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Monday, June 28, 2010

England's World Cup woes

"Maybe England were not prepared for this game as they should be," said the Germany captain, Philipp Lahm. "Maybe they underestimated us because our players are not as famous as the England players".

But it wasn’t just the England team who underestimated Germany yesterday. What about the media pundits who, conveniently forgetting how abysmal England were against Algeria, repeatedly assured us that England were ‘superior’ to a ‘very average’ German team?

On the radio, Alan Green told us how confident he was that England would win.
Ditto the tv ‘experts’. No member of the ‘very average’ German side would get into the England team, we were told. Incredibly, Germany were available at odds of 21-10 before the match. Surely the bet of the World Cup.

Depressingly, even when England were 4-1 down the myth that our players are world class performers was still being parroted. ’We know how good these players are' remarked the BBC’s commentator- adding how galling it was to know that come the autumn Wayne Rooney would be banging in the goals again for Man Utd. But he forgot to add that there is quite a bit of difference between Rooney playing alongside world-class international players at Old Trafford and scoring goals against Sunderland and West Brom, and performing alongside other English players against top quality international sides like Germany and Argentina.

The simple truth is that England’s players are not world-class. In horse-racing terms they are handicappers, who are found out whenever they race in Listed or Group company. It’s time we accepted that fact and lowered our expectations accordingly.

That said, Fabio Capello had a nightmare tournament. You’ve got to question the sanity of a coach, who when his side is trailing and urgently needs goals, brings off Jermain Defoe, and replaces him with Emile Heskey. Recognising his players’ technical limitations, Capello should have played a more direct style: making the most of Peter Crouch’s height in attack. Instead, Crouch, who has an excellent scoring record for England, played just 17 minutes in the whole tournament. What a waste.


olching said...

This is exactly right. The level of self-delusion in the media (and the knock-on effect among sections of the public) is surreal.

At 4-1 down, with Germany conceivably capable of scoring another 4, the commentator also asked the much-touted cliche of 'how many of the Germany squad would you replace with players in the England squad? Maybe one or two'.

Do these sports commentators and journalists not watch football outside the Premiership? Why did it come as a surprise to people that Germany are a more technically gifted and, crucially, more intelligent; not in the intellectual sense - though undoubtedly that too - but in the sense of being aware of space, of other footballing cultures, of interpretation during the match etc...This is something that comes from the stupid way youngsters are taught and introduced to football ('hit it up to the big man up front', 'show passion'). It's football culture in this country (in Britain as a whole! Hence Scotland's and Wales' disappearance!) that needs changing. It's insular and unintelligent (and a mirror of sections of popular culture in general - the laddishness etc which has become worse again).

The Guardian made a good point on their podcast: If Thomas Muller (demonstrably better than any attacking midfielder for England) were English, he'd be transformed into an unimaginative big centre forward a la Heskey, because that's what English football culture demands.

But as he's not, he is turning into one of the most versatile, exciting players around.

Capello clearly did lose the plot, but he isn't the problem (he'll probably go). The problem runs far deeper than that - from the unintelligent one-dimensional big-man-up-front culture to the individualism that has beset not just football but British society as a whole.

Joe said...

With all due respect to the Germans they are not that strong team as result suggests.
All blame goes to the coach who didn't do homework and who setup tactics and game exactly the way Germans wanted him to do. The same happend to Australia with the same result.
You just cannot leave Germans any open space in the back to do their cross passes. Serbian coach Antic knew that and he closed the doors leaving Germans to maintain "initiative" not attacking them in the mid-field and they were quite mediocre team not having idea what to do and not creating any single scoring chance.
Why Cappelo didn't watch that game is beyond me... or maybe he did but didn’t get it.

Steve Hayes said...

England has some excellent players, but they weren't a team. Where was the defence when it was needed? They simply weren't marking their opponents.

Anonymous said...

The sad truth is that the top English players are not particularly good and haven't been for many years.

The insular and backward football culture is probably the reason. In what other occupations are you still expected to call a manager "boss" or "the gaffer".
Any player who reads the Guardian or goes on a camping holiday in the Lake District like Graeme Le Saux gets labelled as "gay".

How many British players are successful outside Britain?. Hardly any. Remember Ian Rush in Italy?

Sadly the bling bling celebrity culture of British football just breeds thick uncultured louts.

But at least Wayne Rooney is now less likely to become Sir Wayne Rooney so one should be grateful for small mercies

Czarny Kot said...

Did anyone else hear Chris Waddle getting on his soap-box? Great stuff and 100% correct.

I'm following the World Cup outside England and I am amazed to hear that people were optimistic about yesterday's game. It's not the first time Klose, Podolski and Shweinsteiger have shone on the wolrd stage is it?

It seems the scrappy win over Slovenia went to people's heads-- Rooney hit the post and Terry blocked a couple of shots and this somehow rehabilitated them after the Algeria fiasco?!?

Germany were underestimated due to the fact that they lost to Serbia and 'only' beat Ghana 1-0. This despite the fact that they were down to 10 men after 30 mins against Serbia, were the better side, and were very unlucky not to win. The Ghana game was a typical semi-dead rubber final group game.

Do the pundits and 'experts' watch the games or just check the results on the internet?

The only positive thing to say is that the disallowed goal and Capello's poor judgement (Crouch, Bent, Hart, 4-3-3 etc..) do not seem to have obscured the underlying truth-- England are a poor football team.

They cannot play as a team like Germany, neither can they really on individual brilliance like Argentina. Poor collectively, poor individually. Just plain poor.

As for the pundits and 'experts', this is the first WC I have properly followed (ie: at home rather than the pub) outside the UK and I have to say that I have finally realised just how crap BBC and ITV really are. The coverage on Poland's TVP has been excellent-- likeable and knowledgable old-school experts who see the reality on the pitch, not the stardust in the adverts. Everything done with a minimum of fuss.

Robin Carmody said...

Agreed entirely with olching.

As I have said before, the problems of English football - post-imperial delusions of long-gone power, inbred Europhobia, kneejerk xenophobia and refusal to learn from anyone who doesn't speak English as a first language (even though many of them speak better, more articulate English than most English people born after about 1975) - are *exactly* the same as the problems of England itself.

The tabloids get the England team they deserve.

Douglas said...

I hereby confess bewilderment regarding the number of wrongly disallowed goals in World Cup play.

American football has implemented instant replay, and while I don't like it on principle because it adds more litigation into the game, it seems to have silenced complaints about referee calls. Fans have noticed that the referees make the correct call most of the time, and that the referees usually reverse themselves when presented with reasonable evidence.

Whatever FIFA's reason for not having instant replay is, it's not good enough for me.

Anonymous said...

Agree with Olching. They're super-fit narcissistic morons with half-decent ball-skills who feed off cultured foreign players in their Premiership clubs and flatter to deceive as they take bit-parts in the ritual beating up hapless opposition.

I knew the game was up in the group matches when I saw Wright-Phillips and Rooney with heads down trying to jink past international defenders because they didn't have a clue what else to do with ball. Then there was Barry waddling about like a duck in midfield giving the ball away in front of his own penalty area, Gerrard running at the back four as if he intended to do a triple-jump over them before losing the ball, Lennon running around like a headless chicken, Ashley Cole running up and down like an extra linesman, and so on.

Overpaid and useless.

- questionnaire

Robin Carmody said...

Anonymous 1 - good point. Simon Kuper made the point that English football is so globally popular because it combines the (only?) two industries in which Britain excels, heritage and youth culture - he's almost certainly right, but I would say it combines what are probably Britain's two worst aspects, moronic celebrity worship and quasi-feudal management with associated serf mentality, the very worst things about both the new culture and the old. But I do still think it comes down to the class system in the end - if it were not for the history of snobbery against them and against football itself, the kneejerk, zero-horizons inverted snobbery that besets the English game would not have had the chance to develop.

British TV coverage of the World Cup is another symptom of the problem. Pundits who don't have a clue who they're talking about and don't care either, just sitting smugly on their arses believing they're the master race and nobody else matters. If you want decent English-language coverage, check RTE.

And it cannot be repeated too often that most Premier League teams are rubbish, just shooting practice, one-sided kickabouts (that really is all they are, in terms of the global game) which provide absolutely no training for the World Cup. Smug English pundits invariably say that Scotland no longer qualify for anything because scoring 30 goals a season against non-Old Firm Scottish defences is no practice, and of course it isn't, but *exactly* the same thing could be said about scoring against Wolves, Blackburn, Stoke, Burnley, Hull, now Blackpool (for Christ's sake!) and all the rest of them. It's an illusion - and an illusion driven by neoliberalism and the forces destroying the public sector in Britain. That alone is reason to loathe it.

Anonymous said...

I think that it's irrelevant, truly small stuff, to look for explanations, scapegoats or to pinpoint various errors along England's performances at World Cup and European Championship tournaments as these events are always a crash waiting to happen, irrespective of the man in charge, but to concentrate instead and address deeper ailments at grassroots level in English football. I saw a couple of times in London parks as coaches were drilling kids into 5 a side or, shockingly, even 11 a side quite competitive games on muddy pitches, when almost lashing with rain. That's not a good way to get the basics right, that most important ball control technique and body movement with or without possession... May be even some senior squad members have kept over the years in their baggage a few not quite well taught basics, by the way they are stiffly passing the ball or by their space unawareness. There is an overall problem of mobility and restrained body movement with the English players. All the rest is just bad press hype, unrealistic expectations and an unending illusion that Harry Redknapp or else can truly deliver better than a for example much maligned for nothing three times quarter-finalist Sven Goran. I am a foreign sports journalist following the British game and I was told over the years by a few former players in the Romanian game to look at the way British defenders are at times contorting themselves for a simple pass ALWAYS with the inside of their boot. It's a drag from the school days when they got it a bit wrong.

Robin Carmody said...


I don't usually read Football365 because I don't like the pro-Sky stance and use of the word "Scotch", but it had a good article some time back about why 1966 ruined English football forever, and everything would have been so much better had it never happened - the way it created an illusion that the English Way would be enough forever (even though the English Way had already been humiliated by Hungary 13 years earlier, and the '66 win was only made possible by structural reforms to the national side which have been needed so often since but have rarely actually happened).

Meanwhile, ITV1 have a programme on Sunday called 'Gazza's Tears - The Night That Changed Football'. I won't watch it - it will no doubt be full of Premier League/plutocratic self-justification, and will surely not mention the *other* key legacy of the 1990 World Cup (for which, although it's about a different match the year before, you need to look to Jason Cowley's 'The Last Game'): the submergence of the old middle-class culture by the *exact same* forces that have done for the old working-class culture, and the surrender of both to the market (in the former case, led by "Nessun Dorma" and the resultant classical crossover phenomenon).

And yet even that would probably have happened anyway, when you give it further thought: the tide of Thatcherism was already crushing middle-class resistance to mass commercialism, and had already liquidated the old collectivist working-class culture (which was a much bigger reason for football's poor image in the mid-80s than most want to admit). If it hadn't been the 1990 World Cup (and Liverpool v Arsenal 1989) it would have been something else. The global capitalist forces which have *really* changed football would have been unleashed anyway. No surprise that ITV1 doesn't want to talk about them, then.

DBC Reed said...

In retrospect,there is a lot to a lions(players) and donkeys(officials) reading of this situation.Had England gone into half-time on equal terms as they deserved ,even bone-head Capello would have realised that the defence needed shoring up (it had only let in one goal ,and then freakishly,in the previous 270 mins play).Instead our pell -mell attack left us open at the back.
So the players had to contend with stupid match officials;stupid FIFA officials who had banned goalmouth technology;the stupid FA who had appointed the unsuitably authoritarian Capello; the stupid Premier league with their energy sapping season (they were supposed to cut down to 18 clubs)and no winter break.
As in the First World War the French showed what to do with this kind of crap.