England are out; Thank goodness for that.

As the dust settles on England’s disastrous World Cup campaign so the inquest begins. Finger pointing, wailing and gnashing of teeth is rife amongst the fans, players and the media. In the cold light of day, England were taken to pieces by a far superior side.

Much of the press I have read is centred on the future of Fabio Capello. Should he stay? Should he go? Has he done a good job? Is this mess his fault? Why did our “Golden Generation” fail to shine for him? The journalists seem to be divided on this. Some place all of the blame squarely at Capello’s door, calling him “stubborn” “inflexible” and “dictatorial”. Some claim he has caused England to go backwards and not progress at all. Others blame the players and the English set up, citing our lack of investment in coaching, nurturing youth talent and the attitude and lack of application of the current crop of players. The truth is it is somewhere in the middle.

Capello’s managerial record speaks for itself. He has won multiple championships at Milan, Roma, Madrid and Juventus, both in domestic competitions and European ones. He is, understandably a well-respected and highly thought of manager in the modern game. Many journalists and fans today seem to have forgotten that he guided England to this summer’s tournament through a tricky qualification group with little or no alarm. (Something the previous regime failed to do in a group of similar difficulty.) Up until the finals he had done a faultless job.

At the finals however, England were anything but faultless. An average display against the USA, a woeful showing against Algeria and a workmanlike win against Slovenia before last night’s thrashing were hardly the performances everyone had envisaged.  

Listening to the experts the following conclusions seem to have been drawn as to why England under-achieved: Some say that Capello made some bad choices: Robert Green was nervy and looked out of his depth. Heskey failed to bring out the best in Rooney and looked timid in front of goal.  Capello ignored Joe Cole when the former Chelsea man’s creativity could have unlocked the opposition defences. Theo Walcott and Adam Johnson should have been on the plane. Capello was too stubborn and rigid in persisting with a 4-4-2 formation which did not use Gerrard and Lampard effectively. He should have allowed the players more freedom off the pitch, are just some of the highlights I have heard. Hindsight makes even the most uninterested seem knowledgeable. So I take little stock in some of the advice meted out after the event.

In truth, it is not all the manager’s fault. However, Capello’s perceived stubbornness does not seem to have helped matters. The 4-4-2 system is not what most of the players play at club level and is certainly not geared towards accommodating Lampard and Gerrard, two of England’s most gifted players. England did not look comfortable playing that way, so sticking with it was perhaps a little short sighted. Then again, he used the same system to get England to the finals so you can understand why he felt the need to keep using it. Tournament football is totally different to the qualifying campaign however. The need to constantly change things up and adapt quickly is far more pertinent in the format the World Cup Finals use. Bob Bradley is one example of someone that has earned a lot of praise for his gutsy and innovative approach to coaching with the USA. Bradley made bold changes as early as half an hour in so as to rectify a tactical fault or weakness. Capello seemed content to stick with the same system, changing only the personnel within it. It was some say, akin to trying to eat soup using a fork. Changing only to a slightly bigger fork rather than just using a spoon.  Maybe a change of system might have done the trick; it is something we will never know.

Whilst this is true, Capello has been badly let down by his squad. It is all well and good saying that Adam Johnson and Theo Walcott should have gone, but what would Johnson, untried at this level have given us that Joe Cole couldn’t? What would Walcott have added that Aaron Lennon didn’t already bring to the table? It is fair to say that Capello picked the best squad available to him. The loss of David Beckham was more keenly felt than people before the tournament had predicted. How many free kicks did Lampard and/or Gerrard crash into the wall? How many times did we waste set pieces in promising positions with poor delivery? Far too many is the answer. Perhaps the importance of Beckham’s skill in such situations was vastly underestimated. A classic case of “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” (My thoughts were clear, a long time before the tournament, click here for proof: https://bonerthebrave.wordpress.com/they-think-it%e2%80%99s-all-over-is-it/) This however, was not Capello’s fault.

Capello can prepare his players in the most meticulous way, however, as the old adage goes, once they cross that white line there is little he can do. How can he have known what a poor tournament Wayne Rooney was going to have? How could have know that Lampard’s accuracy in front of goal would desert him to the point of breaking the World Cup record for most shots without scoring? How could he have known that John Terry would wander horribly out of position for two of Germany’s 4 goals? He couldn’t. As I say, Capello can prepare the team to the nth degree, but if they do not perform or do not carry out his instructions, he is limited in how he can change that. Not powerless, but certainly limited.   

Germany’s goals exposed some huge cracks in all of our supposed brightest and best. The first goal was a punt down the middle. John Terry was woefully out of position leaving Matthew Upson one on one with Miroslav Klose. Klose easily outmuscled the West Ham man and rolled the ball home. It was a piece of defending that would not be accepted in a Sunday Parks’ league let alone the second round of the World Cup Finals.  The second goal saw a simple chip into the channel on the right wing, both Terry and Upson drawn out of position, leaving Glen Johnson to come in from right back to cover. Klose takes advantage of the space, finds Podolski who has acres and finishes with ease. The third goal was an England free-kick, Germany break out of defence; the ball is played into the channel, Schhweinsteiger carries it, draws three defenders and rolls it to Muller who finishes. The fourth goal, was another punt into the channel, in spite of a 5 yard head start, Gareth Barry appears to be running in quicksand and is easily outpaced by Ozil who rolls the ball square for Muller to finish. Yes, Germany showed great composure, pace and precision in executing these moves, but you would have to say they have not had to work especially hard for any of these goals. Each and every one involved no more than 3 passes. All were just balls into the channels where the Germans exploited the space afforded to them by England’s tired and brainless defending. A team with aspirations of winning the tournament as England apparently were, should not be conceding goals from three pass moves such as these. England were tired, disorganised and lazy. Schoolboy stuff; It really was.

This group of players is dubbed our “Golden Generation.”  This was English football’s best chance since 1966 of winning the tournament so we’re told. After all, the Premier league is the best league in the world, apparently. The problem with that is that if you look at the top teams over the last few years in the Premier League (and Liverpool too) there is not a lot of English talent playing in the successful teams. Chelsea have Lampard and John Terry, Manchester United have Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick, Liverpool have Gerrard and Jamie Carragher whilst Arsenal have Theo Walcott. Walcott did not even make the squad.  Compare this with the German squad, 14 of them come from the top four teams in last season’s Bundesliga, with further 7 coming from Hamburg and Stuttgart who finished in the top seven. England’s players are for the most part not deemed to be good enough to play in the top sides in their own league, so what chance have they got competing against the best in the world? The style of play in the English league leaves the players technically inferior to their continental opponents. Whereas abroad the emphasis is on keeping the ball and movement to create openings, the English game is about box to box, blood and guts, run all day. There is little emphasis on technique over physical endeavour. The England players give the ball away too much in international football and are left chasing shadows trying to reclaim it. It was little surprise that England were pulled all over the place by simple, quick passes from the Germans.

In actual fact, the state of England’s youth teams is something to be very positive about. The last three age group tournaments have seen England under 17s as winners, and England under 19s and under 21s as finalists.  Hardly a situation to panic about then surely? The problem lies with the Premier League and the opportunities afforded to these players. As stated above, the top teams simply do not give the young players the chances in the first team that they may get elsewhere. The Premier League breeds a culture of success right now. If that means fielding a team of 11 players from different countries, few or none from England, then that’s what the clubs are prepared to do. Unless this culture changes, and the young players are given ample chances in the first teams of big clubs, then England will remain also-rans in international football.

The calls for Capello to quit or be fired are perhaps misguided. Yes he made mistakes but he was also a victim of his players’ lack of application. England has an awful habit of jettisoning people without really thinking about what they are doing. Lest we forget this is the same man who guided England to the finals so comfortably?

To rectify the damage, England needs to take a leaf out of the Germans’ book. Stick with the same coach, but start again. Remove players like James, Carragher, Terry, Lampard, even Gerrard. Bring in players like Hart, Smalling, Young, Agbonlahor, Wilshire, Dawson, Gibbs, and Adam Johnson. A quick look at the German squad shows they have a young side with a smattering of experience, but who have come through the ranks and learnt to play together. This is exactly what England needs to do too.

England also needs to adjust its expectations. The media should not keep proclaiming our team as the best in the world when it is quite obviously not. We need to move away from the culture of building our team up, and then looking to knock them down. I honestly believe, starting with a clean slate, and letting Capello and his team go about their business quietly and effectively is going to be far more effective than bringing in a new coach who will try and coax a better performance out of the same players.

It won’t happen mind you. Capello will get the boot and we’ll end up with someone like Harry Redknapp. God save us all.

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10 Comments

  1. personally I would prefer to see someone like Harry Redknapp given the job, I think its time we went back to an englishman.. Happy Harry looks like the answer!

    Nice blog by the way, I have added your blog to my links.. link exchange?

    http://playwavedon.wordpress.com

    Thanks!

  2. Nice one. Your observations regarding the differences between the Premier League and Bundesliga were especially enlightening. I agree that we stick with Capello – the knee-jerk to an English manager (as if that even matters) will only give us another McClaren scenario. At the same time, the exposure of Mr Capello’s shortcomings will hopefully mean that if he does keep his job he’ll tone down the stubbornness…. and bring Ray Parlour out of retirement 🙂

    AH

  3. Agree with many of your points RB. The media always dramatically overhype our chances and prove ourselves totally unworthy of the ‘potential world cup winners’ tag time after time. Regrettably that is the English media for you.
    I personally think we should have taken Walcott instead of either Wright Phillips or Heskey. He offers something different in that he can play on the wing as well as up front. If you look at most teams that have been successful in this World Cup, almost all have a forward with pace. While Rooney is quick, he does not possess the defence testing pace of Theo (admittedly I am probably biased as an Arsenal fan, but we were very ‘samey’ for much of the tournament and believe he would have offered at least a little variety).
    That said, any point I’ve made above is irrelevant if the formation changes to the 451/433 hybrid formation which just about all the most successful sides play nowadays (even Arsene Wenger, the world’s biggest advocate of 442 has played it this year). Rooney up top with Gerrard playing off him (a la Liverpool with him and Torres) leaving Joe Cole to play at Left Mid, rather than being brought on to play in Gerrards position, and leaving Stevie on the left, I can imagine our scouse captain was tearing his minimal amount of hair out.
    My verdict, too many players playing out of position, ruining the balance of a mediocre team, who were playing the wrong formation. Result….. What was to be expected, get through the group, but not an awful lot further. If asked before the tournament I would have said we’d have made the quarters, but that was based on my assumption the we ought to win our group, no matter how poorly we played. I was proven wrong by our boys in white.

  4. At last someone has not blamed Capello. I was pretty annoyed that most of the papers seemed to call for his resignation, especially when it was he players who let England down!

    I’m no master of sport, but I’m pretty sure that if you don’t mark as a defender the oppo score goals, four of them in this case!

    I was also surprised that none of the tabloids hinted towards the German Italian partnership of the second world war, that’s normally thier level? Then again I don’t read them so I can’t prove this.

    What indeed went wrong, I guess no one will ever know for sure, but as with all things in life someone needs to be blamed, sorry Capello that’s you this time (them not me). So here’s ten million pound for being fired….WHAT!!!

    Good article Boneface, lots of research/knowledge involved there.

  5. Well argued and excellently written, Ross. Found myself nodding through most of that! More than worthy of being re-tweeted!

  6. True enough. I don’t think Capello did himself any favours – there were signs from the outset all wasn’t well in South Africa, the warm-up game against the pub team wasn’t exactly scintillating, and Rooney looked well off the pace in that – but the problems run far, far deeper than that. In truth, England have looked out of their depth against the top teams for a while even under Capello – they’ve been outplayed by Spain, Brazil and France for God’s sake while he’s in charge. Even the win against Germany in Berlin in 2008; Germany were missing a host of regulars and who’s laughing now?
    All England did in qualifying was what was expected; Ukraine are a limited side who’d missed out on EURO 2008 while Croatia had peaked in the run-up to Euro, were still reeling from their elimination against Turkey there and were missing their three best players for mostof qualifying. Hmm. Capello’s got England organised; you need more than that at a World Cup, and England didn’t have it.
    The real problem ahead is that, with a couple of minor exceptions both the squad and the team Capello picked are the ones most people would have chosen. It’s not like there were a plethora of options left at home. The whole nature of English football is outdated; from school age, the tactics are “Give it to the big, strong lad and let him hoof it as far as he can”.
    Still, it’ll all be ok once the Premier League restarts and we’re treated to week after week of Super Soaraway Soccer Sunday from the best league in the world.

  7. I thought the whole idea of having a foreign manager was to inject something a little more exciting, a little more inventive and a little bit more versatile than our usual game of ‘kicking the ball as far as it can go and see what happens’. I hope the FA will keep Fabio for this and for other reasons. Sure, he gets 6m a year, but then again everyone else is overpaid too! We’ve got to give him more time I say.

  8. Oh no! We’re getting shafted by the Germans. We aren’t creating any chances and we desperately need a goal so we don’t get humiliated out of the world cup….

    You’re kidding me. You’re literally kidding me. Emile Heskey? You’re bringing on Emile? Seriously?

  9. If the standard of ‘Arry Redknapp’s ‘tactical insight’ as an ITV pundit is anything to go by then I can only presume that he has an extremely astutue backroom team at Spurs.

    If that saggy faced mug gets the England job I’m going to start supporting Scotland in protest.

  10. Well said Barn, well said. If Droopy Redknapp got the job it would be a huge step backwards I’d say. If the FA were to drop Capello for an Englishman, my choice (albeit predictably) would of course be Hodgson. But since he’s off to Anfield, what is left? I suppose there is one other option, a man who has always had his eye on the international pulse – Ron Atkinson.


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