Thursday, 22 November 2007

England 2 Croatia 3

So there we have it. The dream is dead. The English football team has once again, in true English fashion, snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Having been handed the mother of all life-lines last weekend, a shambolic night at Wembley means England will not be competing in next summer's European Championships.

English football now needs to take a good long, hard look at itself because what has transpired over the last 12 months has been nothing short of embarrassing.

The spiral of decline began the moment seventh-choice Steve was appointed. How could a man involved in the previous, unsuccessful, management set-up, with no independent International experience himself be appointed for the top job? It struck me as a desperate gamble at the time and so it has proven to be. You'd like to think the FA wont make the same mistake again but don't be too surprised if they do something daft like appoint Sammy Lee or Paul Jewell.

Meanwhile McClaren today walks away from the job with an extra 2.5million quid in his sky rocket. I'm all for compensation if contracts are broken and I'm rarely critical of the 'obscene' money in the game but there cannot be any justice in the world if seventh-choice Steve is being given that much money even though he failed to achieve the bare minimum (qualification for the Euros) of what his job required. That's like working in a call centre and never even picking up a phone but getting compensation when they rightfully sack you. Steve McClaren failed miserably and is getting paid for it? I just don't understand it at all.

5 goals were shared on a miserable night in Northwest London but I'd be shocked if anyone could honestly say it was a good game of football. It was dire from start to finish and the England looked like they would have been more at home at Hackney Marshes on a Sunday morning rather than in a 90,000 seater stadium with the hopes of a nation resting on their shoulders.

A word on the pitch. It seems quite perplexing that an arena than came close to costing a billion English pounds somehow cannot have a playing surface of at least reasonable quality. How is it that premiership grounds, played on week in, week out are in better condition than that mess? Croatia were right to complain beforehand but ironically, it was they who seemed to make best use of it last night. Last month we had no end of bitching about the fact Russia used a synthetic surface. At least they smart enough to actually sort out something playable rather than the bog at the 'state of the art' Wembley.

Incompetence is a word that is all too often branded about. The true meaning and impact of the word can be lost if flagrantly misused. It should be reserved for those moments in life when a person truly exposes himself as being incompetent...

One is left to wonder what seventh-choice Steve was thinking when he decided to drop David Beckham. I'm hardly Becks' biggest fan but it takes true incompetence not to realise that fresh off his assist for Peter Crouch against Austria and easily the best crosser of the ball in the team, Beckham would have been the best option to supply the lone Peter Crouch up top (and so it proved when Becks was introduced). Instead, McClaren selected Shawn Wright-Philips who is primarily a dribbler. It again takes a great deal of incompetence not to see that the rain-soaked Wembley pitch was never going to be conducive for dribblers like SWP.

Paul Robinson has come in for a lot of justified criticism this season. He has been nothing short of awful for the best part of a year and was correctly dropped from the England team. However, to replace him with a novice like Scott Carson is a real sign of incompetence considering the experienced, if not somewhat erratic option of David James was available. This was the most important game of McClaren's reign and he chose to gamble. I am sure that had Beckham and James started the match ahead of SWP and Scott Carson, this would be a very different blog post today.

England started with a 4-5-1 formation that played right into the hands of Croatia. The visitors were more assured, fluid and bold in their play. Despite packing the midfield, our 'heroes' somehow conspired to allow ALL THREE Croatia goals to come from simple lack of marking/closing down in that area of the pitch. Opting to play a 4-5-1 when in every other game, including a match just 5 days prior, 4-4-2 is clearly your preference suggests incompetence to me.

Yes, Owen and Rooney are injured but isn't that the whole reason Defoe and Bent were called up? It's no use throwing them on when it's too late. One of them should have started up top. Crouch was making flick-ons to nobody during that first half. What was the point of that???

Even with inept team selections and tactics, there is an argument that the 'quality' players we have should still be able to get a DRAW at home against Croatia. I can only partly agree with this. Yes, England despite everything SHOULD have performed better last night but unfortunately what happened was that we saw what too many for too long have been too afraid to admit: Our 'World Class' players are just not very good.

There's the obvious Gerrard/Lampard debate. These two are supposedly the best the country has to offer. But IF, for whatever reason, they cant play together then they clearly both have massive flaws to their game and should not be lauded as they constantly are. You'd be forgiven for thinking Lampard only just took to the field before he scored his penalty such was his anonymity last night. With Gerrard on the other hand, I myself was convinced must have been brainwashed into thinking he was Croatian. The amount of times he gave the ball away was a joke.

David Beckham's image got him where he is today. There is no denying that. His limitations as a player are clear to see for anyone that truly enjoys the game. He never has, nor ever will be 'World Class'. That said, yet again, in his 45 minute cameo, he was England's biggest threat. An aging star who currently plies his trade in one of the world's worst leagues is still England's most important and most committed player. Sad.

Yesterday's game was awful. The last 10 minutes involved England hoofing the ball up field in the faint hope that Crouch could win it in the air. This is the kind of anti-football that fans HATE to see. You wouldn't see Rochdale or Shrewsbury Town play as badly as England did last night. Credit to Croatia who at times looked a league above England but the fact remains that England aren't as good as people like to think but naturally, people will not acknowledge this and blame game will soon start. The 'too many foreigners' debate will of course arise once more.

But it's not just England. I spent last weekend watching the qualifying games and was left unfulfilled. I also remembered how many of the major tournaments inevitably prove to be a massive anti-climax. Then it dawned on me. International football as a whole just isn't that good or exiting. The quality you see week in, week out, in La Liga, The Premier League or Serie A is far greater than what you see when the so-called World's best meet up every few years. The only reason we get so exited about these tournaments is because of our vested interest in wanting to see England do well. On the whole, International football is very dull and we'll all see that next Summer when we watch the tournament as neutrals.

1 comment:

Amy Downes said...

Thank you for bringing up the state of the pitch, i cant believe the national stadium has such an appalling surface to provide.

In their defence the Ipswich pitch man (we have one of the best pitches in the Championship - if not the country) has said that the last 12 months have been hard because of the rain.

But, as the BBC said today, I'm sure the American football didn't help.

The FA need to get their priorities right, clearly not just because of their choice of manager, but for a number of reasons.