The End of England

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.

18 Replies to “The End of England”

  1. I’ve liked the beanpole from the beginning, but Hargreaves has surprised me. His first WC appearance – was he a sub? – didn’t impress: he did what we were all told not to do at school – he chased the ball, always arriving too late to do much good. But the twice when he started in his preferred position, he was first good and then very good indeed. Carrick, I think, would have been a better bet than Lampard, who has been out-of-form for some months. Gerrard was a surprise disappointment. One weakness, though, is glaring – the thin layer of talent available for selection. Sven took no spare right back, presumably because there wasn’t one worth taking. He presumably also thought that he’d taken the only attackers worth taking. Oof!!

  2. You asked about journalists who have eaten their words about Owen Hargreaves. Oliver Holt of the Mirror did so about a week ago. And it was a fullsome apology – no mealy-mouthed nonsense at all.

    Lampard and Gerrard. Fair point, but isn’t it an implicit criticism of Sven for not having done something about it?

    I can’t help thinking that when your three best players: Owen, Rooney and Beckham, are all absent things are going to get extremely difficult.

    Oh, and we can’t take penalties – even when we practice.

    It’s weird to look at France. At the beginning of the tournament they were even worse than us. They are playing with the same formation. And yet, yesterday, there they were outclassing Brazil. Brazil, for heaven’s sake!

    On my blog I wrote that this was the last time. I only hope I can hold myself to that.

  3. Good stuff as usual. Two questions:

    Why are you so adamant that “no other manager” would have picked Crouch? Wouldn’t Benitez, at least?

    Do you think the press – who clearly you don’t have a high regard for! – actually contributed to England’s defeat/bad performance, and if so how – through pressure on management?

  4. Matthew:
    1. I think I should have said that no other ENGLAND manager would have picked Crouch. Benitez isn’t English, and is very much his own man in other respects. “Crouch signs for the European Champions” trumpeted the front page of When Saturday Comes, and they show Crouch thinking “Well, I was surprised..” Crouch’s good form at Southampton the season prior to his transfer was expected by precisely nobody, and his selection for England was, as you know, regarded as another sign of Sven’s uselessness and desperation.

    I have a very high regard for a significant proportion of the UK sporting press – and something near to contempt for the rest. You may have seen the “Sporting Matters” programme in the Spring on Sky One which puported to be a history of the England managers, but which was really a story by and for the press putting them right at the centre of the story. They DO add to the pressure, but whether they do that more than the Brazilian press or the Italian press, or, latterly, the German press, is open to question. It’s there, but I don’t think it’s the principal operator. Your assumption there is that we’ve seen a high degree of performance anxiety from England in this tournament, and I would agree with that. A talented team, but a very quiet team, especially compared to e.g. ’98 with Tony Adams, Paul Ince and Alan Shearer to name three.

  5. Thanks.

    Do you have any thoughts on penalties? It’s perhaps easy to overstate how bad we are given one team always loses and some countries have a record not dissimilar, but they did seem particularly bad this time.

    I wondered whether the fear of national (press led or not) vilification might mean they were more stressful than for other teams, but then I thought of Germany, who clearly are under similar pressure, and other teams.

    Then I wondered how the statistics for the four major European leagues stack up, but it’s very difficult to find them.

  6. There’s a lot to be said about penalties. 3 points spring to mind directly.
    1. Clive Woodward’s suggestion that they be practiced in some kind of real pressure situation seems to me the right one. I’d like to know what Simon Clifford thinks about it too.
    2. The closest sporting comparison to penalties surely lies in golf. Golf is a sport with a maturing attitude towards the mental side of play, and some modern approaches to e.g. pressure putts might be usefully applied to football.
    3. No harm in asking what passes through the mind of an Alan Shearer, or the German players, as they step up to the spot. The key to success could well be in there somewhere.

    What’s frustrating is that penalties are relatively simple, physically and mentally. Always, always send your penalties the same way – treat them as you would a golf swing. Even if the keeper knows where you are going, he has to get there, which, with proper placement of the shot, is easier said than done. And, ceaseless, ceasless mental rehearsal: see yourself scoring even up against the biggest keeper, the worst pitch, the most hostile fan backdrop. And, remember that missing a penalty is not the worst thing in the world, so there’s no reason not to go for it and no reason not to approach the task with confidence.

    Penalties are part of the modern game, which makes preparation of that kind an essential part of the modern outfield player’s training and toolkit.

  7. 4-4-2 is the problem.
    this system only works when you are the hosts 66,78,98 and you have the crowd as the extra man.

    In football terms its the easiest system to play against, all you do is play an extra mid-fielder and strangle it.

    the Bad news is its the bedrock and the holy grail of the english high tempo, all action game.

    Svens mistake was not to put Lamps on the sub bench, freeing up crouch for the lone striker rolel with roon as the forward midfielder, and HG in the defensive hole 4-1-4-1.

    yep the dreaded diamond!
    Sven was right in euro 04 and the players and the pundits are wrong, still the manager should be on a 2 year rolling contract and as he did not better than QF in 04 as 02, he should have gone then.

    England go thru too few managers!

  8. Sean, I was wondering about Rooney as the attacking midfielder too.

    Having spent some time today musing over the whole midfield experience, the name that keeps cropping up in my mind is Paul Scholes. It’ll never happen, but how does this sound?
    (the usual suspects at back 4)
    Beckham (sub Lennon) Scholes Cole
    Rooney Owen (or Crouch)

    On the other hand, that’s drifting into Champs Manager mode, isn’t it?

  9. James I think the answer to that problem and the quite dressing room problem is Joey Barton.

    So this is my SA 2010 plan, we go into Argentina 1982 mode and make a man out of roon.

    Give him the captaincy (just like maradona in 82 after the WC) and build a whole side around him and to support him…oh and hope his little twinkies keep safe.

  10. >>What’s frustrating is that penalties are relatively simple, physically and mentally.

  11. Argentina 1986, Sean, although that’s not the important point of course.

    Rooney will be 24 in 2010, and quite possibly mature enough for captaincy – people forget that Beckham was 23 when sent off against Argentina, and was considered to have a painfully short fuse for long after that.

    I think the 2010 problems run deeper than some of the plans you can see coming from the press now acknowledge. It took unique focus and effort to win the Rugby World Cup and the Ashes, including effectively removing the relevant players from the club set up for very extended periods. There’s no chance of that kind of sacrifice or focus in English football at the moment, whatever form it would take (inevitably different in kind from the rugby and cricket efforts).

  12. Well its more of less the same as marking becks out in 98 as the future of the team, and building from there…and who knows a little luck and the story would have had a very happy ending.

    And in the same year Fletcher marked out M Vaughan out as the player to build a England cricket side around, did he not?

    I dont think its a question of what the captaincy can do for England, its more what can it do for Roon? We need 11 captains on the field, at the moment Roon is not one of them.

  13. I was thinking about your “unique focus” point.

    I think that was more true in football a few years back, now the game is more globalised its much harder for non-european countries to get a team together than it is for England to do or any other euro nation. thus the playing field is now level.

    If you take the world cup from when it really started in 1950, and exclude the 78 WC due to fascistic interference.

    The countries with the major competetive leagues in the world have done poorly. Spain 0, argentina 1, England 1, Italy 1.

    Compare that to Germany 3 (yes the German league is a strong league, but it lacks the strength in depth of other euro leagues) and Brazil 5 (they have regional championships)

    The nation that has punched well above its weight is France, who could have easily won 82,86 and did so in 98, who also have one of the weaker leagues.

    I think its more a question in football off power, in germany, france and brazil the federations rule, in Italy, England, Spain, Argentina the clubs rule.

    Maybe the FA should enter the transfer market to create Team England?

  14. Yes Sean – and the German Bundesliga didn’t get going until the mid-60s. The Dutch League was very weak – amateur etc. – until the ’60s too.

    It has to cut both ways – a strong league generally means a strong coaching set-up. France created a coaching set-up specifically to boost their national game and reaped the rewards in 1998; Brazil have seen the World Cup as a major issue across the board since before WW2 and were first to really take the issue seriously. But, as you say, a strong league puts the clubs in charge relative to the national team. If England are going to progress, they’re just going to have to find a way around the problem, as we’re going to have one of the top 3 or 4 leagues in Europe here come what may.

  15. Without telling me to sod off and use google, does anyone know how the financial rewards of the World Cup compare for the FA than other things? Is there prize-money? How are the TV receipts split? Was the expenditure on Sven, hotels, WAGs etc commensurate?

  16. THE WINNER of the WC is presumably Sir Alex Foulmouth. He gets Rooney back, almost match-fit and helpfully suspended from international duty for a while. He gets Van Dutchy back uninjured and so of saleable quality. He gets an excuse to sell Ronaldo if he wants to and he presumably gets a chance to pick up some decent Italian players at bargain prices. He sees Newcastle’s great hope on crutches, sees Chelsea’s new Ukranian is no sort of form, and a hint – though no more – that Thierry the Great has peaked. And his sale of Beckham looks vindicated. Not a bad haul.

  17. I know that failure to qualify in 94 reported to cost the FA 20 million quid, so in todays terms I would think it would be at least at the 70 million mark failing to be at germany 2006.

    So Sven has proberbly brought in much more than he has taken out in money by quailification for both euros and world cups alone.

    Would a good team qualify regarless of the coach? I think that would be doutful, we had a good set of players in the seventies and failed to qualify twice.

    Prize money is peanuts compared to sponsorship deals, on going TV rights ect.

    I do belive the winners get 12 million.

    more here, join and copy/paste as the link is too long

    or goggle

    FA prepare to milk World Cup cash cow

  18. Anyone who watches football rather than the team they support would understand that we are not good enough. Lampard & Gerrard have never had a good game together. Lampard is made to look good @ Chelsea by Claude Makele, who has made a career of making others look good. England struggle to string passes together. Loom at Italy last night, the passing is just sublime. We should forget the hype. Our players are over rated and over paid. The system the manager played was and always has been wrong. Beckham has proven to be our only match winner despite his inability to go past anyone. That is a sad indictment in itself as all the chat “he doesn’t need to he’s such a great crosser of the ball” is rubbish. Remember our best recent Manager (Venables) left him out in favour of Anderton or McManaman who both had the ability to go past defenders. A rare talent? Maybe so let’s please bring on Aaron Lennon! I agree with your thoughts on Jermaine Defoe who doesn’t know when to pass or shoot. Greed is destructive. Gilhardino reverse pass for the Del Piero goal last night was just sublime. Making the right decision to Pass or Shoot is the key to winning big matches. So please let’s forget the hype about the great Premier League meaning a great generation of England footballers. The Premier Leagues best teams hardly field and Englishmen and the ones that do are made to look far better by their peers. Chelsea = Lampard & Terry and even maybe Joe Cole are made to look special by Makele, Essien, Gallas & Carvalho (bets on Frank playing all their games this season with Ballack joining?!) – Arsenal = only Ashley Cole gets a game. We need to rebuild and start again! Drop everyone over 26 immediately. Pick a system and then pick the players to fit it and not the other way round. Stop playing palyers out of position! Rooney must pay dropped off a center forward not as a loan striker. Wake up and understand Owen Hargreaves is fitter and more technically gifted than the rest. Pray Ledley King gets fit (our best player after Rooney in the European Champs). Blood young talent like Aaron Lennon. Practice passing & fitness levels. Disallow the WAGS travelling to any event EVER! And please let’s just be more realistic in the future. We are a quarter final nation and need to improve to get further

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