Part of England’s approach to the game in general, which materializes in possession, is the need to possess the ball with purpose and to dominate the line with passes.
Typically, an English team will be seen making the same pass down the line between three players, essentially getting each player to practically the same position that the previous one was in. Depending on who you ask, it becomes clear that some parts of the field are more important than others. Having said that, critics would argue that the same pass down the line between three players takes England nowhere except down the line for the ongoing battle of the line.
Why is this the case? Why is the line so important? Possibly it’s a choice of needing to be superior over narrow sections of real estate on the outskirts of land, fulfilling their inherent need to satisfy the classic colonial English quest for space and territory, not on the interior of a country but on the exterior, the coastal areas… India, South Africa, Hong Kong, and the Proclamation of 1763 in New England. (The British actually forbade the North American Colonies from going inland; i.e., “into the middle of the country,”42 which was untamed wilderness. Of course, some British surveyors went into the interior of China and essentially said, “Egh. Yeah, I’ve seen enough.” As it turns out, it’s very hard to settle the interior of a country; England found they could use locals to work the interior—with things like hunting and gathering—while they’d oversee their affairs from the coast, controlling trade.)
Subsequently, trickling over to soccer, England has continued to battle with their opponent to own the areas around the line, which is tied to their exuberantly fervent need to cross the ball. In terms of the psychological parallels between colonial settlements of yore and the approach to soccer, the line represents the coastal area of a country, wherein the other side of the line represents the ocean; crossing the line means going into the ocean. They don’t want to do that, considering soccer is a land battle and the areas outside of the lines are out of bounds.
That’s what the head coach is for; he rests offshore, with reinforcements, sending the occasional message to the players inland, with a flurry of hand gestures, some yelling, which is followed by resignation to the bench with his second-in-command, whispering over strategy, often by covering their mouths so no one can lip read.* Behind them are the common citizens, representing the homeland, telling the coaches what the players should do in language unfit for the queen. So it’s as though, inherently, they must dominant the game as close to the “coastal region” of the field as possible. It’s the English way, what else can you expect?
Establishing more of a “middle game” might be part of the plan administered by the current direction of the FA, which has openly been seeking a better way, and this is something to watch for in World Cup 2018.
Searching for improvements or not, England still provides an exciting presence in each game, playing with a quick pace and a lot of emotion. Despite the previous criticism, they will always be a threat to win the whole thing.