Goodbye Beckham, Overall Mark: B (This image is the property of Quirkybet.com)

Goodbye David Beckham.

The big footballing story of the week is surely Signor Capello doing the decent thing and closing the door on David Beckham’s England career. This isn’t an unexpected development and any serious football fan would have told you that Beckham’s time wearing the three lions ended on 14 March when, against Chievo, he crumpled in a heap in the San Siro cenre circle. A bizarrely ignominious end to a career saturated by bright lights and celebrity.

What do we make of Beckham’s enforced retirement? Well, he’s one of those rare players who genuinely splits opinion right down the middle. Personally, I’ve always had the opinion that once a player is judged incapable of lasting the full 90 minutes, they should be dropped, there’s no point in hanging around and there’s no point in sentimentality either. Capello was bought in because it was judged that England needed a firm hand at the tiller after the mateyness of Sven and McClaren. Complaining that Capello is ruthlessly dropping players is rather like complaining that is gets a bit dark at night time.

Predictably enough, once the “Brand Beckham” boys heard about Capello’s plan to cease picking their meal ticket they kicked into overdrive, insisting that their man would never retire from England and would continue to make himself available for England as long as was playing “competitive” football for the LA Galaxy (If that isn’t a contradiction in terms).  This response can be looked at in two ways, it’s either hugley selfish, in so far as he should recognise his time is up and gracefully stand aside for some new faces, or it can be seen as a rather patriotic gesture, a man still prepared to lace up his boots for his country.

In my opinion, it seems that Beckham’s England career is summed up by a few exceptional moments, sandwiched by large amounts of mediocrity. We all remember his faultless performance against Greece in 2002, just as easily as we remember his sending off in 1998 against Argentina. We can remember his taking revenge against Argentina in Sapporo in 2002, just as easily as we remember the missed penalty in Euro 2004 against France, and the missed penalties against Turkey and Portugal.

We can balance the obvious pride and passion that Beckham had while representing his country, against the obviously selfish desire to unnaturally extend his England career beyond it’s usefulness.

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So, here it is.

A mere 6 weeks after England crashes to it’s worst ever performance in a World Cup finals, Capello announces his all-new England squad. No great surprises here, the big names like Gerrard, Lampard and Terry have survived to stink up the team into the European Championships.  Still, nice to see Adam Johnson, Bobby Zamora and Phil Jagielka get the call, doubt they’ll get any meaningful pitch time, but still good to see them there.

Goalkeepers: Ben Foster (Birmingham), Joe Hart (Manchester City), Paul Robinson (Blackburn)

Defenders: Wes Brown (Manchester United), Gary Cahill (Bolton), Ashley Cole (Chelsea), Michael Dawson (Tottenham Hotspur), Kieran Gibbs (Arsenal), Phil Jagielka (Everton), Glen Johnson (Liverpool), John Terry (Chelsea)

Midfielders: Gareth Barry (Manchester City), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Adam Johnson (Manchester City), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), James Milner (Aston Villa), Ashley Young (Aston Villa), Theo Walcott (Arsenal), Jack Wilshere (Arsenal)

Forwards: Darren Bent (Sunderland), Carlton Cole (West Ham United), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Bobby Zamora (Fulham)

David James - Not Picking The Ball Out Of The Net (this image is the property of the Guardian)

Germany 4 – England 1

England’s rank tournament finally came to an end after this dismal performance in Bloemfontein and to make it worse, this scoreline flatters England.  England lacked fight, passion, ideas, ability and confidence and were effortlessly dismantled by a very good, but not excellent German team.  With this result hanging over him, the future looks bleak for Fabio Capello who must surely have instructed his agent to start sounding out a return to club football, and looking at this performance by the England team I can’t say I blame him.

Where to start? Why did England bomb so spectacularly? Poor selection plays a part for sure, allied this with tactical naivity, a reliance on players who clearly can’t perform for England and an unbelievably inflexible and stubborn manager and you come close to explaining why England stunk out South Africa so badly.

I was down on Capello’s selection from the start and highlighted the inconsistency in his selection of King and Heskey, players who were neither in form or regularly playing for their clubs. And how is it that Heskey managed more  minutes on the pitch than Peter Crouch? I’m no fan of the bean pole forward, but his goalscoring record cannot be matched and continually putting Heskey ahead of forwards like Darren Bent and Peter Crouch sends out the wrong message to every other English striker. It gives the impression that the England team isn’t a meritocracy anymore, it’s a closed shop, where you get in if your face fits. Rooney has clearly struggled in this tournament and needed better back up than Heskey could provide. Hopefully, Capello will do the decent thing and pull the curtain on Heskey’s England career. And while we’re at it, why not wave the axe in the direction of Frank Lampard and John Terry? Terry is obviously a disruptive influence within the England camp and should be cut now to make way for Michael Dawson.

England were dismal, no doubt about it. But hopefully in the wake of this disastrous result some positives will come. Maybe we’ll drop our reliance on our “celebrity” players and finally select players based on merit. But I don’t think so.

As regular readers may know, generally I like to sleep on performances before I post my views. Last night I wasn’t able to do that, hence my posting within a couple of hours. As a result, this post won’t be too long, but I do have a couple of points to make on last night’s England performance.

The first one is an age-old-adage, a conversation which has been taking place in pubs around England for the best part of a decade. I’m amazed I’m still having to say this, but here goes: Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard cannot play in midfield together. Steven Gerrard is not a winger, right or left, or a holding midfield player. He is an offensive central midfielder, or alternatively what the Italians call a “trequartista”, somebody who operates in ‘the hole’ behind a main striker. Considering he is one of England’s best players, he should be played in one of those positions.

When Capello began his job, he told us players would be picked on “form and fitness” and not reputation. How then, can he justify the inclusion of Emile Heskey, and indeed, Wayne Rooney? Last night I added my voice to the growing call for Capello to change the shape of the England side to benefit Rooney. Today I have changed my mind, and if Capello is to stick to his original claim, he should also stick with the current shape.

Instead, he should remove Lampard, Heskey and Rooney from the side (although even if Rooney was on form I’d drop him for his petulance) and move Gerrard into the middle with Barry. From here he can dominate the midfield, safe in the knowledge he has Barry shoring up the defence. I do think Joe Cole adds to the side, and he would be my choice for the left, adding some sparkle to the side.

And then up front. No Heskey, to be replaced by Peter Crouch. OK, Crouch isn’t a perfect centre-forward, but he is a goal threat. And Rooney to be replaced by Defoe. Very much a goal threat, a six-yard box striker, and the all-Tottenham strike combination have the benefit of playing together for their club.

I suppose I should finish this post by giving my take on why Rooney has been so poor. Many people have suggested he is “burnt out”, or carrying an injury. For me though, it is a mental issue. I believe he is under too much pressure; the only potent goal threat in the team. Playing alongside Heskey does him no favours on that front. Perhaps starting on the bench will help to motivate him for the next match? Who knows.

All I do know is a rapid transformation is required in the next 5 days. Otherwise, Mr Capello may well find himself with a P45 waiting for him when he gets home.

You won’t see a lot of sympathy for Rob Green, maybe rightly so. However, as a person who also plays in goal, I can certainly appreciate how the man is feeling right now. Although my mistakes weren’t committed in full view of an audience of millions, committing them in front of my daughter made me feel terrible. Goalkeeping is famously an unrewarding position with little chance of glory being given and every chance of shame being heaped upon you. Hopefully, Green will rebuild and feature again for England, good luck.

Let’s be honest, this was always going to be a tough match, the Americans are disciplined, athletic and they have some quality players on their team. Clint Dempsey is no mug and Oguchi Onweyu currently plays for AC Milan. Team USA are ranked 14th in the world, only 6 places behind England and are the highest ranked CONCACAF team in the world. A victory would have been a good result for England and not an entirely unexpected one for the US.

All this aside, let’s not forget England’s relatively poor performance and the selection nightmare Capello now has to contend with.  With the withdrawal of Rio Ferdinand and the seemingly endless injuries that Ledley King carries, England’s back line looks seriously short of pace and Carragher found himself exposed mercilessly exposed by the speedy Altidore. While Ashley Cole played impeccably and Glen Johnson had a decent game along the flanks, the middle looks like it could well be England’s weak spot.

The midfield seemed to miss the steadying influence of Gareth Barry with both Gerrard and Lampard trying to carry out the holding role. While Gerrard, of course, scored early on, he seemed strangely subdued as the match wore on. As far as Lampard is concerned, the fact it took him an hour to get a shot on probably tells you all you need to know about his game. The less said about Milner, the better, but maybe Capello was wrong to pick him in the first place as we are informed that he spent a good part of the last week laid up with a virus.

And so to my favourite topic of conversation, Emile Heskey, England’s bizarrely non-scoring striker. Actually, apart from his missing a gilt edged opportunity, Heskey didn’t play too badly, but enough is enough surely? In selecting him over Bent, Capello broke one of his rules in that in order to play for England you have to be fit and on form. How must Darren Bent have felt as he watched Heskey spoon his shot straight at Howard? Actually, he probably felt the same that I, Capello and nearly everybody else in the country must have felt, absolutely unsurprised. Heskey has been quoted as 350-1 to take the Golden Boot by some bookmakers. With all due respect to Heskey and Capello, what serious team can take a striker with such long odds against them?

This wasn’t a terminal result for England, and I still expect England to win their group relatively easily, but England can’t compete if they continue to play crocks and players who plainly aren’t good enough

So, here it is, England’s squad to conquer the world in South Africa…

Goalkeepers: Joe Hart, David James, Robert Green.
Defenders: Jamie Carragher, Ashley Cole, Rio Ferdinand, Glen Johnson, Ledley King, John Terry, Matthew Upson, Stephen Warnock
Midfielders: Gareth Barry, Michael Carrick, Joe Cole, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Aaron Lennon, James Milner, Shaun Wright-Phillips.
Forwards: Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe, Emile Heskey, Wayne Rooney

Make no bones about it, this is a VERY conservative selection from Signor Capello.

There are a few surprises, but mainly more as to who has been left out, Would you seriously pick SWP over Walcott? Upson over Dawson?  Emile “Prolific” Heskey over Darren Bent? This team smacks too much of “Sven” to make a real run at the pot in South Africa and will go out in the quarters (again).

Your thoughts please…

The England Captain

February 14, 2010

Wayne Bridge and John Terry

Bridge and Terry - Not Comparing Notes (Photo: Getty)

First of all, apologies for my lack of activity recently, things at work have been absolutely hectic and I’ve not been able to dedicate as much time to my blogging as I’d like. My slightly enforced absence from the world of sports means that I’m about 2 weeks behind the times, so again, my apologies if this particular entry seems a bit untimely.

So, as I type this, Rio Ferdinand is our new captain, from a playing perspective, it feels like Capello didn’t have much of a choice. Gerrard, while awesome at club level, still hasn’t really delivered on the international stage and has been sub-par this season, Lampard still looks like a man who can’t believe he hasn’t been worked out yet and Rooney is still at least three years off taking the role on himself. The problem is that Capello doesn’t have that many “Captain Like” players to choose from and Rio Ferdinand is the only realistic choice available to him.

The sporting presses worked themselves up into a predictable lather over who would be our new captain following the John Terry fallout. They made out like the captain was some kind of mythical, god-like figure who bestrides the English game like a colossus, like a kind of Churchillian figure.

Of course, this isn’t anything like what the captain does, the English Football Captain is primarily a figurehead and the role is largely ceremonial.  Our football captain, unlike, say, the cricket captain doesn’t have an input into team selection or tactics, those responsibilities are handled by Signors Capello and Baldini. Indeed, if you actually break down the football captains responsibilities, beyond the obligatory photo calls and interviews, you don’t have that much left. I mean, I’m sure that John Terry is great at calling a coin toss and doing that swapping thing with the pennants at the start of the match, but I could do that. And as for “geeing up” his team mates, nobody waves his arms around better than John Terry, but it’s hardly switching formations and tactics on the fly, is it? And more crucially than that, John Terry doesn’t even take responsibility for arranging the pitches for his team to play on and paying the FA the subs fee each week (hat-tip to Chris D).

Signor Capello appreciates the decorative nature of the captaincy more than most people, and that explains why he was able to dispose of John Terry’s services so easily.