The England game today made me feel angry - much more angry than I would ever have thought I could feel over the England national team. I've always been a United >>> England man, but this World Cup I found myself being sucked back in, guilty of falling for the hype, the anticipation, the excitement.
I want to talk for a little while about where I think England went wrong, a follow up to my last posting where I concluded with a little bit of positivity. Hey, I was caught up with it all. In this blog post I'm not going to talk about the Lampard "goal" - it crossed the line, yes. It was a goal, yes. It should have been 2-2 at half time, yes yes yes. But to think England went out because of that is, I fear, short-sighted. I also fear the media will concentrate on that and not the bigger issues at hand here.
'Just 10% of our players have a good first touch, and we have to make it 80%'
A quote from Glenn Hoddle, about 13 years ago. I use it because sadly, based on today's game, it's still relevant. For a nation that's meant to be a footballing heavyweight, with outstanding individual players, the ball control is appalling, the good first touch is non-existent, the ball retention is shameful compared to, well, most other nations. Possession is 9/10ths of the law, and it certainly applies to football. I can't think of a single moment at this World Cup where England passed the ball around and looked comfortable on it, composed on it, assured on it. I don't want to labour the point, but at the end of a recent Carlsberg advert there's a shot of Bobby Moore - the best example of how a player, playing any position on a football pitch, can use the ball in an manner that befits calmness and clarity of thought.
Ah yes, thought. The art of thinking. In my opinion, the England players are thick.
Did that get your attention? I think it's true though. Earlier on today the commentator described the German midfielder Mesut Ozil as 'a clever footballer'. How many England players could you say the same? I can only think of one, and that's being generous to Joe Cole. There's different types of "clever" on a football pitch though - the creative nature shown above is one aspect, the other is understanding the game you're in. The situation that is happening around you. Understanding what needs to be done, rather than what you want to do.
'If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs'
Germany's 4th goal today came in the 68th minute of the game. For all of you mathematicians out there, that's with 22 minutes to go. 22 minutes? That's almost 1/4 of the game.
England were on top in the second half - Lampard hit the bar, the Germans were rattled, and the England goal was coming. Then came the Germans 3rd goal, which was a classy piece of counter-attacking play. Problems - but not terminal ones. Bring on some impact subs (more on Capello later), get a goal back quickly and you have plenty of time to get an equaliser. Hey, you have 1/4 of the game left to go, right? There is no need to panic.
So, Mr John Terry, the absolute worst thing you can do is go charging up the field like a madman and try and be a hero. "Terry has stormed forward here" said the commentator, at which point I turned to my father and said "So what happens if they now break away again?". Naturally they then did - Ozil got past Gareth Barry (no idea what he was doing by the way) and made his way to the penalty area. If John Terry was there, no problem. But he wasn't - he was in the other box. Ball laid across to Muller for the 4th, thanks very much. 3-1 wasn't terminal with 1/4 of the game left to go. 4-1 certainly was. There was no need, John. No need at all.
Oh Fabio, you're not getting away scot-free either my friend. In the first half every piece of German play was coming from the right hand side. No real surprise, considering that it was Ashley Cole against Muller, Ozil and Lahm. Our left sided midfielder? LOL jk, as the kids say - we didn't have one. This was all taking place on the touchline where Capello was standing a few feet away from, so his poor eyesight is no excuse. Gerrard on the left, Milner on the left, Lampard on the left, Joe Cole on the left - doesn't matter. When they all naturally want to drift inside and leave the touchline completely vacant, it really doesn't matter. Meanwhile, Adam Johnson sits at home crying. ANY left winger sits at home crying, as Capello picks up his £6m a year from the FA. I think he's a good manager, don't get me wrong (you can't argue with his track record) but his stubbornness and inflexibility has cost England at this World Cup.
There is so much more I want to type - in preparation for this blog post I got out a pad of paper and jotted down why I thought England performed so poorly, and I ended up with 13 different things. But I imagine most of you have stopped reading by now, so let's leave the defeat behind, let's leave the negativity behind and look forward.
1) In my opinion, there is no point sacking Capello if there's no adequate replacement. Harry Redknapp? Too much baggage for the FA - the next Brian Clough in that respect. And why would he walk away from Champions League football? Roy Hodgson? Possibly going to take the Liverpool job. Whoever it is though, they need to have a major clear-out. Keep a few senior players, for the experience, but bring through the youth.
My team for the Euro 2012 qualifiers would be:
Hart, Johnson, Dawson, King, A Cole, Lennon, Milner, Huddlestone, Johnson, Rooney, Crouch
There is talent coming through beyond those names as well - Wilshire, Cleverley, Walcott (lol), Rodwell, Moses, Cattermole, Vaughan, Sturridge, Delph, Carroll, Delfonso, Gibbs, Gosling, Jones...I'm not saying all these are going to be internationals, or world-beaters, but it's a selection of names which gives some hope for future England teams, and which gives us a signal that for the "golden generation" it's pretty much all over.
2) Establish an academy like the French have at Clairefontaine, and teach young players to express themselves - not to stifle them with pragmatism and negative play, but to encourage them to play with freedom yet with purpose. I watched Lionel Messi play the other night. He made about 10 dribbles during the game, with about 8 leading to him being quickly dispossessed. Did that deter him? Will he go out in future and play negative football? No, because of the way he's been coached throughout his youth, as well as how he has learnt to trust himself, he'll keep on being Messi, and he'll keep on being brilliant.
3) Stem the tide of foreign players into the English clubs. For every Bergkamp and Zola, there is an average foreign player who is taking away a place for a promising English player at their club, mainly because their wages are so cheap. I have no idea how you enforce this, thanks to EU freedom of movement and all that jazz, but if the FA are serious about having a good national team, they need to explore ways of doing this, and soon.
I promise I'm going to stop now, as you've all fallen asleep. Before I go off and sleep, however, there's a flag that needs to be taken down...