A short celebration of Aaron Lennon’s England performance against Croatia last night. His toes have never twinkled more brightly.
After last time’s disparaging comments on the international scene, I ended up thoroughly enjoying the match, glowing with pride as Lennon justified Capello’s faith in him. The England manager is a stern judge, yet his choice over Lennon over the much more experienced Wright Phillips or indeed over another tactical option involving Beckham, says so much about the winger’s growing maturity this season. I noted in Sunday’s piece that despite the attention drawn towards him by his goal, Defoe was perhaps making less progress than Lenny, and I was especially pleased last night with the mental strength that underlies his (Lennon’s) development. He is clearly thinking harder about his game and in particualr about his role as a team player.
The Gerrard header displayed this new found maturity more so than his more eye-catching runs. Lennon did not overplay the position. Instead of setting off on a run, potentially dazzling but liable to end in a cul de sac, as we have seen so often at the Lane, these days he has another option. Running at a defender can obviously pay dividends, but also it cuts down any space that the player in possession has, and space is such a precious commodity in modern football. This is a huge problem in David Bentley’s game, by the way. Before he was ejected from the team, he would gather the ball in space and run straight towards a defender like a moth to a flame.
Aaron used to do the same, but no longer. Instead, he picked out Gerard and delivered a perfect ball onto his head. Simple in one sense, but it was the choice that was the clever part. It also demonstrates his confidence in his final ball. I admit to despairing last season that he would never be able to cross or pass accurately, and his therefore his promise would be wasted. Now, not everything works but he’s so much better. His play has variation; we have seen him come inside to score for Spurs this season and last night he tucked in to offer a perfect through-ball for Heskey. Again, it’s the apparently simple things, allied to his pace and ability to beat a full back, that is so impressive.
Capello was brave to pick him but Redknapp and his many coaches deserve the credit for his progress. Much was made in the commentary of the lack of a proper Croatian left back (would Corluka have been detailed to mark him?!), but Lennon made room by clinging to the touchline, just as Harry encourages him to do. With good passers in the team, like Gerrard and Barry for England or Huddlestone for us, he’s not isolated. In turn, this creates more space for the rest of team and dilemmas for the opposition back four. If they spread out to mark him, there’s room for other players infield. If they leave him, havoc ensues down the right.
It was such a pleasure to see one of ours play so well. Aaron Lennon is becoming a real force in English football. One man didn’t enjoy watching the game: even as I write, Fergie is worrying about what to do on Saturday. I can’t wait.