It’s been nearly a year since arguably England’s most embarrasing tournament exit since Bobby Robson’s 1988 European Championships squad departed West Germany without a point. There have been poor tournaments since, most notably Sweden 1992 and Gary Lineker’s farewell and then there was the World Cup in USA in 1994 and Austria/Switzerland European Championships in 2008 where England failed to qualify. However, in terms of effect on the football loving public, that trip to South Africa raised serious doubts regarding the quality and commitment of the national team and delivered real disengagement between supporter and player. That tournament and the way England were torn apart by a youthful, vibrant and refreshing Germany side prompted many supporters to call for a change in tact and a change in personnel. We were promised this, but having endured another relatively sleepy performance on Saturday, the question is; has anything really changed since that afternoon in Bloemfontain?
The first game after that defeat was a friendly at home to Hungary on August 11th and resulted in a pretty dour 2-1 win which could have been worse if it wasn’t for Steven Gerrard’s brace. My interest in that game is that despite the ‘wholesale changes’ the squad apparently witnessed; 8 of the starting 11 were members of the World Cup party that flew home two months previous. That hardly constitutes ‘a new era’ in my opinion. Very oddly, Joe Hart was deemed (and has been since) ‘Number 1′ in that game, although in the World Cup two months prior he was only considered 3rd choice behind David James and Robert Green. Surely if he was good enough in August then he was good enough in June?
Since that victory England have gone on to win four of their subsequent 8 matches starting with (with the exception of the experimental line-ups against France and Ghana), at least 7 members of that World Cup squad. This would arguably have been more if it wasn’t for injuries and suspension (for instance against Switzerland on Saturday I would argue Capello would have included Gerrard, Rooney and possibly even Jermaine Defoe if all were available taking the starting XI figure to 10 World Cup squad members).
My frustration is that there really hasn’t been the dawn of a new era that we were all hoping for. We have seen glimpses in that Jack Wilshere, Ashley Young and Darren Bent have been given opportunities; but why is Capello continually overlooking Gary Cahill for the tired Rio Ferdinand/John Terry combination and when will he understand that a centre-half playing full-back is not an appropriate alternative to Glen Johnson? Scott Parker has finally been indoctrined into the England squad, but he is now 30, and it confuses me that for too long Gareth Barry was chosen as a superior ‘ball-winning’ central midfielder.
I have no optimism with how Capello’s England squad is appearing going forward and am concerned that his approach will not only prove damaging in terms of next summer, but possibly the qualification campaign for the World Cup in Brazil in three years time.
Do you remember when we beat Croatia 5-1 and we were all convinced that we would at last live up to expectations at the tournament finals? England have played 19 games since then and have won just over half of them (52.6%) scoring 31 goals in the process (1.63 goals per game) which although the win ratio doesn’t sound good, we may draw inspiration by our ability to score goals. However, I would caveat this with the quality of opposition that we have played. Over the course of these 19 games, the average ranking of England’s opponents has been 32.5 according to the FIFA World Rankings ranging from Brazil ranked second to Wales ranked 116th. I think it would be fair to say that the four defeats at the hands of Ukraine, Brazil, Germany and France have all been incredibly forgettable performances where England have been shown to not be good enough. I think this is still the case and indeed, I can’t see that anything has changed in the last 12 months.
Hmmm, roll on Holland in August then.
I think Saturday’s draw against Switzerland compounded the general frustrations that the English football supporter has with the national team and set-up. Albeit a draw is not the ‘end of the world’ and Switzerland, although are no footballing giants, I wouldn’t class them as minnows, I think we all expected something a little more positive than what was on display.
The build-up to the game I think set the scene perfectly as we entered with only 3 recognised strikers in the squad and Capello electing to only have two in his matchday squad. Darren Bent for me is first choice England striker and despite his glaring miss I would like to see us show confidence and faith in a player who has been in the top three English top-scorers domestically in five of the last six Premier League seasons. From here I question Capello’s choices. I like Bobby Zamora but he has only played 11 games since the turn of the year and to have him as the only striker on the bench I think is a little short-sighted. Peter Crouch was overlooked for the bench and now appears to have drawn a line under his England career (or at least intimated he will be unavailable for the foreseeable future… and joins the growing list signing up for this profile), and arguably the most in-form English striker, Daniel Sturridge, wasn’t included in the squad.
I have a number of issues here that I need to address:
1) Why were we so negative in our team/squad selection for Saturday. Daniel Sturridge scored 8 goals in 11 appearances whilst on loan at Bolton Wanderers, (10 goals in his last 14 games including his brace for Chelsea against Ipswich Town!); why wasn’t he in the squad? I appreciate there was an Under-21 warm-up match the same day… couldn’t a little more planning have averted any clash?! Why didn’t Ashley Young start the match what confuses me most is his likely place was taken by the hard-working James Milner who unfortunately for him hasn’t been at his best this season and who I don’t believe is a first choice at his club?
2) How is Jack Wilshere deemed to be too tired to play for the Under-21s in an important tournament this summer yet is still able to play for the senior side? For too long England have qualified successfully for tournaments and then failed to deliver on the ‘big stage’. I completely subscribe to the theory that we ought to be fielding our strongest Under-21 side at this summer’s competition in Denmark and think that this should be the path we continue down. The sooner our international players get used to performing in a finals environment and the sooner we begin to achieve success in these tournaments the better; and this will surely translate itself into senior success. This really isn’t rocket science and is a theory that other nations, most notably France, Spain, Germany and Italy have all adopted with success.
3) Why are so many players making themselves unavailable for national team selection and what is going on with communication? Most recently we have seen Ben Foster take a sabbatical and Robert Green orginally declare himself unavailable… but then was again; and then there was also David Stockdale being called up only for the FA to discover he was getting married. Blackburn Rovers’ Paul Robinson declared himself retired in 2010 after being overlooked for the summer’s World Cup and then called up to a friendly squad; Wes Brown followed suit (albeit I don’t think he should ever have been considered international quality) and now there is the Peter Crouch fiasco. We had the Rio Ferdinand captaincy debacle and numerous other reported ‘fallings out’ between Capello and players… is this really the way to run a successful national football team? Why are players (whether they’re adequate enough or not is another matter) so happy to refuse a call-up and why can’t the FA manage their channels of communication more professionally?
This is just scratching the surface; we had the fiasco of South Africa on top of this and numerous curious team selection decisions; my view is that something has to change and although the longer-term answer is a culture change led from the top of the FA; the manager surely has to take responsibility and in this case, an alternative to Capello should be sought.