England 1 Germany 4
Who’s to blame?
Let’s look at the candidates.
1. Media Pressure
England players are afraid to wear the shirt. The sight of Gerrard, Lampard, and Rooney in club colours is a very different one from the site of said players with three lions on their breast. Our media loves to lead with an England rallying call on the front pages, and a huge stick beating them on the back. In reality this only generates pressure on the fans - the jingoistic happy to apply the message that England can win the World Cup, the pessimistic eager to point out the many failings in the squad and how history is against us. The players shouldn’t be fazed by the media storm either way, it neither improves or detracts from their game. Focus demands that the media can say what they want; the bubble around the squad should be enough to remove any media threat.
2. The Goal That Never Was
Yes, England should have gone in at half time 2-2. Yes, it was two feet over the line. Yes, goal line technology should be employed. Yes, England have been robbed of a legitimate goal. Now ask yourself the most telling question - if the goal had been given, would England deserve to be level? The most telling moment of the first half was Terry and Upson allowing a ball to bounce in their own half, then Miroslav Klose taking advantage of Terry’s poor positioning and Upson’s reluctance to give a penalty away. The first goal was always going to be vital. Yes, an equaliser could have swung the game, the backs to the ball mentality of coming from behind might have spurred us on. The reality is however, even an injustice of that magnitude couldn’t rouse an England side struggling for inspiration from any quarter.
3. The System
The myth of 4-4-2. England have played a 4-1-3-1-1 for every game of the tournament. In the first game we struggled as Lampard and Gerrard refused to ignore their instinct and hold, Carragher gets caught out covering at centre-back and covering Johnson at right back, Heskey and Rooney could not figure out who should play at the top. Against Algeria Barry comes in and Gerrard confuses himself, should he play left, come inside, or support Barry? Heskey and Rooney continue to get in each other’s way. Slovenia allow Gerrard space on the left but he still wants to come inside to traffic, Defoe plays at the top but Rooney feels compelled to drop too deep. Against Germany they play against a side who realise that if you let England have the ball, you can capitalise on the confusion. A system is only ever as good as the players you employ to work in it, confusion breeds’ chaos, chaos breeds’ goals.
4. The Manager
Capello is a world-class manager. The bottom line is he has struggled to deal with a change from working day to day with a group of players you can leave a huge Capello shaped stamp on, and picking a group to work with eight to ten times a year. If you believe in a system, it has to work with the players you pick to operate it. He has simply not had the time to become the all-important, autocratic figurehead he knows how to be. Is it a failing that the England squad doesn’t meet together once a month? Maybe. The fact remains that the F.A. will not restructure a season to allow this to happen, and our players are allegedly playing too much football anyway. Capello’s job ends at kick-off and resumes at half time. If he believes in a system but cannot get his players to play within his confines, he needs to change the personnel or admit he needs more time to work with them.
5. The Winter Break
Our players did look tired, there is no escaping the fact. The idea that two weeks off over the new-year would make all the difference is ridiculous. Spanish players have also played a 38 game season, two weeks off does not reduce the workload significantly. Yes Lampard, Rooney, Cole, et all have had long Champions League campaigns, so have Messi, Pique, and Schweinsteiger. The phrase ‘match-fit’ applies to a player who has played regularly and is equipped to pick a games pace, judge player movement, and understand the rhythm being set by both teams midfielders. England have been lethargic, arrogant, and unwilling to accept that a team who qualifies for the World Cup can be organised, efficient, and patient if they’re from Africa, America, or Eastern Europe.
6. The Ball
England have had time to get hold of one, work out its intricacies, train with it where appropriate, and ready their goalkeepers. Exactly the same as every other team left in the tournament.
7. The Players
And here in we may be getting close to the root of the problem. Too many players on autopilot, too many players believing talent is an adequate replacement for work-rate. Also there was simply too many players injured, coming back from an injury, or playing with an injury. If Capello is ever to have a game plan that takes into account oppositions, the players must listen to the job he is telling them to perform. If Gerrard has to play left wing to retain his place in the side, he must be the best winger he can be. If Rooney has to play behind a front man, he must leave them to do their job and concentrate on his own role. A reliance on ‘world-class’ players to perform is not enough, they must be willing to sacrifice for a teams ambition.
The conclusion is this. Many factors have contributed to England’s downfall but the bottom line is that eleven men take the pitch, those eleven men must listen, adapt if required, and most importantly, do what they’re asked to do for the good of the team ethic to the very best of their ability. The papers will point to goal-line technology, altitude, Fabio Capello, and 4-4-2. The reality is that every England player who took the pitch in the World Cup must ask themselves if they did all that was asked, and gave all they had to give for each other.