Bitter Reality…

27 06 2010

After writing about the fall of France last week, it seems only just that I also write about England’s continuing failing on the world stage. England’s hopes of World Cup glory, almost fatally extinguished when Emile Heskey lunged into Rio Ferdinand before the tournament started, finally ended with a 4-1 defeat to the Germans.

There are numerous things to write about England, and most will be in the next few days. I have just a few thoughts on the state of the national team. The first is that the squad Fabio Capello took to South Africa was flawed. Taking two centre-backs who have had at best mediocre seasons (Carragher and Upson) , and with two nursing continuing injuries (Ferdinand and King), leaving John Terry to fight the world’s best forwards almost alone. Taking and continually using players who have pace but no end product (Wright-Phillips and Lennon), whilst leaving Adam Johnson, a natural left-footed option, at home was frustrating.

This moves me onto the selection process. The continual use of Heskey as a striking option whilst leaving Crouch (who has somewhere near a 1 in 2 goal/game ratio) on the bench was mightily frustrating. The absence of Joe Cole from much of the tournament must also be questioned, although in his outings, he failed to show much to prove he was the solution to England’s ailments. The selection of Carragher and King was bemusing, and ultimately failed to inspire confidence in Matthew Upson, who had a solid, if not spectacular qualifying campaign as John Terry’s defensive partner. Likewise picking, and then dropping Rob Green was another poor moment from Capello. Indeed, his substitutions failed to inspire confidence, further highlighting the limitations of the squad as a whole.

However, the personnel could, and should have worked, in the right system. This is where Capello, who is, let us not forget, one of the games great managers, ultimately came undone. Starting with the bemusing selection of Steven Gerrard, the newly appointed captain, on the left of midfield, and there is only one conclusion to reach: Capello was wrong. Argentina play Messi in his favourite position. Brazil play Robinho in his favourite position (and he once again looks like a world beater after being played out of position in England). Spain play Xavi in has favourite position. The point is made I feel. For Capello to fail to recognise Gerrard’s potential in the English central midfield position seems to be almost scarily naive. The clamour for him to play behind Rooney was there for a reason, yet ignored by Capello.

Moving onto the continued insistence of using wide players. In theory I have nothing against pacy wide men. They can pull the game forward and inspire the crowd and team. So using Aaron Lennon and Shaun Wright-Phillips was not, in itself a bad thing (despite SWP having a mediocre season in and out of Man City’s team). The failure to utilise their pacy potential was a fault in the team. Too often the men were there but not used by the English central midfielders. If England were to use them to stretch teams, then they failed to put this plan into practise. Too often these men were ignored or crowded out. The times they got the ball they had to move inside to allow the attacking intent of the full-backs to shine through. On those rare occasions they managed to beat their man, they had little or no substantial end product.

We have frequently been told about the ‘golden generation’ which seems to consist of Gerrard, Lampard, Terry, Ferdinand and Rooney. All failed to have an impact at this tournament (although, to give Ferdinand his due, he never even got there). The label was never going to help the England team, but the frustration is that the players never seem to give the same for their country as their clubs. For me it seems that the players go from being the big fish in their respective club ponds to the international set-up. They all think they are the big thing with the ability to take on the world, without working out the element of being in a ‘team’. There are not enough good team players who are content with being second-fiddle to the big players. They do not work in the same way they do with their clubs because they are used to there being someone who will do the covering for them. At international level there is not this escape.

If we add this to what seems to be a genuinely paralysing fear of playing for England, then the recipe is there for failure. Capello has failed to overcome this international paralysis, despite appearances to the contrary in qualifying. However, for me there is something else which has to change, namely the national psyche.

For too long we have been told how good our players are, and have expected them to be world-beaters. It is time we as a public realised that these players and this team are not a top-four side. They are barely a top 16 side. That is the bitter reality. I feel that if the expectation is dropped by the public, then this will have a beneficial effect on the team. We have, for too long expected too much from the England team. For the 2012 European championships we need to have a lower expectation. A quarter-final might be our best result. Let us not forget that this is pretty much the same team which failed to qualify for the last Euros. They have done little to convince as anything other than a mediocre team, so the irrational expectation and demand that they do well in tournaments is foolish at best. Let England aim for the 1/4 finals in the Euros. That should be enough. We do not have a world class team. We do have world class players, but the two are very different things. Until the two demonstrate that they have been successfully melded together over a continued period of time, we the public, should accept that we are not that good an international side.

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One response

27 06 2010
Chris Ross

Great blog you got going here and a very well written article! I think it was brutal to see the Germany-England game go the way it did. Also, you think you check out my post cuz I really wanna hear your opinion on my thoughts. http://chrisross91.wordpress.com/2010/06/27/lampard-non-goal-didnt-matter-are-you-kidding-me/

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