Sunday, June 27, 2010
No time for scapegoats
Let's burn the effigies of the Uruguayan referee, Jorge Larrionda, and his assistant, Mauricio Espinosa. Let's ensure they need police protection. Let's condemn them to a life of infamy.
• Capello bemoans decision
• Warshaw: FIFA in firing line
• Top Five: World Cup controversies
• Capello won't resign as coach
Better still, let's not. Let's reflect upon England's worst defeat in World Cup history and the historic failings it highlighted. Let's look at the direction the national team should take now. Let's learn some lessons from the Germans.
The trouncing in Bloemfontein revealed much, all of it unwelcome and very little of it new. England's inability to retain the ball was highlighted by the Germans, who excelled at that. At the highest level, a more refined style of play is required and a passing game needed to prosper. England play in straight lines, the rigidity of 4-4-2 strangling them against more imaginative opposition.
Younger and brighter, more energetic and effervescent, Germany exploited it, skipping between the lines, darting along the diagonals and stretching England. Outnumbered in the centre of the pitch, Fabio Capello's side proved unable to stymie the men at the tip and base of the German midfield: Mesut Ozil, the creator extraordinaire who was barely marked, and Bastian Schweinsteiger, who ran the game. There is a reason the leading Premier League clubs rarely play an orthodox 4-4-2, especially in Europe, and now it is time for the national team to follow suit.
Familiar as the 4-4-2 formation is, England were still a mess tactically when chasing the game. Gareth Barry failed as holding player, but he wasn't aided by the system. He certainly did not look fit when Ozil sprinted past him to set up the fourth goal.
It was a suitably ignominious conclusion to a dismal stay in South Africa that featured one acceptable display, against Slovenia, one mediocre performance, versus the United States, and two utterly miserable ones.
The best-paid manager in the World Cup is an obvious target for criticism and, given England's shambolic efforts against the Germans, a correct one, but the problems run deeper. They grew worse the longer they were exposed to Sven-Goran Eriksson's laissez-faire approach and they failed completely under Steve McClaren's irritatingly matey and PR-conscious regime. Fabio Capello, the imported autocrat, was the antidote to that, and if England could not perform for him either, the logical conclusion is that this group of players are unmanageable.
Whether or not they were permitted a beer or a game of golf at Boot Camp Capello, they require a more realistic appraisal of their own abilities. It is only a couple of days, for instance, since Joe Cole called John Terry the best centre-back in the world. As he isn't even the finest at Chelsea, that is quite an exaggeration. Braveheart impressions against Slovenia are all well and good, but Terry's lack of pace, long apparent, and surprisingly suspect positioning were enjoyed by the Germans. It is time for searing honesty, not silly superlatives.
It was a tournament where none truly impressed. David James may be deemed England's player of the World Cup, largely due to a lack of competition. Steven Gerrard and Ashley Cole had their moments, Wayne Rooney very few and some none at all. Thanks to Larrionda and Espinosa, Frank Lampard now has the dubious honour of possessing the record for most World Cup shots without scoring. Unfortunate then, he has nonetheless been underwhelming.
The overall picture is well-known: players failing to reproduce their club form for England and a team that is less than the sum of its parts. The opposite may be said of the Germans as well as several of the competition's surprise packages.
It is both that tradition of underachievement and the age of those responsible that mean a clearout is called for. There is little point in persisting with players whose best days lie behind them and whose best displays come on domestic duty. Speedier centre-backs would be a start, after the way Terry and Matthew Upson were embarrassed; budding anchor midfielders should be encouraged; and players with the mentality to prosper identified and ones with the ability to adapt tactically promoted.
Whether that is a task for Capello is a pertinent issue. He is a pragmatist whose sides tend to be built around senior players. England need a more progressive style of play and more youthful personnel. His complaint about the lack of video technology is a valid one, but his comment that England played well was nonsensical.
They were abject and it is a mandate for change. It should be farewell to plenty: James, on grounds of age, plus Jamie Carragher, Ledley King, Terry, Upson, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Emile Heskey, whose raison d'etre was to make Rooney play well. Lampard and perhaps even Gerrard are players who might not be around for 2012 and unlikely to be in Brazil in 2014.
All could perish because, by the high standards tournament football necessitates, too few of the golden generation have had distinguished England careers. Those reflecting upon the personal consequences of a World Cup that has somehow been still worse than 2006 for them may think it's all over. Thankfully, England's awful campaign is now.