Archive | Sven Goran Eriksson

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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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World Cup 2006: Significant Injuries

Posted on 01 June 2006 by JamesHamilton

The news that Brazil’s excellent holding midfielder, Edmilson, is out through injury, constitutes the second major blow to the tournament. Wayne Rooney – not entirely out yet, but definitely hampered in making any sort of impact in Germany, was the first.

There are two ways of looking at these things. You can either celebrate the fact that Brazil, the most talented team on show, aren’t going to be as difficult to get past as they might have been, meaning that your own team, whoever they are, will have an easier time of it. Or, you can feel disappointment at losing the prospect of seeing the best team playing at their best.

I take the second position. Neither of Edmilson’s understudies – Mineiro and Arsenal’s Gilberto Silva – are particularly mouth-watering.

But there’s more to it from England’s perspective. England reserve their best performances for their fiercest opponents.

The way I see it, before Eriksson, England used to have three kinds of opponents in football. There were the “minnows”, teams like Cyprus, Luxembourg, Turkey as were. Faced with such opposition, England would be flat-track bullies, and would usually score more than three goals. Then there were what you might regard as the moderate sides, like Sweden, Denmark, Austria. England would often beat these teams, but not by any great distance and with a great deal of huffing and puffing. Finally, there were the “class” sides, Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Italy. Against these teams, England would lose – gallantly, all guns blazing, but lose. All that has changed.

Against what minnows remain, England now try to get a victory with the least possible effort. As we saw in the defeat to Northern Ireland, this can backfire. It’s not lack of enthusiasm for the cause. England have top players across the whole of the team now, who have long and competitive seasons. They pace themselves. Every other class of athlete understands this, but football fans, on the whole, don’t. Against decent, but not top, sides, England will win, but without playing that elusive superb football that we’ve never really seen but Eriksson stands charged of not producing. Against the top sides, England now really produce, and as we have seen recently, win.

So what might it mean for England to come up against a top side, but one weakened significantly by injury?

I worry. I think it takes the whole challenge of facing the very best at their very best to bring out the best in England’s players. This team has a confidence in its own ability that has been lacking in all its predecessors save the great 1970 side. That confidence means that they’ll stand up to Brazil, this time. But if they feel that Brazil is within their competence to too great a degree, will they misjudge the situation and play at too low a level?

If they get it right, I think they’ll win – Brazil are astonishingly good in attack, and Sunderland in defence. And we have one of the great defences in football. We’ll win – if, if.

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World Cup 2006: The Press Have Got It Wrong

Posted on 31 May 2006 by JamesHamilton

Judging by some of the press reports – well summarised by Football365 as “Panic Mode” – on England’s 3-1 victory over Hungary last night, we can more or less forget about our winning in Germany this year. It’s for all the usual “reasons”, most of which I think are bunk:

  1. “Eriksson is an over-cautious manager who doesn’t bring the best out of the players at his disposal.” There’s a lot to say about this, but let’s just look at the cautious manager who is the first in living memory not to ignore our most skilful players because of their lack of work rate, who introduced Rooney at the age of 17 and brought in Ashley Cole after a mere handful of Premiership appearances. The same one who beat Argentina in a competitive World Cup Finals match with a team lacking Gary Neville, Steven Gerrard, any kind of proper left-sided player at all, plus injury-hobbled versions of Owen and Beckham.
  2. “Eriksson’s substitutions aren’t daring enough to win matches”. This makes the assumption that there are coaches out there who are doing exactly that on a regular basis. Apparently, Scolari did this against England and won the match – “boldly” substituting Figo because, “unlike Eriksson”, he “isn’t afraid of big-name players”. No, Scolari “won” the match with a deal of good fortune – namely, a good disallowed goal, the loss of Rooney, and penalties. Frankly, there’s only so much a coach can do with substitutions – he can’t guarantee that the player he sends on will do what he wants, he can’t account for what the other coach will do, and there are only so many replacements he can make. Shouting from the touchline is tricky, too, for all that our journos put such importance upon it. For one thing – you just can’t be heard above the crowd. Players who aren’t close to you have to take what you’re saying from other players – ever heard of Chinese Whispers? – and, of course, they have to understand you.
  3. “With only one more practice game before the World Cup, we’re still looking for answers”. Actually, most World Cup winners continue to do this long into the tournament itself. I’m going to devote the rest of this piece to some examples of what I mean:
  • Geoff Hurst made his debut for England in February 1966. He played in the Quarter Final against Argentina because of an injury to Jimmy Greaves. Hurst scored in that game, but it was goals from midfield in the next match against Portugal – a brace by Bobby Charlton – that got England to the Final.
  • Italy last won the World Cup in 1982, famously due to the goals of Paolo Rossi, who had been recalled to the team late in the day after two years out of football. Italy drew all three of their group matches, reaching the next round only on goal difference. Rossi didn’t score in any of those games.
  • Germany’s second World Cup win came when they last hosted the tournament in 1974. In their group matches, they were well beaten by East Germany, and struggled to beat both Australia and Chile. The German training camp, a virtual fortress owing to threats from terrorist groups, was riven by disputes over money and at one point the manager, Helmut Schon, threatened to send the entire squad home and play with a second string side.
  • Argentina – winners in 1986 – played only three teams of any quality to lift the trophy, and possessed only one world class player in Maradona. Against Italy in the group stages, they could only draw 1-1; against England, they failed to score until halfway through the second half and even then only through the most famous non-goal in the tournament’s history. Even in the Final itself, against Germany, they let go a 2-0 lead (and let’s hope this year’s Final is anywhere near as good as that one).
  • I don’t need to point this out, but Brazil in 2002 were poor, and were lucky to meet England’s string-and-sellotape side in the heat of the day. The other sides they met in that tournament included Turkey, twice (who were unlucky to lose, twice!) China, Costa Rica, and Belgium. Compare England’s fortune in facing Sweden, Nigeria, Argentina and, of course, Brazil. In terms of the quality of teams at that tournament, it’s arguable that without the match against England, Brazil would have had no proper test at all, and you might well regard that game as the tournament’s true Final.
  • France, in 1998, had a superb team, coming into its own, but a coach who the press didn’t trust with the job. And indeed, after cruising their group games (in spite of Zidane’s red card against Saudi Arabia) France squeezed through only on penalties against Italy, and came through – just! 2-1 against Croatia, not really having had the best of the game in any sense.
  • In 1994, the story is all about Italy, losers on penalties in the worst World Cup Final ever. In their group, they finished THIRD, having lost to the Republic of Ireland and only drawn against Mexico. Only a late Baggio goal got them past Spain; in the semi-final, they might have been pleased to meet Stoichov’s Bulgaria, but after running up an early lead (shades of England-Portugal in Euro 2000) spent most of the game under siege.

The point I’m making here is that teams never cruise World Cups – and the winners never go into them with everything neatly planned out. The tournament is always a chapter of accidents, and the new, longer-format tournaments even more so.

I can see no teams who are coming into these Finals in better shape, or with things more settled. Even Brazil. Their astonishing forward line is there right enough, but once you get past them, the remaining five outfield players are deeply inferior to their English counterparts.

The press have it wrong. We won last night, with ease, and Crouch scored a first-class goal to go with that other first-out-of-the-balloon candidate, Beckham, who was fantastic. This might still be our year.

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Talking About Sven

Posted on 06 April 2006 by JamesHamilton

In the end, I spent two hours being interviewed to camera by the team from Mentorn TV for their forthcoming drama-documentary “The Real Sven.” Although some of the questions referred to the points I’d raised in my earlier interview, there were new ones that were to do with the Sven outside football – his love life, his financial dealings and so on. I’m not especially exercised by his pay packet, or by his choice of wives and girlfriends – there are things like that, at whatever scale, on every street. So I was in the position of trying to find things to say.

That’s when you start to say things for the sake of having to open your mouth and allow sounds to come out. You can just feel the bullshit forming up behind your teeth, ready to make a break.

Part of my confusion came from Beckham’s admission the previous day that he was suffering from OCD. This totally upset the profile of the man I’d drawn up for the programme, and blew my ideas about his relationship with Sven sky high. So everything I say on the subject, should it make it onto the screen, is off the cuff.

I get the impression that the production team doesn’t like Sven. I do, and I regret his being forced out of the job for all that he’s said himself that he’s happier in club football with its day to day involvement. I don’t think there’s an English candidate who will be as good as Sven has been, although Sam Allardyce could prove me wrong – neither do I think that any of the foreign alternatives promise as much, pace Martin O’Neill.

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Sven, England, And The English Game

Posted on 29 March 2006 by JamesHamilton

For the thirty-one years that divided England’s narrow loss to Brazil in the 1970 World Cup Finals and the 5-1 victory over Germany in Munich, there were three kinds of England international. The first kind were against minnows, nations with little football history or few players to call upon. England almost always won these matches handsomely. The second kind were against established football nations, perhaps without England’s deep well of talent, but well-coached and eager to show what they could do. These were usually close games, with little glory in victory for England and only ignominy in defeat. Finally, there were the games against serious opposition – the Italys, Germanys, Argentinas and Brazils. Regardless of performance, it was unusual for England to come away from these as winners.

These days, there are four types of opponent. The minnows, against whom England win narrowly after a demotivated struggle; the reasonable opponents, whom England will beat by two or more goals; the serious opponents, whom England now outplay; and Brazil, who beat us. This is change, at a deep level, change – against better opponents at least – for the better. It’s not been a matter of our having superior players these days – are the current crop really better than the Waddles, Gascoignes, Robsons, Beardsleys, Linekers, Shearers, Butchers, Walkers, Brookings, etc. of earlier years? There’s Rooney, of course, but then there’s also England’s manager to account for this improvement.

What kind of man is Sven Goran Eriksson? You’d be hard put to answer that question if all you had to rely upon was the British media, whose reply – “Foreign – ” says more about them that it does about the man himself. Fortunately, there have been a few writers willing to venture into the strange unknown worlds beyond parochialism and bigotry, and they all begin by discussing the calmness of Sven, his unflappability under pressure. Sven himself would explain this in terms of his upbringing, which taught him not to worry about those things beyond his control, an awareness he shares with Jose Mourinho. He’s very well-dressed – uncommon in Britain, and impressive to modern image-conscious footballers. He is by his own description “willing to fail”, meaning that he can fail at what he wants to do without he himself becoming “a failure”, another point of comparison with Mourinho. Sven has two loves in his life – an obsession with sport, and a deep attachment to Italy, a country he longed to perform in as a player and where he was happiest as a man and as a coach. The British find his calm difficult to comprehend without seeing it as some kind of facade – so, behind the facade, is a thrill-seeker, a ski-jumper in his youth, a romantic still chasing fortune and glory in football when other men with his money and achievements would have settled for the peace of the golf course. His temptestuous love-life – the very fact that he can pull – brings him closer to his players and further away from British journalists. He is an excellent communicator, and has an acute eye for detail – two more Mourinho attributes that Sven has,  and which are characteristic of great coaches. Overall, I get a picture of Sven as a very unBritish individual – he’s not one of our football men at all, this smart lover of women and fortune and glory, with his cool self-control – and he doesn’t need our good opinion, that’s for sure. But he has the good opinion of his squad, and it’s worth asking why.

On the whole, footballers need three things from their coach in order to thrive. Certainty – knowing what is expected, precisely and simply and when, nothing too complicated, expecially when it comes to tactics and team selection. Security – knowing they are valued and have a part to play, knowing that their coach rates them. Thirdly, they are looking for the chance to improve and win things, caps and trophies. Sven has gone some way in overcoming the difficulty of providing these things within the limited sphere of international football by running England as a little club, with a settled side, hard to get into, hard to get out of. The line-up against Germany in 2001 is essentially the same one as will, with luck, start the World Cup this summer (substitute Rooney for Heskey, Cole for Scholes, Robinson for Seaman and Lampard for Barmby and that’s it, in five years). Within the little club, Sven has set out to create what he calls a “winning mentality”. This is a long-term project.

There are three parts to this “winning mentality”, and the first is the simple desire to win. It goes without saying, really. Virtually all players have this, and quite a few non-players too – if you or I were handed an England shirt, we’d probably want to win and do our best to that end. The next stage, however, consists of the simple, straightforward belief that victory is at least possible. Euro 2004 was the first tournament England went into with the genuine belief that they were up to the task, since Mexico 1970, and they were right both times. Practically every member of Sven’s core England side know without question that they are able to cope with playing at the very highest level and know that they are probably good enough to make winning a decent prospect. Great players don’t always share this attitude – Tony Currie, the wonderful Sheffield United midfielder of the 1970s, frequently lost confidence in his own ability, whereas an Owen or a Gerrard will still bet on themselves after a dozen consecutive errors. The final stage is that of feeling comfortable as a winner, of being congruent with it, expecting it, experiencing no dissonance with it. This stage has caused winning English teams terrible trouble in recent years. Both the rugby and cricket teams have achieved on the grand scale, only to revert to their accustomed mediocrity once the achievement was safely behind them. Winning really takes it out of us, creating a kind of mental exhaustion that Australian cricketers wouldn’t begin to recognise. We don’t, as a nation, feel like winners, nor do we like accustomed winners very much. There aren’t that many of them in football per se – Sven talks of Roberto Mancini and Sinisa Mihajlovic within that category, and you might add Zidane and Ronaldinho to the list. I can’t think of anyone in the core England lineup, with the possible exception of John Terry, who might qualify. But for England to possess an entire side who are at least at the second level is a novelty in itself.

Choosing players who have that belief that winning is at possible – that it is doable – is one part of building the mentality across the squad. Sven sees such confidence as catching – which I think is arguable, frankly. He also sets great store by a harmonious squad – one in which conflict is kept to a minimum. He looks for a squad in which  everyone understands the goals of the group, and everyone subscribes to the goals of the group. Once again, the benefits of this are arguable. Pursuit of the harmonious squad has probably led to the exclusion of as good a player as Robbie Fowler, and in any case, there is little evidence that harmony outdoes discord at World Cups – in 1974, the final was contested by two camps absolutely ridden with internal dissent and failures of discipline. Some discord can provide that distraction from the matter at hand that relieves performance pressure from players, freeing them to produce their best game.

Sven, like most great coaches, is careful not to be too close to his squad. Like Robson before him, Sven has been accused of giving in to player power. It’s a good story. But the evidence of “player power” – the settled squad, Beckham’s retention as skipper – are products of the press’s imagination. We’ve dealt with the settled squad, and, in truth, even Sven’s hardest critics would be pressed to improve upon it. Beckham deserves lengthier consideration.

David Beckham wasn’t made captain by Sven – that was done by Peter Taylor, who, in his one game as caretaker manager, decided to blood young players and gave Beckham the armband both as a tribute to his recovery from France ’98 and because he was the most experienced young player of the day. Sven kept him on as captain, and has used Michael Owen as back-up on his occasional absences through injury and suspension. That in itself tells me that Sven doesn’t see the captain as a kind of inspirational mini-me representing him out on the field. Rather, the captain stands for the kind of atmosphere Sven wants around the team – calm, professional, good enough to succeed on merit, not having to win against the odds.

Beckham might just need the captaincy to get the best out of himself. Unlike a Scholes or a Barmby, Beckham seems to want the intense attention he receives, not because it raises the stakes for him especially, but – psychobabble alert – because he needs outside confirmation of his own significance in order to perform. He needs some form of sign that people know he is there, that he matters to what’s going on. The captaincy is reassuring for him in that respect. Beckham, like Eriksson, is a risktaker – going to Real Madrid to see if he could match the Zidanes and Figos, or, for instance, that halfway line kick against Wimbledon, or taking the last free kick against Greece, or his persisting with England penalty duty after repeated failure. But he is not the calm, control-aware kind of man that Erickson is, nor is Erickson a father figure to him. Rather, Beckham is the most team-orientated member of the squad, buying completely into the goals and ethos of the group Eriksson has built. If Eriksson’s intelligence is sometimes overrated, Beckham’s is always horrendously downplayed. As such, Beckham – and in the same respects, Owen – well repesents the cosmopolitan, sophisticated and accomplished team that is England today.

I’d describe Sven as having pursued an anti-England agenda, in that he’s had to eliminate from his squad as far as he can some of those very English characteristics that were holding England’s always talented players from achieving their due. Three words sum up what he stands against.

The first of these is Passion. Passion – the ranting, heart-on-sleeve, veins-on-forehead approach to football, is much loved in England. But it’s counterproductive. It doesn’t work. Why, if you wouldn’t expect shouting to get more from Bjorn Borg or Tiger Woods or Matthew Pinsent, do you think it might make all the difference in Darius Vassell, who at the end of the day is just an athlete playing a sport? Why look to Churchillian rhetoric, when the (successful) England rugby team actually chose quiet and concentration at half time, instead of shouting? A tight game is a hysterical situation enough on its own without the coach adding an extra layer on his own account. What a Clough worked towards was distracting his players from the occasion, not ramming it down their throats, because he knew – and Erickson knows – that raising the temperature is only going to increase performance anxiety and fear of failure. It’s not going to raise your or anyone else’s game. Passion is the resort of those who know that their skill isn’t up to the job, who know that they aren’t going to win, but are going to “do their best” (they probably won’t, because they’ll be too het up). Passion can blind a team to their true quality. In this season’s FA Cup, Luton Town built up a lead over Liverpool by playing cultured, passing football – but, shocked by this turn of events, they resorted to headless chicken “passionate” football and threw it all needlessly away, when calmness would have won the match.

The second of these words is “tricks”, the English word for an excellent level of ball skill. Only a certain level of skill is truly acceptable to the English, and anything beyond that is either supernatural or dishonest. Or the result of “natural rhythm”: it took Simon Clifford to go to Brazil and discover that the secret of their success wasn’t samba and beach football, but superb coaching and high standards. We still haven’t properly heard what he has to say – his treatment at Southampton was a disgrace. It’s OK for a British player to lose the ball through ineptitude, lack of technique or clumsiness – but if he dare lose possession because he was using his skills then he is to be condemned as a “show pony”. That’s not the same as saying that the Joe Coles don’t need to learn to work for the team, because they do. That’s something all players have to learn. And it’s not saying that fans don’t love their genius-level players – because the fans know better than the coaches in this regard.

The third phrase is “mind games”. It’s disreputable in the English game to recognise that there is a mental side to playing football. Not so in athletics, or golf, or tennis, or rowing, or rugby. Clough, Paisley and Shankly knew. But those were intelligent men, who knew that they did more than “kick one up the backside, put an arm around the other’s shoulder”. Although some part of the poor reputation psychology in football “enjoys” is down to the childish interchanges between Ferguson and Wenger, for instance,  there’s some of the same suspicion here that gets shown to skill.

If only proper mental preparation – of the kind Clough promised were he given the England job – be allied with our existing teamwork, and with excellent ball skills – England could succeed. No more “Do I not like thats”, no more where-do-we-fit-Hoddle-Waddle-Le Tissier-into-the-team. Remember the spectacle of the most skilled England players not being picked because the coach didn’t know what to do with such ability. It was a big issue only ten years ago. It’s been thirty years since Ramsey’s England played Brazil in 1970 and matched them with a sophisticated, mature, aware and exciting performance: now, once more, England are on a level with the very best in the world.

This is an England team that has learned to pace itself across a tournament. After leading Portugal, England suffered injuries, and fell behind – only to demonstrate the ability to change the pace and course of the game. Only a tight refereeing decision, and bad luck in the penalty shootout, prevented an English victory that would surely have been followed by victory in the tournament as a whole. That an England team shouldn’t play flat-out all the time may be anathema to watching journalists, but the same strategy won world cups for Italy, Argentina and France in previous tournaments. In 2002, England were reduced by injuries and sapping heat, but even more so by their own beliefs that they would never beat Brazil; that negativity may well be gone now if the performances against Argentina and Uruguay are anything to go by.

It was odd enough winning the Rugby World Cup – even wierder to carry off the Ashes. Something wrong here.. so it’s just as well that the coach who has brought English football to this point is leaving in the summer. To be replaced, perhaps, by someone more in the Churchillian mode.

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