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Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Armbands And Firebrands

"Just do what the fuck you want"

After a couple of weeks of nostalgia and pretending to be grown-ups, we thought it about time we had a good old rant. Wonder what our favourite subjects over at England have been up to? What? WHAT? He made him CAPTAIN? Oh goody...

There’s a certain laissez-faire that can creep in when you know you’re about to leave a job. Depending on how much you cared about it in the first place, it can sway from proudly maintaining your professionalism until the bitter end to basically, ahem, not giving a fuck anymore. Naturally, you don’t want anyone to notice that you can’t be arsed to make the brews, let alone the decisions, as your contract winds down. But when you start contradicting yourself, say, or ignoring your colleagues and give the impression that you’ll be glad when all this shit is someone else’s responsibility, you should expect to be exposed to the occasional shellacking.

Fortunately for Fabio Capello, he hasn’t really received it from anywhere yet, so he’s going to get it here. The whys and wherefores of John Terry’s captaincy have been widely documented and are largely irrelevant to us, but Capello’s behaviour since the middle of the World Cup – actions with Terry included – is that of a man who’s spent most of his night out buying cooler people shots only to realise that practically no one drinks blue Aftershock anymore, haven’t done so for ages and have actually been drinking these new-fangled shots that don’t give you a hangover. And win you trophies.

Normally, you’d expect these concerns to be addressed in wonderfully hyperbolic fashion in the Sun (who can forget ‘the Prat in the Hat’) or the Mail (who can forget that they’re all absolute shits). But this week, there’s been hardly anything. While admittedly not shy to hail Captain Terry, though admirably stopping short of mocking up a front page of him leading the allies into battle in Libya, the Sun’s gaze fell far from the England manager. Which is odd, when you consider that a year ago, Capello said Terry would not be England captain again as long as he was manager. Then this week, Capello reappointed Terry England captain. The kind of ludicrous U-turn that would probably have a league manager sacked (anything seems possible these days), but has been almost totally excused by the fact that Capello felt bad for Terry when England played hot potato with ‘the armband’ – a phrase we are fast beginning to loath – in Denmark and he didn’t get a turn.

WELL BOO FUCKING HOO JOHN TERRY. It’s a real shame that while playing well enough in the Premier League, the only thing you really stand out for in world football is your mysterious infatuation with a bit of elasticised cloth. And yes, when you retire, we will come down to the JT Armband Superstore on the King’s Road, selling armbands and portable bicep pumps for ‘today’s captains, leaders and legends’, and we will tell you that to your face. If the FA haven’t retired the armband as a mark of respect when you eventually fuck off.

Anyway. Captaincy-gate should really be bringing the issues with Capello’s tenure with England to a head. Hailed for his disciplinarian tactics upon arrival, for a rigid adherence to his footballing manner, he has been pilloried since the World Cup for a similarly hard-line attitude to players, tactics and formations. Which, admittedly, were crap. Mind you, at least when Terry came out in the press to say he felt Capello 'disrespected him', he would previously have been taken to task for such insubordination. Maybe stripped of the captaincy. Or maybe dropped altogether. Capello has made himself look weak and stupid. We should just make Terry player-captain-manager, the amount of shit he comes out with.

With England chronically exposed in South Africa, Capello’s revitalising of the squad has included bringing in Andy Carroll – going backwards towards a ‘traditional number 9’ rather than forwards to a world in which the team don’t, by default and just because he’s there, launch everything forward at their big striker’s head (see: Liverpool and Jamie Carragher recently). By retaining Capello, English football has fallen back into the same old trap, which, in its heart of hearts, it never appears to really want to escape from.

Comprehensive victories in qualifying; decent wins in mediocre friendlies like Egypt and Denmark. But they’ve been dressed up as more. Egypt – Africa’s most successful ever side. Denmark – they’ve got Christian Eriksen you know. You can guarantee if England beat Ghana, someone somewhere will refer to them as ‘should-have-been World Cup semi-finalists Ghana’. A broom might have swept through FA headquarters after the World Cup but it did little more than enable Capello to lift the carpet and hide all the crap under there. And fuck knows where the root and branch went.

Defeat to France was comprehensive, but aren’t France the ones rebuilding? England haven’t even tried to. Capello’s refusal to overhaul the shape of the squad is clearly in part born of the lack of personnel available but also due to the fact that, despite a major Championships looming which England are almost certain to be attending, there is already a sense of malaise, a feeling that the clock is just winding down to next year when the Italian can lead us to gallant quarter final penalty shoot out defeat and pass the reins to the heir apparent, ‘Arry Redknapp.

Before the Euros there will be rallying cries from the likes of ‘Shilts’, ‘Arry, Terry Butcher, Wrighty and Brighty. ‘A chance to right the wrongs of South Africa’, they’ll trumpet. ‘England are in the world’s top 7 remember,’ they’ll whiffle. Someone will probably mention ‘paper’, the heady venue at which England have won every major tournament since 1966. Maybe we should rename the Wembley pitch ‘paper’? But we doubt you’ll hear much rhetoric from Capello about ‘going out in a blaze of glory’.

How on earth, then, are England to be motivated to achieve anything at Euro 2012, whether we believe them capable or not, when the manager is already behaving like he doesn’t give a fuck and has one foot out the door over a year ahead of schedule?

We readily admit we waffle on this issue. But we waffle because it means something to us. Comprehensive defeat to the Germans in Bloemfontein should have been the catalyst for an ‘enough is enough’ sea change to sweep through not only the FA but across England’s fan base too. If you’ve got an apple that year on year is festering to the extent that fruit and veg experts are starting to tell you you’ve got an onion, would you a) buy a new apple or b) tart up the apple in a load of slap, covering the increasingly foul smell with gallons of Old Spice and hope no-one is any the wiser? We are yet to see any compelling evidence that points to the fact that a side largely consisting of the same old faces that has struggled in three major tournaments and failed to qualify for another can suddenly emerge to prove why its generation was a golden one.

And herein lies the crux of the issue. What is Capello’s remit? If it was to get to the semi final of the World Cup, then he should have been sacked last summer. If the FA was so convinced he was the man to rebuild the side in the image of Germany, or Spain, or Holland, then why not extend his contract beyond 2012? The last thing that was needed was this shitty, middle-of-the-road quick fix. The England side should be building around Jack Wilshire, Jack Rodwell, Josh McEachran, Adam Johnson. Ball players all. Forget one sitting and one going because it is fucking prehistoric and, if you haven’t read any of our 1,578 references to it on these pages in the past, IT DOESN’T WORK AT INTERNATIONAL LEVEL AGAINST THE BEST TEAMS. But hang on, we have a brave new(ish) leader, a reliance on 30+ year-old failures and crocks, and we (nearly) always blitz our qualifying group so yes Ian Wright, it will all be very different in 2012.

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