The FUTURE of England
We’re up on the Mount again, get ready for the sermon everyone. We wouldn’t have had to do this if Gareth bloody Southgate had kept his mouth shut at half time. But he didn’t, did he. Or if the Sun hadn’t thought it hilarious to lead on the back page today with ‘Prat in a hat’. But they did, didn’t they. It is with a beleaguering sense of déjà vu that we find ourselves taking issue with imbeciles who don’t understand the game. Or at least understand it in some utterly warped parallel universe kind of way where England are placed sixth in the Fifa world rankings. Oh shit, THEY ARE.
This particular rant will manifest itself with the answering of questions, imaginary or otherwise. As if we are Southgate/Arry Redknapp/Mark Bright/Adrian Chiles/Andy Townsend all rolled into one. And the little bit of sick in your mouth at the thought of this monster? You’re probably better off asking IT about the game than you are any of the above.
Question 1 – Why were England outplayed by a French side that were absolutely shit in the World Cup?
They couldn't get, or keep, the ball. Without it, England won't win a knockout game, let alone a major tournament. Gareth Barry is depressingly slow and not up to it in any way shape or form. His sideways passing seems his only weapon. And as England have been proving for decades, four passes in and its time for a hoof. “Fuck this,” Barry is thinking as he takes a touch under pressure and lines Carroll up in his sights. And for Carroll read Emile Heskey, Kevin Davies, Peter Crouch or any other target man you wish to put on the pitch.
Players like Barry and James Milner are not composed enough for extended passages of possession football. As soon as the ball actually starts moving at pace, the England players are screwed. This goes for Steven Gerrard too. In the Premier League, a bombastic counter attack would be started, broken up and started again in the time it took for Barry to hit it out of play and the French to string 15 passes together. As my co-blogger said to me only this morning: “England can roll it around the back four fine, but then so can I. But any sort of slick movement in the midfield is non-existent. The third or fourth pass is always the last one. Sideways-sideways-backwards-'Shit we're being pressed, forwards at pace!'-ball given away.” And he may be an idiot, but Rob is spot on. When the French miscontrolled the ball, they just sauntered after it like they would saunter over to a bird in a bar. When England miscontrolled or were harried, they leathered it. Like they would leather a bird in a bar.
Even in our last successful tournament, Euro 96, England played this way. But the difference was that Alan Shearer and Teddy Sheringham were great at keeping it once it was pinged up to them. In fact, the last time England tried to keep the ball for more than five passes was against Argentina in 2002. And Sheringham nearly scored then.
Reducing expectations would be a good start. And I mean SUBSTANTIALLY reducing expectations. I for one didn’t expect England to get the better of France last night (although I lost £2 with Paddy Power on the draw). I also didn’t expect a performance of intricate tika taka brilliance. But I would have been happy for Steven Gerrard or Gareth Barry – the experienced ones – to at least learn at the 17th time of asking that lumping a ball long to either Andy Carroll’s head or out of play is not conducive to beating a France side zipping it about with an abandon sorely lacking in South Africa.
Question number 2 – Fabio Capello is a Prat in a hat isn’t he? Let’s get Arry in.
No let’s not get ‘Arry in you imbecilic tosser. Capello, for his faults, had the right idea last night. If Gibbs, Henderson and Carroll are going to be blooded then a friendly against France is the perfect opportunity to do so. And even though a 2-1 scoreline would suggest otherwise, the gulf in class so achingly apparent will actually have done their development some good. A bit like shock treatment; it will hopefully show them how far there is to go at this level, and that can only be a good thing. So when Southgate went off on one about England lacking experience and needing Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and John Terry, a red mist descended. He, and many others just don’t get it and never will. If Capello is to be labelled a prat then it certainly isn’t for giving the debuts to a handful of talented youngsters. It is for not dispensing with the, and yes I hate this term myself, ‘Golden Generation’ immediately after the World Cup. Every single one of them.
This, ‘Gareth’, is the scenario you are advocating: the SAME scenario of the last 20 years. Let’s face it, the experience he’s banging on about is that which has lead England to flawless qualifying campaigns and then defeat against anyone half decent. So, more of the same is the answer is it? Only field a young player if he is accompanied by players all-too aware of their technical limitations and cowed by years of perceived under-achievement, which was actually just ordinary achievement because their country is entrenched in philosophies the rest of the world has since moved on from and produces VERY ORDINARY FOOTBALLERS.
It is only England's place as a seed which prevents a shoeing in qualifying. That’s what I think.
Why not build a side from relative scratch, like Laurent Blanc has? Capello, admittedly, is more entrenched in 4-4-2 and England’s senior rank and file than Blanc is with the French, but he has to start somewhere. Looking into my crystal ball, though, I see Jack Wilshire being placed on a ludicrously large pedestal and then swept off it immediately when he fails to gel with Gerrard and/or Lampard. Probably as a result of repeated misunderstandings over who ‘sits’ and who ‘goes’. Then ‘Arry will play 4-3-1-2 with Rooney and AN Big Man up front in the 2014 World Cup qualifiers. It will be like Graham Taylor all over again. Will I not like that…
Question 3 – But England are still up there with the best on paper aren’t they? Look at the Premier League…
Ok. I think I know the answer to this one. The Premier League should never be confused with international football. EVER. Aston Villa against Manchester United last weekend was brilliant. As was West Ham v Blackpool. But the reasons these games were brilliant are the very reasons England cannot be successful at international level. Moreover, the reason Premier League sides used to dominate Europe and the reason they get remotely near achieving anything now is their foreign imports.
From a style of play point of view, the Premier League, where the majority of Englishmen ply their trade, relies on 'box to box' midfielders. Indeed, some of the best proponents of this, Gerrard, Lampard et al are completely suited to high octane football but nonetheless, it is football where the ball is given away often. Then quickly won back. The given away again. And so on. It is great as a spectacle. But in the world of international football as Germany in the summer (remember that game English football fans? It was back in June. Long time ago) and France last night proved, give the ball away against the better sides and then you don't get it back.
The most incredible thing is that these failings are all breathlessly reported as if this is the first time anyone’s ever noticed that England are chronically bad at beating the best sides in the world (according to how good at football they are, and NOT the FIFA rankings). And for a change, we CAN actually back this up with some real-life facts that we haven’t made up.
Here are those we humbly perceive to be the best sides in the world, in general, with the last time England beat any of them in brackets: Spain (2001); France (1997); Netherlands (1996); Brazil (1990); Portugal (1998); Germany (2008) Argentina (2005).
‘Oh, well at least we’ve recently enjoyed victories over the Argies and ze Germans’, the Sun would no doubt trumpet. Yeah, drink it in, Sun readers. These were friendles. A win against Argentina in the group stages in 2002 aside, England haven’t beaten either in a World Cup since 1966 (though they also beat an appalling German side in Euro 2000). Regardless, this is not the form of a team that can be considered one of the best in the world. Who is the prat now?