Archive | June, 2010

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An Enduring Football Myth: The Weight of the Ball

Posted on 26 June 2010 by JamesHamilton

The dry weight of this 1893 ball might actually be less than the dry weight of the new 2010 World Cup ball

The argument over the ball at the 2010 World Cup has brought to the fore, once again, the fact that even otherwise well-informed fans don’t always know the laws of the game.

It is a myth that the modern ball is lighter than the balls used in the past.

Since 1937, the dry weight of the ball has been specified by Law 2: 14-16oz. Prior to that, the rules governing the ball’s dry weight specified something lighter - 13-15oz.

This goes for the new ball used in 2010 just as much as it did for the 1966 ball. Whenever you read a comment along the lines of “I’d like to see modern players heading the leather pudding the ’66 boys had to put up with” you can assume that they don’t know what they’re talking about.

What has changed are (1) the material from which the ball is made, and thus the ability of the ball to avoid weight gain during the game through water absorption, and (2) the aerodynamics of the ball i.e. the smoothness of the surface.

The new ball isn’t lighter in of itself - which is what people seem to be assuming: but the new ball won’t get so wet in play. So in the broad sunshine of the ’66 World Cup Final, the famous orange balls were the same weight as the ones we see today. And so it has been on every dry day, on every dry pitch, since the balls were first standardized in the early 1870s.

Lecture inspired by a comment on Alex Massie’s TNT piece here – because I wasn’t able to comment there. As usual with the sort of places Alex posts at, onerous signing-up procedures loom..

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England v Algeria: Not Fear, But F*** Off

Posted on 19 June 2010 by JamesHamilton

Four years ago, the press wanted an English manager who understood English players and the English culture. They got one. It didn’t work.  Then they wanted the players’ backsides (so arrogant! so wealthy! so.. what that bloke just said!) given a kicking. A disciplinarian – all Capello will now be remembered as – was duly imported, at great expense.

It seemed to “work” for a while. And the sadistic wing of English football journalism thrilled to tales of enforced mealtimes, restricted conjugality and millionaires scrambling for the approval of “Mr Capello.” All that’s forgotten now.

Truth to tell, the press were already tiring of Capello, and the tide had turned against him before the match against the USA. Such was the atmosphere amongst the splendid gentlemen of our broadsheets and redtops that only a series of Croatia-like results could have kept them at bay. I think this difficult start to the World Cup, combined with British reporters’ bleating, churlish desire for more “access” to the manager (and they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to thee this night? bring them out unto us, that we may know them) has most likely ended his tenure.

I have no sympathy with press turnabouts, nor with “fans” who complain about the money they’ve spent to go to South Africa. The latter at least still have the money to spend – they are English, not Icelandic, Greek or Irish or Spanish – and they are, after all, still on holiday. But there is something happening here, with England, and if I’m right, it’s something we’ve not seen with the international team for a decade. I think the players are on psychological strike.

There are three separate but interlinked components to this.

The first is the very discipline and distance that brought England to South Africa in such good style. For Capello, the players-as-pawns strategy is a given. It’s what he’s always done. The principal advantage to the players is its simplicity: as a player,you are to focus on getting your game right, you are responsible for that, and, by and large, your shirt depends on it. During qualifying, English players always had something to play for: it was quite clear what they had to achieve. But I suspect that, unlike the manager, the players saw all this work and discipline as something with a natural end-point. The prize on offer to them was qualification and a recovery of pride after the McClaren debacle, then, that achieved, a place in the squad. And, with a place in the squad achieved, the proper work could begin. The real business of the World Cup would get underway with a squad secure in the knowledge that they had won their coach’s esteem and trust.

It didn’t work that way. The squad arrived in South Africa to find nothing had changed between themselves and their coach. In a sense, the prize wasn’t the World Cup, not at first: what they wanted was the trust of Fabio Capello. But it wasn’t granted them, nor will it be, that trust: the players understand this at an intuitive level. Despite qualifying so well, what they felt was meant to be punishment for the sins of the McClaren era grinds on, with no sign of an end.

The second is best summed up as “Robert Green.” My heart sank when I heard that he’d been dropped. Dropped, indeed, after a week of what amounted to psychological torture from the management team, made worse by gruesome press coverage. Reflect on the patient years Green has spent, never complaining, in working his way up to the no. 1 spot, reflect on the moral courage with which he faced up to what happened last week, reflect on the betrayal of one of the genuinely good guys of an England squad not overloaded with them. (Do all top managers have a goalkeeping blind spot? Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger do, and so it would seem does Capello). I suspect that, to the England squad, Green isn’t a pawn or a keeper needing to prove himself all over again at this climax of his career, but a mate and a colleague, and one who is being ripped apart in public to no purpose, abandoned and humiliated. It could be them next. After Green, what safety and solidarity can there be for this England squad?

The third point relates to the press. When it comes to the hacks, Capello is not Mourinho, or Ferguson, or Wenger, or Clough: he does not seem to see the need to shield his players from the worst of the criticism. The sudden, press-driven intimacy of a World Cup, with every player the subject of remorseless speculation and destabilising criticism, changes the nature of what Capello calls “the group.” It’s no longer something you fight to get into: it’s where you are, inescapably, wagons circled. The dropped – Green, Milner – can’t escape back to their clubs. The underperforming – Rooney – find themselves trapped in the searchlights, ripped by offensive fire. This morning, had Mourinho taken the job, the Special One would be in the most almightly contrived battle with FIFA or the FA, and those searchlights, that fire, would be his and his alone. I say this with reluctance, but I think Capello is using the players as human shields for himself, and David James’ interview, in which England’s fair-minded, intelligent and articulate veteran could scarcely keep the note of contempt out of his voice, shows the result.

All of a sudden, England’s an unhappy camp, and last night’s body language said it as loudly as did the performance. As had some of the comments made by players in the run-up: Terry and Gerrard have lapsed back into McClaren-era declarations that the team can play better than this, into promises that the team know what they have to do, into flat predictions that the next game will put it all right. That tells me that something has fractured: that the trust and belief are gone.

It’s as if only by downing tools as a team, without actually sacrificing the game altogether, could the England squad communicate the depth of their unhappiness to the manager. That’s how I read Rooney’s parting comments:

“Nice to see your own fans booing you. If that’s what loyal support is … for fuck’s sake.”

There’s been no loyal support, not since arriving, not from the fans, from whom it is no longer expected, and not from the manager. Rooney’s come in for criticism for this, but he’s absolutely right. The time for punishment for the past has been over since the squad was announced. Yet it’s gone on regardless, and fan narcissism doesn’t help.

Cast your minds back to the qualification games for the 2000 European Championships. Glenn Hoddle had made an excellent start as England manager. A side built around Adams, Ince and Shearer had come home early from the World Cup, but on the back of the best all-round set of performances since 1970.  The young Manchester United midfield were bedding in, Michael Owen had arrived, and the future looked bright. But, a couple of lacklustre games into Euro 200o qualifying, Hoddle rowed with Alan Shearer, saying “Tell me why you are producing performances like this.”

Shearer replied: “Have you ever thought the problem might be you?”

It’s not pressure. It’s not nerves. It’s not fear. It’s a message to Capello, and it reads f*** off.

Postscript:

All of the above is speculative to a large degree, and were England to go in at half-time 2-0 up over Slovakia, my guess is that a great deal will be forgiven and forgotten. What I mean is: we’ll know by then.

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Slapstick

Posted on 17 June 2010 by JamesHamilton

THAT Pires/Henry penalty

Athletics, cricket and swimming have their blooper reels and ice hockey its fights. But only football has cock-up at its core. Only in football is savage and ridiculous public error key to so many significant moments and germaine to so many results.

That’s down to the random element, of course, and (let’s get it over with) the ball is round. But the slapstick element at the top of the game is in decline. Increased fitness, tactical sophistication and technical ability conspire and the outcome is Portugal v Ivory Coast.

Nevertheless, even this World Cup has had its moments, and can I just say that subsequent first round matches have made England’s performance and result look better and better?

But it’s not England who have impressed me the most. They’re in the second rank, alongside buccaneering Chile, the US (those boxers’ names: Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Clarence Goodson..) and Germany.

No, it’s Brazil I’m admiring – that mix of strong, capable defence, patient midfield and two wild talents up front. So that’s what Robinho is really about.. and it’s good to see a country developing from backwoodsmen into a major sporting power. This Brazil is a mature, rounded squad, tactically and technically capable of taking on the Italys and Spains. Compare the 2010 team’s skill and efficiency with the hapless, ill-disciplined, panic-ridden and gallumphing Brazil of 40 years ago:

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A Sport Blogger’s Reading Habits

Posted on 07 June 2010 by JamesHamilton

A Sport Blogger at His Desk (Shorpy.com)

These are my answers to a fairly random and unserious set of questions, culled from Norm and Tiberius Gracchus. I can’t help thinking that they are most aimed at exactly the kind of reader that I hate most of all – you’ll see what I mean. Nevertheless I’d be very interested to hear your own answers, or answers to whichever of the questions you find interesting, in comments.

Private habits can be revealing. I’m not sure that this particular private habit is. But I’ve done my best.

Do you snack while reading? > It’s more that I don’t really snack per se, but even if I did, most of the books I find myself reading are too large or too delicate or too heavy to leave me a spare hand. I’m one of those people who tries to avoid splitting paperback spines – a hangover from an admired teacher’s advice in primary school – and that’s not something you can do with one hand. (If I’m going to be using a particular paperback heavily, I won’t put off the inevitable – that book gets properly roughed up early on, just to get it over with).

What is your favourite drink while reading? > Coffee, or Coop orange squash in the evenings. I’m not really a pub reader: pubs are for talk, music, friends and people-watching, and anyway, I prefer wine bars. I did get through a Wordsworth £1 “Middlemarch” and a four-pack of Flowers Best Bitter at the same time once, on an overnight ferry to Dieppe. It was as unglamorous as it sounds.

Do you tend to mark your books while you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you? > I worked in libraries for years and just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I have one or two friends who are superb self-footnoters of books (I remember a Louis MacNiece Selected and Lyndall Gordon’s biog of Virginia Woolf which had been made much better for the same person’s pencilled attentions, and then there are the fabled Amis/Larkin scrawls from the 1940s), but in general I’d associate writing in books with nutters and the green ink brigade.

How do you keep your place? Bookmark? Dog-ears? Laying the book open flat? > I keep torn paper slips in a bulldog clip on my desk. Over time I must have owned at least a dozen souvenir leather bookmarks, but they were all gifts and I can’t remember ever having used one in anger. Library call slips are probably the authentic solution, if one exists. But in all truth, unless it’s research and I’m juggling 15-20 books, journals and papers at once, finding my place just isn’t a problem and never has been.

Fiction, non-fiction or both? > Almost entirely non-fiction. Obviously, a lot of non-fiction reading has gone into More Than Mind Games, but my reading’s always been that way. It’s more likely to be poetry than fiction (I follow modern poetry – including journals etc and most of the Bloodaxe/Carcenet/&c. output as it comes out – but poetry I re-read is unlikely to be any later than “High Windows“). Although I buy and read hardback fiction from time to time – most recently Martin Amis’ superb Pregnant Widow – I’ve a gut dislike for the kind of book-lover who reads mostly fiction, “loves books”, jokes lamely about e-readers not catching on, thinks that because they live amidst piles of rotting, unsorted volumes that they are the salt of the earth, the last of a breed, and isn’t it terrible about Iraq?

Do you tend to read to the end of a chapter or can you stop anywhere? > This isn’t really a non-fiction sort of question, is it? Whether or not it stems from my having read Tony Buzan in the ’80s, but I read books backwards, or from the index, or “first and last chapters”, or picture credits first, or jumping in at random, as often as I’ll go straightforwardly from front to back.

Are you the type of person to throw a book across the room or on the floor if the author irritates you? > I have thrown books. David Winner’s “Those Feet” was the last one to get it, a real shoulder-and-elbow job – brought on by his snide, stupid and ill-informed chapter on “Sexy Football”. It’s not a bad book, really – but it is stupid to judge Victorian sexual mores as if Kinnaird and company had penicillin and the pill.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop and look it up right away? > Without being unbearable about it, I don’t really come across unfamiliar words any more. But I do come across words that I’m interested in, and I’ve reference works and a good ISP, so yes, I will stop. The word “fan” is an americanism, for instance, but “soccer” isn’t – it’s been borrowed there and forgotten here. “Fan”, like the idea of a league structure, has its roots in 1860s American baseball.

What are you currently reading? > “The Thirties: an Intimate History” by Juliet Gardiner, “England Expects: a history of the England Football Team” by James Corbett, “Blood, Iron and Gold” by Christian Wolmar, “Does God Hate Women” by Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom, “Towards the Light: the story of the struggles for liberty and rights that made the modern west” by A.C.Grayling, and “Eleven Minutes Late” by Matthew Engel.

What is the last book you bought? > Jonathan Miller’s “States of Mind: Conversations with Psychological Investigators“, found in a Stockbridge charity shop. Raeburn Place in Edinburgh must be one of the best remaining “strips” in the UK for non-fiction second-hand books. I’ve a first edition Kipling that I found in Shelter. Its late-Victorian first owner bowdlerized Gunga Din with spectacular style and humour: Kipling’s later poems are written out in the same hand and pasted in, but there’s been a change of heart, and they’re left unintefered with.

Do you have a favourite time/place to read? > On long-distance trains, late at night. Something about looking up from Gunther Grass to find you’re doing 180mph and heading for Berlin. But I tend to do most of my reading of whatever kind on a bed with the books spread around me, pens, notebooks, paper and laptop at hand, Radio 5 on in the background and, ideally, hot afternoon sun seeping through the curtains.

Do you prefer series books or stand-alones? > Eh? Is this something to do with fiction? If it is, I don’t want to know.

Is there a specific book or author you find yourself recommending over and over? > It used to be “Lucky Jim” by Kingsley Amis and “Right Ho, Jeeves” by Yer Man. But this is the Golden Age of science and sport writing, and could claim to be one for history: there is too much out there at the moment to focus down on just one or two writers. For practical, running-your-life purposes, David Allen’s commonsensical but revelatory “Getting Things Done” has saved my life on more than one occasion.

How do you organize your books (by genre, title, author’s last name, etc.)? > By collections. Antiquarian, Amis/Larkin books and papers, Sport,Psychology, Fine Art, History, Poetry, Reference, Oversize, Bound Serials etc. on a series of mission-style folding bookcases. I keep past notebooks (mix of Moleskines, Rhodias, Filofax pages and latterly BlacknReds), accounting/finance books and the 1912 Boy’s Own Book of Outdoor Sports and Games in my office. In the bathroom, Wodehouse, Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Stephen Fry. There’s a shelf of cookery in the hall. My wife keeps 4-5 shelves of working material for her research, and we’ve a cupboard of boxfiled ephemera (some of it real ephemera, most of it maps and guidebooks). We’re hoping to have everything catalogued on Librarything by the end of the year. Both of us spent 10+ years working in libraries – good places to develop a grouch against the sandal-wearing brigade who love libraries and think they’re terribly important (once something’s become THAT, it’s doomed for sure) – but, like restaurant kitchens, libraries aren’t bad places to pick up a kind of discipline around certain things.

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Review: James Corbett’s “England Expects: A History of the England Football Team”

Posted on 03 June 2010 by JamesHamilton

Steve Bloomer: 19 goals in 23 England Appearances 1895-1907

The first edition of James Corbett’s “England Expects: A History of the England Football Team” has sat somewhere near my desk since about a fortnight after its initial publication. There hadn’t really been a proper full England history before. Of course, there’d been books about England managers - but that’s not quite the same thing, and in any event, by the time Ramsey was appointed, the first proper England manager as we know them, English international football was already 90 years old. So Corbett’s huge red hardback, which combined concise match reporting from the very start, concentrated on players and audience as much as managers, and in sharp, clean prose avoided all of the usual laddish clichees, was extremely welcome.

The second edition is a reillustrated, tightened-up paperback, and it gives a reader confidence when a photograph of Edwardian striking star Steve Bloomer is captioned author’s own collection. For James Corbett, the first half century of international football – 1870-1920 – isn’t the usual source of sneering fun, and his account has none of the usual sense that writers give of waiting for the real business to begin. So this is the best short account of the amateur-versus-professional controversy. The wealthy pioneers like Lord Kinnaird are proper sportsmen, not moustache-twiddling sexual obsessives. Snobbery is not the only reason keeping the Football Association out of FIFA. Professional league football is not the usual unmitigated triumph for the working man. Corbett lets the game grow in its own time and context, and that time and context are assuredly not ours.

Even non-fiction accounts, when done properly, fall into one or another of the seven plots, and there’s an enjoyable debate to be had about which one the England football team follows and at what speed. The usual unconscious pick of football writers is decline, fall, recovery, triumph! fall again, recovery, Gazzamania, and (insert blur of journalism to bring us “up to date”). Corbett avoids this. The inter-war period, badly filmed and so little-known to most fans, is closely covered without distracting references to past and future, making good use of what are actually fairly extensive primary autobiographical sources. The great England side of the war years and after – Lawton, Mannion, Matthews, Finney, Carter and co. – are recorded and celebrated for their own sake, not for that of Hungary and 1953.

Not that 1953 came out of the blue: Corbett incorporates it into a longer account of relative decline after the wartime side broke up, and remarks that the 6-3 defeat itself caused less upset amongst the game’s players and administrators than you might think. 1950-55 was one of a number of the fallow periods that England’s team have passed through – the 1920s, either side of Dixie Dean, was another, and so was 1975-80, and 1991-5. How would the Hungarians of ’53 gotten on against the Byrne-Edwards-Taylor England of 1957, or the Charlton-Greaves England of 1962? England’s recovery after the 1954 World Cup, in both club and international terms, was real enough, and Corbett’s chapter about those sunnier last years of the Winterbottom regime is headed by a fine meditative photo of Stanley Matthews besuited, new holder of the ballon d’or, gazing into the future from the sand dunes at Blackpool.

That future would be one in which England built three separate teams, in the space of twelve years, which were capable of frightening anyone, even the 1970 Brazilians. Three good sides – without revolutions in training, without changes to the league system (save the scrapping of the regional divisions in favour of a national Division Four), and without reform at the FA. Some things had changed: the ’57-58 pre-Munich side were the best nourished in history, thanks to rationing, and, thanks to education reforms and Walter Winterbottom, many of the ’66 and ’70 sides had received proper coaching in good conditions at school at the right age. But the biggest change of all was the ending of committee selection, partially under Winterbottom and finally under Ramsey. Corbett’s long, detailed examination of Ramsey’s construction of the ’66 side against strong and vocal opposition is the deserved highlight of the book. If you want to know what the verrou system is, you’ll have to buy a copy.

What follows ’66 is a kind of flatlining: the endless, exhausting efforts to do it again, to retrieve some footballing self-esteem, all while the game goes on about its own, quite separate business elsewhere. There are ways to make sense of this. It comes back to plot again: and Corbett, confronted by the triumph/disaster dichotomy that night/days its way out of the mouths of fans and journalists, opts instead for theme:

the insatiable burden of expectation facing our footballers and the way they have often been overwhelmed by it..shattered dreams and unyielding expectation (stretching from) origins among the mid-Victorians through to a modern era defined by money, massive egos and chronic underachievement(..) the monstrous expectation.. rears its head again and again and in so many different ways. There is, alas, no happy ending.

But there is happiness along the way. Hudson’s match in 1975 against West Germany; Keegan and Brooking’s attacking 2-0 Wembley win over Italy two years later; the vindication of Bobby Robson and Alan Shearer’s romp in the sunshine against Holland. Before that game, Terry Venables summed it up: “We are inclined to be a nation (which thinks) we are the worst team in the world or the best. Neither is true.”

The final chapters cover England’s progress during what will have been the period of James Corbett’s own writing career. Unlike many journalists, he’s resisted the temptation to place himself at the centre of events, appearing only when doing so adds an essential psychological point (Corbett’s meeting with Steve McClaren six months before the future Eredivisie winner’s England sacking for example). Nor, while writing about the unbearable expectations placed on England, does he overpromote the issue: what keeps us interested, in the end, isn’t expectation, he says, but something lighter and better: hope.

England Expects is fully footnoted and contains a comprehensive bibliography and is published by De Coubertin at £12.99.

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An Ageing England Squad

Posted on 02 June 2010 by JamesHamilton

Mike Adamson, writing in the Guardian, points out that this is the oldest England squad to travel to a finals. It surprises Rob Marrs too. The squad’s average age is 28.7, older than England’s awful nadir squad of 1954. It could have been older. Over at Attacking Soccer, Anthony reminds us that Joe Hart has a real chance to become the youngest keeper to turn out for England at the World Cup. Anthony’s survey of Hart’s predecessors throws up something interesting: at their first Finals, most of England’s keepers have been 27 or 28. But the greatest performances – Banks in 1970, and Shilton twenty years later (plus a mention for David Seaman’s pre-2002 performances, especially Euro 96) – have come from men in their 30s.

It’s interesting too, because one story of the 2010 squad is of goalkeeping decline. No Robinson (aged 30), no Foster (aged 27), no Scott Carson (aged 25), no Chris Kirkland (aged 29). Hart is on the plane aged 23.

Of course, form (Foster), fitness (Kirkland, most regrettably) and luck (Robinson and Carson) account for much of this, and in any case, I’ve not heard any great outcry at England’s failure to pack 7 keepers in the bag. But the squad tells that story nonetheless, and there are others.

Survivors from 1998

For instance, who would have imagined, back in 1998, that no fewer than six of that squad would be plausible selections for the 2010 party? Having won nothing for their country in the meantime? Rio Ferdinand went to France as a young hopeful to gain experience, of course, and this is now his fourth World Cup. But Paul Scholes was sought out by Capello, Beckham is injured, and Gary Neville may have been only another right-back injury away from at least a squad place. Michael Owen is injured, and had he not been, there are those of us who can’t quite see why Defoe would travel in front of him. And then there is Sol Campbell’s extraordinary return to Arsenal, and some fine performances which must have at least brought him up in Capello’s conversation.

In 1998, and even more so in 2002, there was a feeling of youth breaking through: Joe Hart aside, there has been nothing of that this time. Adam Johnson has considerable support amongst both fans and journalists, more than SWP. But put up against the ’98 group of Scholes, Beckham, Owen and, but for injury, a 23-year-old Robbie Fowler, and the class gap becomes more obvious. Johnson is a good player. But no one would argue that he is in that kind of class, at least not yet.

It isn’t a failure of England’s young players. Both the U-21s and U-17s have enjoyed great success recently. Arsene Wenger has spoken warmly of the coming generation, now in their mid teens, and even Trevor Brooking has begun to change his tune. It’s more that for Huddlestone, for Walcott, for Johnson, for Carlton Cole even, 2010 is tangibly too soon. If Capello stays, and rebuilds England in time for 2012, their time will come. Don’t worry for Walcott: take comfort in the criticisms that Joe Cole and Cristiano Ronaldo had at one stage. He’s not the first talent to be accused, when young, of having no game or team awareness.

Unfulfilled Potential

A look at previous squads reveals that even in this most consistent and medal-laden of England cores, there have been drop-outs. What an exciting player Kieron Dyer once was – a match for Lennon and far superior to SWP. And how promising Jermaine Jenas too – possessed of a captain’s temperament and the energy of a Roy Keane. All he had to do, it seemed, was bulk out a little. There are others: Jonathan Woodgate, once considered worthy of a starting place at Real Madrid, but always, heartbreakingly, injured. In an alternative universe, somewhere, he has 80 caps and has partnered King at the heart of the England defence for the best part of six years.

Missing Front Men

And how many strikers – Michael Bridges and Alan Smith stand out, two men who looked the part at first, but were carried away by injury and bad luck as time went by. Dean Ashton, a man in the Alan Shearer mould, never got a chance. There are so many nearly but not quites: genuine Premiership strikers who look just a little lost in a three lions shirt. Will Bobby Zamora be one? Already paid-up members from the post-98 era: Darren Bent, Andy Cole, Kevin Philips, Andy Johnson, Franny Jeffers, David Nugent..

Reasons for optimism

This England squad would do superbly well by reaching a semi-final, but I’d settle for a quarter: Gerrard is already coming out with the “we can play better than this and we will” comments familiar to anyone who followed the 2006 campaign and the 2008 qualifiers. But Capello does seem to know what he’s doing – as has been pointed out elsewhere, Ericksson’s “first half good, second half not so good” has been usefully reversed. The United States will beat England and win the group, but beyond that – not banana skin, more landmine – there are only three teams who are really streets ahead (the two South Americans plus Spain) and if England can avoid them, find form and find goals, they’ve a three-week stay ahead of them.

And there is a story for the manager to tell them. There is still, just about, a narrative here. It’s one more thing that Capello has given England: plot. Once it was that a brilliant European manager would find his talents just a little too young and too soon for 2002, but 2004, 2006… and then 2006 came and went empty, to be followed by a kind of John Major interregnum, a downward spiral, corrosion, chaos. Now there are rumours of one last twist in the story, perhaps even a shot at redemption. Lampard will show his tiny grandkids that Ayia Napa video, chuckle, and say, but let me tell you how it ends..

When Capello was appointed, Micah Richards looked forward to hearing his new ideas for England…

The Passionate Sergeant-Major

After Hoddle, after Ericksson, came the calls for a manager who understood the players, who showed his passion: a traditional man who could motivate the team, a bulldog. And this we learn, like Micah Richards, from Capello: that there are no traditional bulldog managers left in England, that these, like so much else, we now have to buy in from abroad.

For all that, I do owe an apology to those journalists who called for this after Ericksson. They didn’t expect to get what they wanted quite in this manner, and neither did I. But, nevertheless, it does seem to be working, and by working, gives the lie to a lot of what I’ve written here in past seasons. But never mind. Anecdotes from the Capello days, when they finally start to leak out after 2012, will be worth that and more. I hear he won’t let them have tomato ketchup…

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