Archive | Luiz Felipe Scolari

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The End of England

Posted on 02 July 2006 by JamesHamilton

Before I start my post-mortem, spare a moment for the British press.

  • They didn’t want Owen Hargreaves. Will any of them now admit their error, or will they fall back on saying that he’s “won over the fans”?
  • They didn’t want Crouch. And no other manager besides Sven would ever have picked him. Or stuck by him. Will any of them now admit their error, or will they fall back on saying that he’s “won over the fans”?

I could go on, but I won’t.

No team has a right to win any tournament, nor do omens count. Luck has a major part to play, as Argentina will attest. Here are the reasons for England’s defeat last night:

  • It’s not that the central midfield – Lampard and Gerrard – failed to play together; they failed to play at all. Hargreaves – allegedly in the holding position – took on the Portuguese last night; his team mates didn’t, and haven’t all the way through. Gerrard’s very obvious angling for the glory goal in the last part of the match instead of finding a better-placed team mate said everything about why he’s considered such a hero: it’s Flashman heroism. Lampard simply fell short altogether – I suspect both mentally and physically very tired after two quite astonishing seasons. Every man has his limits. That Gerrard and Lampard fluffed their penalties isn’t really to do with anything else, but was of a type with everything else that they’d come up with. I agree with Sven – two such good players should be able to work it out between themselves. So, ego on the one hand, exhaustion on the other.
  • The injuries to Rooney and Owen were decisive. It’s something of a myth that there are scores of international-ready strikers whom Sven might have taken, and I feel that the criticism he took on this account was harsh. This is especially so when you consider Crouch, of whom more anon. The most obvious candidate, Jermaine Defoe, is not a team player, and not necessarily someone you want in your camp over the course of a tournament – the same consideration, allegedly, that did for Robbie Fowler. But Fowler had a good international scoring record; Defoe’s is some way short of Crouch’s, and of the two it’s clear who has the big match temperament. So, injuries to Rooney and Owen were always going to be catastrophic. Imagine Brazil without Ronaldo (who, overweight, still outperformed every other Brazilian in the end) or Ronaldinho, or, in England’s case, both. I feel that the referee handlied the Rooney thing badly – failing to whistle at all during the long physical assault on Rooney by three Portuguese players, then applying the law to what might have been an accidental stamp in the most draconian way. He’d also failed to give England a cast-iron penalty – but otherwise, I felt he had as good a night as might be expected in such a difficult match.
  • The draw didn’t suit England – just as Brazil’s relatively straightforward one didn’t suit them. “Easy paths” just aren’t for us – I felt sick when I saw who we’d been given in the first round. England respond to challenges – we are better off by far in a group of death. As it was, we arrived at Portugal having – as someone wisely said – played four meaningless friendlies. After Rooney’s sending-off, suddenly the challenge rose to the team’s level, and, with the exception of Lampard and Gerrard, we played.

Before the game, Jose Mourinho said that whoever lost could go home knowing that they’d lost to a good side. That was kind, but in all truth Portugal were very lucky last night – only Simao showed any real endeavour, and for all the passing around our penalty area late on, it was very apparent that no one in the Portugal team had any idea what to do with the possession they were receiving. Penalties were a minefield for us, but they were Portugal’s best hope.

England’s Players of the Tournament

  • Owen Hargreaves. I wonder how many of the wise men of the press will issue mea culpas today? I suspect none – they’ll act as though it was only a matter of the fans not seeing what they’d seen all along (and mysteriously not written about..) He put Lampard and Gerrard to shame. Without a fixed place in the side, he performed well every time, making a mockery of the more famous midfield pairing’s behaviour.
  • Peter Crouch. No other manager would have picked him, let alone taken him over and above Defoe. I doubt he’ll play much for England in future. But he was magnificent when called upon – one glaring miss, that was played up because his name wasn’t Owen, but otherwise an excellent goals-to games ratio, huge contribution to the team, and forty minutes last night that rose above even that.
  • David Beckham. It’s now clear that nothing he can do will win him back the press, but given the press’s “success” at predicting the performance of my first two players of the tournament, that can’t really be a problem any more. Remind me of Lampard and Gerrard’s joint goals-and-assists total, then place it next to Beckham’s.

In the context of history

Sven will now be a villain in English football history. The man who squandered the golden generation. It’ll be nonsense – and as we pass from the recent era of relative optimism to four or more years of real mediocrity rather than the imagined kind, there’ll be the odd member of the press pack who’ll look back.

This will be a time of might-have-beens. With more luck, and we have not been lucky, we might now be looking at two World Cups and one European Championship. Without the luck, but with a bit more from the centre of the park, we might have been looking at two World Cups and one European Championship.

The consistency with previous failures is there – the failure to push up, to defend too deeply, is still, infuriatingly, there, and it’s been there for the whole of my adult life. And the failure of great players to get a grip – something Hargreaves’ second coming last night illustrated all too well. If he can do it.. but that question won’t be answered now.

We’ve gone out of the best World Cup of the modern era, thank heavens. That deserves to be remembered.

What Now?

You have your English coach now. Not the one you wanted – the English coach you preferred was Scolari, or O’Neill, of course, or failing that, Mr. Tomlinson. But may you enjoy the extra patriotism that we had under Keegan, under Taylor, under Robson when we failed to qualify for the 1984 European Championship, under Hoddle in the early stages of the Euro 2000 qualifiers… no doubt that will prove the missing part of the jigsaw.

You can also look forward to the end of selection consistency and the appropriate promotion of players to the international scene. Here is the team who played Germany in Munich in 2001:

Seaman: Neville Campbell Ferdinand Cole: Barmby Gerrard Scholes Beckham: Heskey Owen

Now here’s the “ideal” England lineup that we never quite achieved at this tournament:

Robinson: Nevill Terry Ferdinand Cole: Cole Gerrard Lampard Beckham: Rooney Owen

The changes can be accounted for thus: Seaman retired; Campbell, in the squad but form affected; Barmby, effectively retired (chose to play for Hull City for personal reasons); Scholes retired, and injured for much of the season anyway; Heskey, form.

In short, one change over five years because of form. Compare that to “English” managers Revie and Taylor.

You can look forward no more to the early introduction to the international scene of players who are young but good enough. Compare Hoddle’s treatment of Michael Owen to Erickson’s treatment of Ashley Cole, Rooney, Joe Cole, Stewart Downing, Aaron Lennon and now Theo Walcott.

It’s back to being the underdog again. It’s what the press secretly prefer. With a few exceptions – the usual ones (the names Henry Winter, Jim White and Simon Barnes spring to mind, although not Patrick Barclay this time) – the press just don’t seem intelligent enough to handle our team being front-runners. Where, incidentally, were the “brave substitutions” from Scolari last night that were going to turn the game? Sven’s were better, weren’t they? Well?
All this is rather sour, and I’d prefer to end on a different note. This is still a magnificent World Cup – and the match between France and Brazil last night worthy of any. I feared that Domenech was committing suicide for his excellent side with crazy substitutions, but France pulled through regardless. It’s a magnificent World Cup, and there are still 4 games to look forward to.

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Histrionics, Hair Gel.. and a Quarter Final From Hell

Posted on 27 June 2006 by JamesHamilton

You’d have asked for anyone save Portugal.

It’s one for the remaining band who believe that the lesser the opposition, the better our chances. For the rest of us, we can only hope that England stir themselves, and trust in something more interesting for the semi-final.

Brace yourselves for a week of the following stories on the back page, none of which are likely to do anything other than sour your day:

  • “Big Phil” would have dropped Beckham
  • “Big Phil” has “outthought” Eriksson twice: will he do it again?
  • “Big Phil” could teach Eriksson a thing or two about substitutions and inspiring his players (we’ll forget about Portugal’s lack of penetration against a weak Dutch side, and the way Scolari’s players lost their discipline completely in the second half..
  • Various comparisons between Scolari and Steve McClaren, all of which will run in Scolari’s favour
  • Eriksson should drop Beckham/Hargreaves/Robinson!!/Terry/anyone else, but won’t because he lacks the football knowledge and nous of the sweating tabloid hack in question.

It’s going to be a horribly ugly game, in what has suddenly become an ugly World Cup – Wimbledon can’t come soon enough.

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Scolari Pulls Out

Posted on 28 April 2006 by JamesHamilton

As of 2030hrs this evening, it looks very much as though the winner of the England management race has taken a look at his prize and handed it back. In his statement, Scolari gave prominence to the presence of 20 journalists outside his home. The intrusion and press interest that go with the job took him by surprise, and are a part of English culture that he wants nothing of. Two things spring to mind.

Scolari’s ability to put up with the press has been one of his main selling points on the part of that section of the press that thought he was a good idea. Unlike his fragile predecessors, the no-nonsense, ego-disrespecting Scolari would just brush it all aside, ignoring the press when it suited him to do so. Well, that all turns out to be projection. The real Scolari, understandably, hates the pressure.

Secondly, this is all very unfortunate. For my thesis on England coaching, I mean. The recent Sports Matters programme on Sky One about the number one job focussed almost exclusively on the nature of the manager’s relationship with the press. I thought then that this was self-importance on the media’s part. I can’t say that this time. They are right at the centre of the story, and it’s a media story more than a purely sporting one.

Scolari’s withdrawal leaves a terrible mess in its wake. Now, the next coach will be British, probably English, and whoever it is will know that they weren’t first choice and don’t enjoy the FA’s unabashed support. That insecurity will run right through their tenure. You’d need a crystal ball to see where it’ll all end up, but it’s not the best way to start, is it?
The best option isn’t obvious. They could wait until Boro bring back the UEFA Cup, giving themselves the chance to appoint McClaren by acclamation. They could give Sam Allardyce the job on the grounds that he actually wants it – and, crucially, has a crystal-clear idea of his own coaching limitations; Allardyce is a man who will bring in whatever expertise he himself lacks. They could even cut the knot by giving Alan Curbishley the new challenge he so obviously desires.

At least it’s an end to all the talk about how brave, his-own-man Scolari would drop Beckham/Owen/Lampard/Gerrard/other according to form. (I doubt he’d have done anything of the kind, and all we’re seeing in this kind of coverage is yet more projection). The players deserve better than that, in the run-up to the World Cup, especially Beckham, who is currently playing the football of his life only to be told repeatedly that he’s past it.

Every cloud.

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Scolari For England?

Posted on 26 April 2006 by JamesHamilton

If these stories are true, then the decision is made and we’re only waiting for the candidate to sign on the dotted line:

The development represents a remarkable shift in the FA’s thinking over the past few weeks, with the Portugal manager’s candidacy only gaining genuine credibility among the selection panel with the belated co-option of David Dein as its fourth member. It is understood that the group, comprising Dein, Barwick, the international committee chairman Noel White and the Premier League’s FA board representative Dave Richards, remains divided over who should be approached.

However, that did not prevent the panel reaching sufficiently broad consensus to proceed with an informal offer to Scolari and he will be recommended to next Thursday’s full FA board meeting as the man who should become Sven-Goran Eriksson’s successor. Though some members of the panel would prefer an English coach, they saw the evidence of Scolari’s managerial record as compelling.

And in that, I think they are wrong.

There has been a big forgetting about just how ordinary Brazil were in the 2002 World Cup – it was that ordinariness that was one of the drivers of England’s optimism despite the absence from the squad of Neville and Gerrard, the injuries to Beckham and Owen, and our lack of a left-sided midfielder. That the men in sunshine yellow came through was purely psychological on our part – our England team, very capable of winning, believed that they could not and acted accordingly, a belief helped along by the mind-sapping heat, a factor Erickson forsaw in his book “On Football”.

In Portugal, Scolari had the home team to manage, and furthermore had the home team’s “Golden Generation” of players. England showed in that quarter-final that they were capable of pacing themselves as a team – that, if necessary, as it became necessary, they could raise the tempo and take control of the match. I am one of those who sees Scolari’s famed substitutions not as Mourinho-style tactical switches, but as panicked decisions blessed by outrageous fortune. If you don’t think that England’s luck deserted them that afternoon, then consider the injury to Rooney, the disallowed goal, the mad penalty spot from which Beckham missed, and think again.

And, finally, think on this – how would Sven be viewed in England today if, instead of losing to Portugal in one of England’s typical epic defeats, we’d gone down to Greece in the Final?

For all of that, if Scolari accepts, two good things remain true. The bigots and little-Englanders will have lost. And three potentially-good coaches, McClaren, Curbishley and Allardyce, will have more time to acquire the top posts in club football that their talents deserve. I think there’s a real chance that we are about to see the first great era of English football coaching, and that Sven’s departure has just come a little early. Think how few there have been of the very best quality – Ramsey, of course, Clough, Revie perhaps, Robson, Mercer and Paisley at club level certainly – in the last forty years. All of the others – at Liverpool, at Manchester United, at Arsenal, have been Scots: Busby, Shankly, Dalglish (?), Graham, Ferguson; lately, Wenger.

It’s well known that the reason why we’re suddenly seeing so many English players with a high technical level of skill, why the gap between the lower leagues and the top is closing, why the current England team would waltz around the 75-98 teams, is because Howard Wilkinson pulled our national coaching set-up together. We’ve closed the gap on France, Spain, Germany and the rest. Less thought about is what happens when you improve the training for coaches. But we’ve done that as well. And it’s about to feed through.

Sven’s departure’s come too soon. But, for England football management, the great days may be just around the corner. Watch this space.

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