Saturday, June 19, 2010

England, Our England!

I don’t normally comment about England games on this blog, but last nights game has compelled me to convey my thoughts.

Of course, it is the media that most of us should blame, as they are the ones who have raised expectation - as they do for each tournament - that England realistically have a chance of winning. The media, apparently with great glee, then take pride in being the most hurtful and spiteful in their humiliation of said team whenever they do not come up to the country’s, and media’s, high standards.

You build them up, then knock them down again!

Sure, England have some very good players who compete with the best week in and week out in the Premiership. It’s also true that we have a very good manager in Fabio Capello, a man whose record stands up to the very highest scrutiny. There really are not many better managers out there, yet over the last week, he has been painted as a shadow of the man who took us into these finals, and is now being blamed for any and every short-fall. Why? Simply because the media have to have a fall guy and the manager is the easiest target. Capello has standards, and he expects those high standards to be reflected amongst the players he manages; with the England team though, these pampered individuals made hay under Sven Goran Ericksson, brought us WAG headlines and scandal, and now they cannot. The backlash may have caught Capello in the nether regions, and cracks in old-stone face are starting to show...

Many football fans blame either the manager or the players when games go wrong; so if my opinion is that last nights performance wasn’t Capello’s fault, who is to blame? It has to be the players. You cannot blame Capello for picking the squad and/or team he did, as they are simply the best options available (save for the usual inter-team rivalry that may prefer, for instance, Theo Walcott to Aaron Lennon, etc,). Capello also sticks rigidly to a 4-4-2 formation (though that is now the route of our problem according to ITV, as most of the major Premiership teams don’t play that way any more!), but England need to do so (or a variation of it at least) in order to utilise their best players. When Wayne Rooney was tasked with playing up front on his own, there was outcry! When Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard play together in midfield they counter-act each others attributes. These three are probably England’s best three players, from a Premiership perspective at least, so how do we get around this issue? Obviously, Capello’s chosen formation is to play Rooney up front along-side someone (a target man usually) and switch Gerrard to a free-ish role out on the left, leaving Lampard to roam through the middle of the pitch. You cannot blame the manager for this tactic, as it is generally considered the only way to fit all three into the side.

And, in my opinion, therein lies the problem – you cannot fit these three players into an England team that is functional and able to compete with the best in the World. They just do not compliment each other. Rooney can be a great player, though he has had a poor tournament so far, and Gerrard is also a world beater on his day (and the current England captain through default), so that leaves us with Lampard as the one to look at closely. Frank may be a goalscoring superstar at Chelsea but for England, he has blown very hot and very cold over some time now. Last night, and last Saturday too, he was anonymous for huge amounts of the game, which is simply not acceptable in international football. He has become the John Barnes of modern English football - once very good, but now a passenger too often, hence the booing he receives from fans after most games. Don’t get me wrong, I still think he’s a very good player, but if I had to choose between Lampard and Gerrard, it would be the Scouser every time at present.

If Capello takes my advice – and it would be a very strong manager that did – and dropped Lamps, it would allow Gerrard to move into his preferred central midfield role, and either Joe Cole (my preference for a game we have to win) or James Milner to come in on the left. At least this would balance the team more, and also provide a little more goal threat than we currently have.

Goal threat is also something else that Capello needs to deal with overall, and last night it was truly shocking to see an England forward too scared to shoot when well placed. Emile Heskey has done very well for England over the years, but his record in the goal-scoring stakes is very poor, and once he fails to contribute in other areas (as we are now seeing), then it is time to ditch him and look elsewhere. I know that the only viable other option is Peter Crouch (no laughing at the back!), but the pot seems empty and we have nothing else. Another helpful addition to the goal threat of the team may have been to include Walcott rather than Lennon in the squad, but it’s Lennon that we have, and he now needs to either find his shooting boots or be replaced too. He is not making goals, nor scoring them, so what is his worth? The logical replacement from within the squad is the one that Capello has used in both games so far through substitutions, and that is to start Shaun Wright-Phillips on the right. Wright-Phillips has similar pace, and would provide good cover for the errant Glenn Johnson when he ventured forward, all the while being more likely to score than Lennon would.

The only other change I would make is the enforced one of replacing Jamie Carragher, with either Matt Upson or Michael Dawson, with the Spurs man just shading it for me.

This is the team I would ask Fabio to send out to restore the country's faith next Wednesday –

David James
Glenn Johnson
Michael Dawson
John Terry
Ashley Cole
Gareth Barry
Steven Gerrard
Shaun Wright-Phillips
Joe Cole
Wayne Rooney
Peter Crouch

This is a team capable of beating Slovenia, and scraping through to the last sixteen stage of the tournament; an alternative result on Wednesday doesn't bear thinking about! Whether they are good enough to go further depends on who they come up against, and I have to admit that to date I have yet to see any team set the competition alight, with even the Argentinians looking fragile in defence. The Cup is still to be won, and stranger things have happened should Engand be able to progress.

The media constantly asks the country to believe in our football team, and we do, always; I just wish that the media did the same sometimes!


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