tournament for him where no one would blame him either way, but now the focus is squarely on him and how he takes this side forward.

There was some criticism over the way England played in Poland and Ukraine - it was said they were too defensive - but that was premature. I said at the time it is only if England are playing like that in six months that you will be entitled to question Hodgson, and Friday's game will start the process of evaluation.

He needs to establish a playing style that suits the players. It is a pretty comfortable qualifying group which should not pose too many problems for England and they should in theory qualify with ease. That means there is an onus on England to take the opportunity to try and play better football than they did during the Euros.

We saw a 4-4-2 from England during the summer tournament but in the recent friendly against Italy they were in a 4-2-3-1 formation and I think that is a progressive move. 4-4-2 still has a place somewhere in the game, but at the highest level internationally the best teams play 4-2-3-1, or a variant of it, and fill the midfield with gifted players. That is the way for England to go: people want to see their national side able to adapt to the international game and compete with the best.

However, I would say there is still some doubt over whether England's players have the technical proficiency to flourish in that system. Look at a player like Santi Cazorla for example: he can't get into the Spain starting XI but already he looks to be one of the best players in the Premier League in that position behind the striker. England don't produce players like him, and that is a big problem.

Germany have about 10 of those type of players and if they are to succeed at international level then England need to produce better technical players who can perform in that role. Over the past 20 years they have failed to do so and they have been left behind: the closest they have come to winning a tournament was on home turf in 1996. It is a problem, and it is down to the quality of player. You can't rely on physicality and bully your way through tournaments any more, the other teams are too good.

One player who possesses technical qualities rather than physical prowess, and has arguably paid for it in the past, is Michael Carrick. He was not available for the Euros but has since returned to the international fold and I think if you get the right blend in midfield then he can be a real asset for England.

England's preference has always been for physically strong, defensive midfielders, and that is also what we have seen in the Premier League, but at international level the demands are different. Carrick has been underused over the years and he is not alone in that: look at how few caps Glenn Hoddle won for a player of his ability, or how Paul Scholes was shunted to left midfield under Sven-Goran Eriksson. Carrick has always suffered from England's blind spot in that regard.

He is arguably a better international player than a club player. On the international stage you need a technical player who plays the right pass at the right time. Carrick can be that man for England, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind.

You do have to get the right players alongside him though, players who he can pass the ball to. There appears to be a real chance on Friday night that we will see Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard in tandem once again, despite the fact that all the available evidence points towards the fact it is not a great partnership. It requires a brave manager to leave one of those two out and now Hodgson has a familiar problem to contend with.

Gerrard could play in behind the striker - as he will be doing for Liverpool with Joe Allen and, when fit, Lucas Leiva screening the defence - but I preferred the role he played during the Euros when he sat deeper alongside Scott Parker and had a little more discipline. I think that is the way forward for Gerrard as I am unconvinced he is capable of those lung-bursting runs any more.

Lampard still seems to have the legs and the timing to pop up and score, so of the two I think it is Gerrard who is more suited to a deeper role. He may have to adapt to a different role now for his country.

England's new option in the advanced role in midfield is Manchester United's Tom Cleverley - a player who has attracted a lot of hype. He has won only one international cap though and it would be a big ask to give him such an important role at the start of the World Cup qualifying campaign.

We haven't seen too much of Cleverley due to his fitness problems but they have high expectations for him at United and if they think he is going to be a top class midfield player then perhaps we should believe them. I just don't think we have seen quite enough from him yet. He has to show us more, but he definitely has the talent.

International football is so, so hard though. There are so many good Premier League players who never make the step up. As much as you are facing the same players, for some reason it is much more difficult. It is played at a different tempo and one of the reasons England have struggled is that foreign leagues are naturally more attuned to the rhythm of the international game.

There's no doubt it will be a huge challenge for Hodgson to overcome these problems and improve England at the highest level, but the process begins on Friday.

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