Man management is just as crucial a facet of a manager’s job as tactical nous, and it’s arguably even more important for international managers.
You see, it’s not as easy as just picking your best 11 players and playing them in the positions you think they’re best suited to. There’s a whole host of other factors to consider, such as how regularly they’re playing at club level, what position they’ve been playing, and how their side’s recent form may have impacted their confidence levels.
Aidy Boothroyd was dealt a major blow in the build-up to his England side’s European Under-21 Championship campaign, following the news Manchester United starlet Mason Greenwood had withdrawn from the squad.
The Young Lions boss was subsequently left with a big dilemma on his hands heading into their opening clash with Switzerland on Thursday, and he ultimately chose to go big in his support of out-of-favour Arsenal man Eddie Nketiah.
Not only did Boothroyd hand Nketiah his opportunity to lead the line, he also handed him the captain’s armband.
It was a bold move, as if to say ‘you may not be in your manager’s reckoning at club level, but while you’re here your my number one’ – sounds clever, but it really didn’t work.
The Gunners frontman found himself attempting to play a role that simply isn’t his game, dropping deep in an almost false nine role so to help linkup the play with England’s flying wingers.
His distribution was poor and his all-round play in general just wasn’t at the level England needed, with Boothroyd’s side ultimately looking toothless for much of the match as they slumped to a 1-0 defeat.
In fairness to the Young Lions boss, there really aren’t that many other options within his squad. While Greenwood plays predominantly on the right for United, he’s proven himself to be able to lead the line when needed, though his late withdrawal leave’s England’s frontline options threadbare at best.
On the one occasion in the game that Nketiah did spring into life, he peeled off the shoulder of Switzerland defender Jan Bamert and was ultimately hauled down by the Sion man, giving referee Giorgi Kruashvili no option but to brandish a yellow card.
It was a timely reminder to Boothroyd that – when played in a role that suits him – Nketiah is still a very dangerous player who can cause problems for England’s opposition at Euro 2021, but to shoehorn your captain into a role he can’t play is utterly senseless.
If handing the captain’s armband to Nketiah prior to the start of Euro 2021 was meant as a way to boost confidence, Boothroyd may well have helped shatter said confidence after the Arsenal man produced a dismal display and was hooked with 15 minutes to go.
With misfiring frontman Rhian Brewster the only other centre-forward option in Boothroyd’s ranks, it’s likely that he’ll stick with Nketiah for England’s crucial second group game against Portugal on Sunday.
If he does keep faith with the Gunners centre-forward, he needs to reassess just what kind of role he’s going to ask him to play, because in the defeat to Switzerland he completely hung him out to dry and subsequently hampered his side’s chances of progression. Again.