July 12, 2010
So that’s the end of another tournament then. “The Rainbow Nation” has had it’s hour in the Sun, and the rightful team have gone home with the trophy. We’ve heard Mr Blatter and co tell us how wonderful the tournament has been, a complete success for FIFA, that it has been a feast of football to satisfy the world. So that’s that then, right? Not quite.
In my humble opinion, the final summed up the tournament in a nutshell. Dour, defensive tactics, a lack of goals, a lack of breathtaking saves, and the deciding factor being a mistake. Quite simply, Holland were abysmal, and although Howard Webb has come in for all kinds of abuse today in the Dutch media, they should be looking much, much closer to home. Coach Bert van Marwijk’s tactics disgraced the famous Orange shirt.
Now although the Spanish misfired their way to the trophy, they are rightfully regarded as the best team in the world at this moment. However, over the course of 90 minutes, the Dutch side should certainly be able to hold their own. The difference between Holland’s 4-2-3-1 last night, and the 4-2-3-1 adopted by the Germans was breathtaking.
Looking back over the course of the tournament, how many sides released the shackles and went for the throat? How many teams set out to entertain the planet in the “best show on Earth”? Not many. Even those bastions of pure football, the Brazilians, played a style of football more accustomed to Rome than Rio. It is little wonder then, I suppose, that the country who gave us “total football” would degenerate into animals last night. For all the criticism directed by those in orange towards Howard Webb, they are clearly blind to the favours the Rotherham man gave them by allowing them to keep 11 men on the field for 109 minutes.
There were very few truly spectacular goals, or games that we’ll remember in a year’s time (even a week’s time is pushing it!) or truly breath taking individual performances. Many have blamed this on the ball, others on the games being played at altitude, but the blame lies solely at the door of managers and players.
Perhaps we should have expected a mediocre tournament when the World decided it no longer wanted to go to South Africa because of the quite extortionate prices being charged for everything from match tickets to hotels and flights. The South Africans themselves were determined to enjoy their World Cup, and I’m sure many of them will remember the competition in a very different manner to me, but nothing is more depressing than seeing a World Cup semi final played in front of empty seats.
So now the tournament moves on, and Brazil awaits the world’s coming. As disappointed as I’ve been this last month, I cannot wait for the competition to kick off in Rio de Janeiro. Neither can, I would assume, the cameramen of the BBC…
A lot can happen in a week or so. Just 8 days ago, England were still in South Africa, very much a part of the World Cup. Fans of the Three Lions were swallowing up every spoonful of Sky’s Premier League propaganda; the country dazzled by a blind belief that 2010 really could be the new ’66. The “greatest league in the World” had contributed to creating “world-class” players for manager Fabio Capello, players the Italian would mould into a team to challenge the world’s elite. Yes, football really could be “coming home”.
Four German goals later and the haze that the Premier League has caused on the English public appears to be lifting. The stranglehold that the Premier League have over the rest of the game in England is finally being both recognised and criticised, and at long last, people are beginning to realise that Sky’s league is killing the national game.
Fans are crying out for fundamental changes in the game, and most of these changes are designed to put the national side first. From limiting the number of foreign players, forcing teams to field a certain number of players under the age of 21, or the ridiculous notion of the State pump funds into the game (this is the same game that already receives over a billion pounds in television revenue, the same game that can afford to pay wages of £160,000 a week to a plainly average Chelsea captain) fans are certain of one thing: they want to see the FA take control of the game back.
If you’ve followed my blog from the start, you’ll be well aware by now that there are elements of the Premier League I can’t stand. The ‘business first’ attitude sickens me, as does the fact the ticket prices are vastly out of reach of the working man. I hate the attitude that many Premier League footballers have, and just how far away from the rest of society they have become. I hate the fact that clubs would rather finish in mid-table than win the FA Cup (OK, an exaggeration, fourth isn’t strictly mid-table but you win exactly the same for finishing there as you do for finishing 17th, so my point still stands. So much for the “first is first, second is nothing” mentality, eh? Let’s see your fourth-place medals, lads.)
I also really dislike the clubs coming out on top in the club-v-country battle, something which is a potentially huge pitfall of the game. What has long-been accepted is Premier League clubs expect national associations to bend to their will. From criticising federations for playing a friendly, to suing them for players picking up injuries whilst undertaking the privilege of playing for their country, the self-interest seeps out of every pore. Clubs force players to pull out of squads with an ‘injury’, only for it to miraculously heal in time for the next Premier League game. Managers even complain about having to release players for competitive qualifiers, something that is clearly entirely detrimental to the national sides.
And whilst this leaves a bad taste in my mouth, I can at least see the manager’s point of view. Yes, it is pure self-interest, but in the current days when almost entire squads are international players, all it takes is a couple of injuries and your season could be over. What I cannot see however, is how that same argument can be used by clubs who are refusing to release players ahead of the Under 19s European Championships, which begins in France next week.
This is an invaluable opportunity for young players to experience the unique atmosphere of tournament football. We’ve all seen the potential pitfalls this brings, be it England’s apparent problems this time around, to the inevitable implosion of the Dutch squad at every major competition since the dawn of time. Squads being together away from their families is hard on the players, yet the more they are exposed to it, the easier it becomes. This offers the players a chance to prepare for that experience, whilst the tournament isn’t paramount of importance, and mostly away from the prying eyes of the media. In essence, this is a dress rehearsal for what is to come.
Not only that, but England’s future generation of players will gain vital experience that only playing competitive football can bring them. This is a tournament of some pedigree, and many of the players on display will go on to become full internationals. Indeed, there are great hopes over players such as Aston Villa’s Nathan Delfouneso, Blackburn’s Phil Jones, and Danny Rose of Tottenham, the winger who burst into prominence by scoring a screamer against Arsenal last season.
In a time when there appears to be a dearth of youthful talent, it is essential that the promising youngsters who are available are nurtured and allowed to flourish. That will not happen by playing for youth sides, or even reserve teams, as much of this squad would find themselves doing. It can only happen by playing genuinely competitively football. Without these players, England’s squad will be dramatically weakened. Indeed, some may question the value in even participating in the tournament without a full-strength side. But there is a more important question here than just the immediate issue of these championships.
If the FA cannot even win the battle with the Premier League over youth team players, what chance do they have of winning the battle for the top players? Are they really so impotent that they cannot even ensure the clubs release a bunch of teenagers for international duty? What power do they have to do what the fans have clearly indicated, and that’s pull the power back from the big clubs?
For anybody who felt the desperate disappointment of last Sunday, and never again wants to experience the embarrassment the Germans caused England’s top players, it is an argument to follow very closely indeed. “Club England”, it’s over to you.
July 3, 2010
So you’re in the last minute of extra time, a few seconds away from a penalty shoot-out and the opportunity to put your country into the World Cup Semi Final. You’re defending a set piece, your keeper is beaten and the ball is coming at your head. Do you try and head it, knowing you may miss it and your team are out?
Or do you put your hands up and punch it out the goal, knowing you will inevitably sent off, but your keeper has a chance with the penalty? This is the very scenario which must have gone through Luis Saurez’s head last night. Or rather, it would have been if he’d had any chance to think about it.
Predictably, Suarez has been labelled a cheat, compared to both Maradona and Thierry Henry, and FIFA are discussing extending his ban to ensure he would miss the Final if Uruguay manage to get there. Is this justified? I’m not so sure.
Deliberate handball on the goal line carries a very severe punishment already. It leads to a penalty kick and a red card, unlike a handball further up the field. If the officials had seen Henry’s handball, he’d have just received a yellow card. Same for Maradona, yet both of these incidents were just as game-changing as Suarez’s incident.
Of course, Ireland fans may view this very differently to me. Suarez stopped a certain goal through ill means, and although Ghana had an opportunity to punish him with the penalty, they did not. Indeed, I remember a similar incident in an Old Firm game a couple of years back, where Bougherra handled a Nakamura shot on the line and was dismissed, only for Scott McDonald to miss the penalty. I certainly understand the feeling of being “cheated”, but then I blamed McDonald for not scoring the penalty.
So being able to see both sides of the argument, where do I stand? Well, I think if FIFA are looking to clampdown on cheating, this is completely the wrong place to start. I’d start by sending Joan Capdevilla, the Spanish left back, back to Spain with his tail between his legs for his disgraceful piece of cheating against Portugal.
The game we love is suffering from a cancer of players diving, rolling around, attempting to con the referee and get players booked and sent off. Watch any match and you’ll see this is the case. I can almost guarantee that an incident of “gamesmanship” will occur in today’s match between Argentina and Germany. Now this is something for FIFA to tackle, much like it was something for UEFA to tackle last summer, but they lost their nerve and gave Eduardo (and every other diver, for that matter) a reprieve. Is football now a game where conning the referee is “clever” or is that an act of cheating that needs to be punished? If it’s the former, then the soul of the beautiful game is really in trouble.
Handball on the goal-line already has a harsh penalty written into the rules of the game, yet handball is not what is killing the game. Some would argue that it is too late to stop players diving, it is now “part of the game” and we should just accept it. I cannot and I will not, so for as long as I have to I will continue to highlight the impotence of the game’s governing bodies until they take action against those conning us all.
Time to pick your side, folks.
June 29, 2010
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.
(RB) Johnson (CB) Jagielka (CB) Dawson (LB) Cole
(CM) Barry (CM) Rodwell
(RM) Milner (AMF) Gerrard (LM) A Johnson
June 27, 2010
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.
June 27, 2010
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.
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….