So now the dust has settled and the players have returned with their tails between their legs, it’s time to assess where England go from here. I posted the other day that the game needs a complete overhaul in England, and it appears I’m not alone in my opinion. This move cannot happen overnight and may take many years, but in the meantime England need to move on.

As ever when England struggle, a lot of blame lands in the lap of the manager. Predictably, there are many out there in the press and on the streets who demand the head of Capello. Undoubtedly, the Italian made mistakes in South Africa, and he deserves some of the criticism heading his way. However, he should not carry the can for the team, and I believe he should keep his job. Of course, a manager who has won eight league titles at four different clubs and a Champions League trophy has become a bad manager in two weeks, hasn’t he? No, the clamour for his head is just another knee-jerk reaction, one that occurs to almost every England manager. Even Bobby Robson, the man who took England to their second-best World Cup finish in 1990 suffered the same fate after Euro 88.

And even if he is sacked, who do you replace him with? Harry Redknapp? As much as ‘Arry has said he’d be interested in the job, he’s also called for a young English manager to take over when Capello stands aside. Read into this what you will:

“This guy [Capello] has a fantastic record at club level. But look, we’ve had a go with it now. When he finally moves on, in four years or whatever, surely there has to be a young guy or somebody in this country, surely we have to find a manager from England, an English manager.”Harry Redknapp

Does that sound like “give me the job” to you? No, it doesn’t. And why would he want to leave Tottenham, a club he has just taken into the Champions League? A job where he is a hero, to the possibility of becoming another vegetable caricature? Quite simply, why choose the poisoned chalice of England over the champagne glass of Champions League football at Spurs?

Then there are other calls for Roy Hodgson to take it, the man who is just about to move to Anfield. Again, why would he take the England job, and all the undue stresses that come with it, over the opportunity to turn around the fortunes of one of England’s biggest clubs?

And it also seems like nobody else is going to ask this question, so I will. What exactly is better about Hodgson and Redknapp than Capello? Look at their past records. I’m not going to sit here and dispute that Harry Redknapp is a top Premier League manager. He did an excellent job at Portsmouth, and has continued that at Spurs, but how many league championships has he won? None. How many European trophies? None. A solitary FA Cup sits on his CV, and there is no international experience.

Then there is Roy Hodgson, another fantastic manager with experience managing in Italy, Scandinavia and at international level with Finland and UAE. However, his honours list is limited to a couple of Swedish championships and a UEFA final. They are even all in their 60s, so you cannot make a youth-over-experience argument. All they have over Capello is the fact they are English, and the last time being English was used as a case for appointing a new manager, England got “Schteve” McClaren.

No, not for me. Capello has made mistakes, but as things stand, he IS still the best man for the job. But he needs to learn his lesson tactically and I have absolutely no doubt that he will. There are many who blame Capello absolutely for the defeat to Germany, claiming his tactics were “inept”. Whilst he made some frankly ridiculous substitutions, how Capello can be blamed when an entire back 4 can’t deal with a simple goal kick is beyond me. Or if a back 4 simply don’t mark the opposition forwards. This is not tactical error, this is the players on the pitch letting down the manager.

And this is something Capello will learn. Players that have let him down need to be discarded, and quickly. In the countless calls for the revolution of the English game, many people have stated England will have to “sacrifice the Euros”. I don’t believe this, I think there is more than enough quality to progress to the competition, but it is important to quell the expectation the press normally ramps up.

But Capello MUST bring the younger, hungrier players into the international fold, and begin the process of ditching the ‘Golden Generation’. In my opinion, that should start with the likes of Lampard, Heskey, Upson, and James. I’d also expect him to drop the disruptive former captain, John Terry. I expect this to be controversial, but Terry was ripped to shreds by the Germans. Indeed, many will have seen the irony of English footballers being “roasted” for a change!

I’d also expect Capello to change the system England play, and Rooney will play on his own up front. I’m of the opinion that Capello currently picks a system for his players, rather than players for a system. It is clear he has wanted to fit both Gerrard and Lampard into the same side, yet with Lampard gone this is no longer a problem. He will also have learned that both of England’s best full-backs are better pushing on, and need more cover when they get forward. Two holding-midfielders may be a solution. As a result, I’d expect the new system to be 4-2-3-1.

So who to bring in? Personally, I’d expect to see the likes of Jack Rodwell and Adam Johnson in the next squad, along with perhaps Gabby Agbonlahor. I’d also like to see a new defensive pairing at the back, with two out of Phil Jagielka, Michael Dawson and Gary Cahill. With Jack Wilshere to come in the next couple of seasons, there is still talent out there and the possibility to mould a decent side together. Mix these players with a couple of older heads, and there is still potential for England.

So I guess it’s time to “play England manager”. My team for the Hungary game on 11th August is below.

As always, I’d appreciate your comments.


(GK) Hart

(RB) Johnson (CB) Jagielka (CB) Dawson (LB) Cole

(CM) Barry (CM) Rodwell

(RM) Milner (AMF) Gerrard (LM) A Johnson

(ST) Rooney

OK, this is unusual for me: I’m at a loss for words. Never in all my time watching England have I witnessed such a limp performance in a major competition. Never have I seen a display lacking the basic ingredients of heart and desire that any International side must possess in order to progress. Never have I seen a team of the supposed quality of England’s ripped apart without breaking sweat. And never have I seen a manager of such experience demonstrate such tactical naivety on the grandest stage of all. Quite simply, England were outclassed.

So where did it go wrong? Firstly, I’d suggest there was a problem within the England squad from the moment they arrived in South Africa. There was a clear unease at some of Fabio Capello’s ideas, such as keeping the side “resting” in their rooms from 3-8pm every evening. There’s an argument for keeping the squad refreshed, but creating boredom is never a worthwhile tactic.

Then you can point your finger at the tactics of Capello over the competition. Indeed, I have already done this on this very blog. I felt some of Capello’s ideas were just plain wrong. However, to point the finger of blame at the manager lets the players off the hook. It is easy to question the manager’s future, and his very ability, but this is deeply flawed. After all, before the tournament began, Capello could do no wrong. England qualified in great style, did they not? No, it is not the fault of the Italian, no matter who he picked. Quite simply, the England squad who arrived in South Africa were a shadow of the squad who qualified. Same players, very different team.

However, I think there is a bigger debate to have here. It is time to debate the entirety of the English game. Time to discuss the lack of young talent coming through the “greatest league in the World”, and a time to assess what the priorities of the FA, Premier League and Football League are (for the record, this argument also applies in Scotland.) Is the priority British club sides, or the national teams?

Now, my good friend Mr Mantle has already beaten me to the punch after final whistle, and has stated he would not be behind any rule to limit foreigners in the British game. (I couldn’t help but smile at that considering if this debate was about politics and not football, our positions would be a mirror image to where they are in sport!) However, I have to disagree with him.

I appreciate EU legislation makes it difficult for the football bodies to implement specialist laws limiting foreign players. That said, there is an argument that sport is a different scenario, that multi-millionaire footballers are not “just workers” and that perhaps the laws that help protect migrants in other industries should be dissolved for sport. I am no expert in the field of law, but I am firmly in the camp of limiting foreign players. Unfortunately, FIFA recently accepted defeat in their infamous “6+5” idea, but this is something that needs investigating once again.

The danger of continuing with current trends is that British players become rarer and rarer in the game. Much like the price of gold, this rarity simply pushes prices up for the best “home-grown” players, which in turn feeds their already giant egos. Indeed, this is something which is already happening. Some of England’s “world class” players consider themselves to be the best in business, yet cannot function as a team. Now I don’t know about you, but when I first started playing football my coach instilled the idea that “football is first and foremost a team game. You win as a team, you lose as a team”. So if these players are unable to exist as a team, the idea they are “world class” is deeply flawed as they fail the very fundamental of the game.

But it is no wonder we get so excited about young British players when they are so few and far between. The reality is many of these players are never going to be who we hope and expect them to be (Franny Jeffers, anybody?). Instead, we need to consider how we bring more young players through, and the only way to give them the experience they will need before stepping into the International side is for them to be playing in the top leagues.

If things stay as they are, this will simply not happen. The inflation of transfer fees is quite simply ridiculous (which is why Aston Villa are demanding £30m for James Milner, a player who does not even have Champions League experience). It is no wonder that managers like Arsene Wenger look to the continent for their youngsters as these players can be picked up for tiny amounts. Having more home-grown talent in Britain will force transfer prices down, and as a result, home based players will become far more attractive once again. As a result, the pool of players for the managers of the home nations will dramatically increase, providing more chance of success at coming tournaments.

OK, so that’s long-term. “What happens now?” I hear you ask. Well, since I began typing, I’ve heard Capello is reconsidering his position. This would be very short-sighted, in my opinion. However, there does need to be a refreshment within the squad. At 32, time is up for Frank Lampard. Emile Heskey should never get near another England squad. Michael Dawson should become a regular within the squad. Shaun Wright-Phillips should be dropped indefinitely. The list goes on. There are plenty of players out there who are hungrier and more willing to fight for the cause than some of the overpaid egotistical primadonas currently on display.

It is also time to consider the tactics England use. Many have been crying out for a 4-4-1-1 system, with Gerrard in behind Rooney. I think a better option is a 4-2-3-1 myself, with Barry and another sat in front of the defence, allowing the full-backs to bomb forwards, a runner from the midfield and two natural wingers. One of which has to be Adam Johnson.

One thing that is for sure, though. The time has come for the biggest club-v-country argument we have ever seen. If any of you want to see England achieve success within your lifetime, I’d suggest you join me in the ‘country’ corner. After all, without fundamental change England will just become another Wales. And with that, the demise of a once-great football nation will be complete.

So after all that, Fabio Capello stuck to the same tried-and-tested system. The same 4-4-2, with Gerrard still out wide on the left, with Rooney still in the side, and with Lampard under performing. And Joe Cole, the player many fans and pundits almost begged to see, was still stuck on the bench.

Nevertheless, the England side of the qualifying campaign briefly showed itself for the first time since the World Cup began 13 days ago. A reasonable performance by the side was enough for England to sneak through, but now the real competition begins.

Before I go on, I must say well done to the USA. As much as England fans would have preferred the route provided by winning the group, quite frankly England wouldn’t have deserved it. The USA were robbed of a winner against Slovenia for no reason at all, and had another perfectly fine goal chalked off against Algeria before they got their winner. So good luck to the USA.

On to England, then. I personally believe that facing the more difficult route may actually be beneficial to the England squad. OK, so Germany will be a tough nut to crack (and I’m not going to fall into the trap many mainstream media outlets are by describing who England WILL play, it’s very much a ‘one game at a time’ philosophy here) but they are certainly beatable. Indeed, they have already been beaten once in the tournament, as well as their defeat in Berlin by England last year. So make no mistake about it, Fabio Capello and the England squad will certainly fancy their chances.

However, if England are to get through they must get that ruthless streak back and take chances when they arrive. OK, so England played infinitely better against Slovenia than they had against Algeria, but they still missed far too many chances. England could (and perhaps should) have won the game by three or four clear goals. Jermain Defoe could have put the nerves of every England fan at ease by scoring within seconds of the restart, not to mention the chances missed by Lampard and Rooney. When those kind of chances come against the Germans, they simply must be taken, or the likes of Podolski and Klose will punish England for their profligacy.

One thing that has certainly got my attention though is the words of “the Kaiser”. Franz Beckenbauer has been busy doing Capello’s team talk for him. I hope the England camp retain a dignified silence towards Beckenbauer, and instead simply collect the clippings of his comments and put them up on the dressing room wall. Indeed, I’m certain this will be the case.

As for the starting side against Germany, I now fully expect Capello to play the exact same side. Upson came in at centre-half and did well, and I’d expect Carragher to be unable to oust him from the starting 11. Jermain Defoe has certainly stated an excellent case to start by scoring, but the real star was James Milner. After a nervy opening, Milner was always dangerous for England, and I’d expect him to now be head-and-shoulders above Lennon. There is still a case for Joe Cole to play (especially as Lampard still looks a shadow of the player he is for Chelsea) but I won’t hold my breath. Still, on paper, England have more than enough quality to progress.

Fingers crossed then that Monday morning’s hang-over is one caused by celebration, and not commiseration. And please, no penalties….

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.

So we are a week into the tournament, everybody is buzzing with excitement and marvelling at the fabulous football on display night after night; enthralled by brilliant goals and revelling in the atmosphere of the greatest competition on Earth. Oh, what’s that? No you’re not? Most games have been rubbish, hardly any goals have been scored and the vuvuzelas are driving you up the wall? Thank Yoda it’s not just me!

Before I go on I’d like to apologise up front; I feel a rant coming on, but I’ll be as brief as possible.

I’m generally the World Cup’s biggest fan. I do everything I can to watch as many matches as possible, from the big boys of Brazil, Spain and Holland to the minnows of New Zealand and North Korea. I’ve watched 15 of the 16 games so far, and feel quite deflated about the quality of the tournament.

OK, early on in the competition, teams will feel that playing for a draw is acceptable. After all, getting off the mark in the first game is vital, and how many times do you hear the phrase “you don’t want to peak too soon”? So maybe teams are going all “George Graham” on us, and not having a go? Possibly.

Quite simply, the tournament has really lacked any genuine quality. The question we have to ask is why?

Many players, managers and pundits alike have blamed the official ‘Jabulani’ ball, claiming it is difficult to control and causes goalkeepers major issues. Makers Adidas have described the Jabulani as being “the roundest football ever”, in an effort to lead to more goals. Now that I can understand, because let’s face it, any time ‘keepers are having problems is good for us as fans. We all want to see goals, and spectacular 30-yarders are particularly special for us. So ‘keepers struggling is fantastic.

But then we’ve also heard that the ball is “difficult to control”, with players from many squads largely condemning it. However, surely I’m not the only fan to think ‘will you just shut up and get on with it’? To me the excuse ‘the ball is too round’ is up there with Ol’ Red Nose’s excuse about United’s players not being able to see each other in their grey shirts!

Adidas have instead hit out at the players, and their preparation. They blame a combination of a lack of practise and the game being played at altitude. Indeed, I can certainly understand the altitude argument. Every rugby fan (and physicist, for that matter) knows that matches played at altitude mean longer goal kicking is possible. (Just look at Mourne Steyn for the Springboks during last year’s Lions tour) I refuse to accept that football management and players were not aware of this phenomenon, so they should have prepared for it. On this note I unreservedly agree with Adidas.

My only quibble about the ball is the fact that Adidas supplied it to the Germans six months before the World Cup kicked off. Understandable I suppose, a German company attempting to aid the German national team, but it’s not really in the spirit of fair play. It would have been nice to see Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard “getting their eye in” with the new ball, as it would for the rest of the world. However, it is just a football. If you’re being paid the amount some of these players are, you should be able play with tennis ball, let alone a new light size 5 football. Just look at Maradona doing just that below (apologies for the music, by the way!)

Then of course there is the vuvuzelas. The BBC have apparently received 545 complaints about the vuvuzelas in their coverage, and players such as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have joined the calls for FIFA to demand they are banned. Now I will admit the vuvuzelas are an irritant, but the BBC receiving complaints just seems ludicrous. What exactly do people expect the Beeb to do? Complete waste of effort from 545 people, in my humble opinion.

However, I can understand the players voicing their criticisms, even if I’m not sure they’re valid. Obviously, deafening noise makes communication difficult for the players, but if players can talk to each other in Old Firm games, or the Milan Derby, then their argument is null and void.

No, the way the quality of the tournament will improve is simply tactics. Managers need to remove the shackles on players, adopt a more attacking mentality and just let them go for it. As always, I’m optimistic this will be the case once we get to the last group games and the knock out stages (with the exception of Italy, obviously!)

England can easily do this by ensuring Heskey never gets another kick of the Jabulani (or any other football, for that matter.) Gerrard playing further up the field can only be good for England, and getting Joe Cole into the side will add to the side’s creativity.

Add to this a little shooting practise, there’s no reason at all to suggest England can’t do well in this tournament. However, whether they have the mentality to get past the likes of the Dutch or the Germans, only time will tell.

How do you feel about the World Cup? Have you been disappointed, or are you enjoying the tension of the tournament. Let me know below.