England: 12 months on and has anything changed?
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.