Monday, 28 June 2010

Last word on England

My last, anyway. Having been invited out to lunch that extended to the beginning of the second half, I saw the match back to front when, unable to sleep, I caught the first half about 1am.

The statistics show England had more shots and more possession than the Germans and, in the first half, despite losing two goals they looked fine. There were some nice passages of play from them. Imagining that the Germans were England I thought how I would curse overhit German passes.

Nevertheless England went two down. The team as a whole did not deserve it but the defence did. No team can work with a faulty defence. Upson was pretty terrible and Terry had little judgment. Johnson had a bad world cup generally. Gareth Barry had been injured and had only just recovered but had no speed. Cole was not disastrous but a little under par. It would have been better with Ferdinand, if Ferdinand were fit. It was the defence that let in two goals, not brilliance from the Germans, who were not all that impressive until the leaky defence had been breached twice more, although by that time the defence was spending more time upfield trying to get an equaliser.

The disallowed goal was, as everyone could see, a goal, and the score then would have been 2-2. (No use the Germans saying that was payback for 1966 - it is still not clear from the film then available that the ball hadn't crossed the line. This was clear as daylight.) From that point on the England team looked troubled. Football, like all games, is partly in the mind, and I suspect the English team went into the game fearing the history of the fixture. They lost two more goals when committed to attack.

The problem is not that English players can't play - Gerrard, Roooney, Lampard, Ferdinand and Terry have all been rated - by foreign journalists - to be among the best five players in the world one or other time. The problem was that they are not good under pressure. It was a poor campaign on the whole and everyone, bar James and, in my view, Lampard, played below par.

The psychological factor is important. So is exhaustion and injury. Rooney was clearly not fit, but his spirits were low too. United had lost both the Premier League and were knocked out in the Champion' League, right at the end of the season after he got injured. That's a triple blow for someone like him. Ashley Cole had only just recovered from injury, as had Joe Cole. Gerrard had been poor all season and might have been playing out of position. Ledley King was a gamble that failed - a gamble that had to be taken, nonetheless.

There are the predictable calls for an English manager, just as there were after Eriksson. Well, they got Steve McClaren that time. Where are the English managers in the Premier League? Roy Hodgson is mentioned and he is the only one I see possibly able to do the job.

As has often been pointed out England has a longer season than most countries so injuries and exhaustion tend to set in. That was the problem in the last few World Cups. The reason it is so long is the need to raise revenue - and that will not get easier.

The number of foreign players in England has raised standards but only among those players who play regularly in the first team. It hasn't helped the young players very much. There is no great wave of discernible talent coming through - not English talent anyway.

The very same people who bemoan the lack of skill quickly cry 'selfish' when a player actually tries something ambitious. I mean pundits and crowds. That was the attitude towards Ronaldo. There would always be more reasons to hate him here than admire him. Part of that was xenophobia, part inborn truculence, part his own fault.

The inquest that follows now will be contemptible and not worth having because it will not change anything. It will be simply people admiring the drama of their own voices at coloratura pitch. I remember Eriksson saying of Rooney in a press interview: 'He is your golden boy. Do not kill him.' But they will, they will. Much more fun and self-justifying than patience. Any old rubbish will do providing you sound 'passionate' about it.

I think Capello must have got some things wrong, and I have suggested that something was seriously wrong in the camp. Some bad blood. I imagine John Terry had a little to do with that: the resentful demoted captain not taking to be overlooked twice in a row in favour, this time of a moody rival. I don't see those two as friends - not that I like either of them.

But then France had already gone, as had Italy. I rather suspect Argentina will beat Germany. At least I hope so. It hasn't in fact been a very exciting or skilful world cup so far, apart from Slovakia beating the Italians. I'll watch some matches and might keep awake.


Stephen F said...

Cool, calm, collected, yet with a discernible sense of bias; are you by any chance a Hungarian Man United fan, George?

I can't agree with the notion that in the first half they looked fine. We could have conceded three or four before we scored our first and then no one could have had anything much to say about the possible psychological impact of the phantom goal. Lawrenson was already into his black comedy routine and in our front room we were watching it from behind parted fingers.

Your point about Rooney's spirits is fair, to a point, but on the other hand after I've lost two squash matches in a row I want nothing more than to get back on court and win the third.

George S said...

The German chances were all about the defence, about which I have duly complained - and maybe things look better at 1am (though according to Fleur Adcock at 4am or so, the worst things crowd round you looking worse and worse) but the stats remain and must mean something - if only that England held on to the ball more than the Germans did and had more shots. I saw that with these very eyes [points to own eyes]. There was some perfectly acceptable play in the German half of the field.

There was clearly something psychologically wrong with Rooney too. Maybe Capello instructed him not to run about so much in case he aggravated his injury, He did start hobbling in two of the games.

When you play your third game of squash are you fit or crocked? It might make a difference.

As you see I am seeking reasons - proper reasons - not the guff about England being just rubbish because, well, they are, and because Capello is rubbish (he got us there with the most goals scored and the best record). I do think the English are hopeless at assessing their own performance - and I am beginning to agree with those who say it is because they think they have a God given right to be the best in the world. Sven was all quarter finals. How many other teams in the world could say that they consistently got beyond quarter final stage?

England have generally been a top ten country, usually top eight. That means quarter finals doesn't it? But of course Sven was a failure because he didn't actually win those cups! Don't you think that is more than a little idiotic? Do you imagine it helps the players knowing that if they don't get to the semi-finals at least they'll be regarded as abysmal failures?

England are neither as good as people sometimes make out, nor are they as bad. Only to people who expect them to win everything.

And I do suspect Terry was a bad influence. The defence depends on a rock-steady holding influence. I don't think he has been that since the Wayne Bridge affair.

As to watching England from behind parted fingers, is there ever any other way? The general attitude to the England team assures that the team watches itself through parted fingers.

Sometimes (not very often, I grant you) it makes sense to be Hungarian.

Nicole S said...

Thank you for that extremely insightful analysis, which puts many of the professional commentators to shame. I still think the disallowed goal didn't help, since it weakened England's defenses even further. For reasons of family affiliations, I had to take more punishment yesterday in watching Mexico v. Argentina, in which the scorer of an allowed Argentinian goal was clearly offside. Fi to Fifa is all I can say.

Poet in Residence said...

Capello says: there should be a chip in the ball and then the refs would know if it was a goal. I think he's probably right.

Not only the defence was poor, as George admits, but also the attack and the midfield.

Attack: A goal average per game of 0.5 goals is hardly going to win the World Cup.

Midfield: anybody remember the Algeria match. Hardly inspring. Every 3rd pass going astray.

We need players of the calibre of Gordon Banks, Bobby Moore, and Alan Shearer and we need them quick.

Stephen F said...

I thought Sven was ace in more or less every way and I never have any expectations about where we should get to but I guess I'm in minority with that.

The way we play means we will never win anything, that would be my main point; a rigid 4-4-2 in international football now is almost as misguided and anachronistic as Borg trying a comeback with a wooden racket; I think I'm right in saying all the teams that play it are already out.

Stoke City would have got as far as England in this comp.

Billy C. said...

"Stoke City would have got as far as England in this comp."

winger, I reckon Stoke City would have beaten the Germans 0-0, which is a victory for Stoke City under Pulis. Of course, we would then have lost on penalties, which would still be a victory in Pulis's eyes because "Germany have won the World Cup X amount of times."

I'm thinking along the same lines as George. England were playing very well until the 'Terry affair'. Since that time, we have not been a happy camp. A couple of questions to ask English players these days is, "Do you have pride in your country and are you proud to pull on the shirt with the Three Lions?"

I suspect half the England team if they were beaten to tell the truth, would be a resounding "NO." And the other half would say they don't like the manager because he dare tell them what to do. And therein lies the problem.

Poet in Residence said...

As to Stoke's performance in the 2010 World Cup, they'd have avoided the German jinx by qualifying to play Ghana in the 1/8 finals.

George S said...

I still think that if your defence is porous everything else will go wrong, because of the anxiety. The midfield come back to help out, even some of the attack somes bak to help out, then, once in possession of the ball there is such a huge gap between the lone front man and evveryone else, the only thing left is to hoof the ball up the park, quid est, as they say, demonstrandum. There is no other way than to build from the back, not in Europe anyway.

I don't think the goals per game can be 0.5, Gwilym because England scored in three and they only played four. The goal average is a different thing. I don't think England have been alone in low scoring matches (and this one should have been 2 in any case).

Which is not to defend the attack because, as I keep trying to say, I am not looking to deny the obvious but to explain it. Beause it needs explanation, and no one was criticising Capello's team or tactics in the qualification.

Richard Stillman said...

I was watching the Chile v. Brazil game and it had its moments of crapness (though as an AFC Bournemouth fan a badly overhit ball is still a thing of beauty). The big difference though between those teams and England as the slickness of their movement, their trust in their teammates and their ability to not want to try and win the match on their own and thus keep the team shape. The naive marauding of the ersatz winger Terry meant he had to jog back a long way to see the ball being picked out of his net.

George S said...

Having been down to London and back today I was falling asleep during Chile v Brazil. The commentators go into drool mode when watching Brazil quite irrespective of whether there is anything to drool over. But you're right Richard. I think there is also a kind of pleasure in the slickness of the act when Brazil play - even when not at full drool level - that English players lose early. Brazil retain the team sense. The pleasure is collective.

Terry was being irresponsible marauding forward. I don't think I'd leave Matthew Upson in charge of the cat let alone a vulnerable penalty area. If there is any marauding to be done let Lampard and Barry do it.

Matthew Gregory said...

Ah... I thought, quite simply, that the Germans played with much more verve and creative ambition than England. In the end, I was cheering for Germany. Mesut Oezil, especially. I like him. He's a kind of German Riquelme - not quite, but there's something like that about his passing. He 'sees' things in that preternatural way, like very few players do. I'm not sure England possess a player like him. The two other players in the tournament that can do similar things are Spain's Xavi, and Argentina's Veron, and Veron's 35 and looks like some kind of Neapolitan heavy!

I'd quite like to see Argentina lift the cup. But then I always do. I like their kind of crafty, fugitive nature - it strikes more of a chord with me than England's blood-red, drastic, desperate, mostly artless heroics.

Poet in Residence said...

Matthew's absolutely right. The big problem is that England can't pass.
In the Algeria game the passing was abysmal. Three passes then lose it. Give it away. Huff and puff and try and get it back.

OK,I admit they strung a few passes together in the Germany game. But then the exception always proves the rule. The basic rule is that they can't pass. Don't know how to.

Somebody should sit them down and show them some old black & white videos of Bobby Moore.

If you can't pass then at least you should have somebody who can dribble. But they can't do that either. They have no Best or Giggs.

They were CRAP: Can't Run And Pass.

George S said...

Welcome, Matthew. First of all many congratulations on winning the prize that happens to bear your own name! I am delighted! Well deserved!

I like their kind of crafty, fugitive nature - it strikes more of a chord with me than England's blood-red, drastic, desperate, mostly artless heroics.

Your analysis of the essential nature of football the Argentina way and the England way, is brilliant and true, Matthew. That is to say the essence remains true though it was less evident in the qualifying campaign. I don't say that was great but there has been very little of what I would call great anywhere in the World Cup so far. England qualifying was much better than England qualified.

I also agree about Özil. (Fergie, Fergie, sign him up! I'd chant if I thought he had serious money left.

I also see I shall have to think of your poems as essentially Argentinian. His poems, my tag line will say, are crafty and fugitive. And that would be genuine praise. It even sounds faintly Marxist or rather Leninist. Work in silence and in cunning. Well, perhaps not so much silence.

Gwilym - Giggs no longer plays for Wales, nor Best for Northern Ireland. Mister Best, he dead. As I said to Matthew above: the qualifying campaign, we should not forget, was full of goals, against good teams as well as against mediocre.

Matthew Gregory said...

Thank you George! A really wonderful thing, a lift to the spirits. It meant a lot to me, actually. And it's also very welcome in these days of the Austere, as you can imagine.

I'd be very happy with the Argentine/Marxist/Leninist comparison. That impression reminds me of a Czech film called 'It's Gonna Get Worse' - set in police state Czechoslovakia, where a bunch of young, serious-looking, long-haired dissidents quietly revolt. Though maybe it's Holub I see there, plotting in shadows...

We're now going to have align respective poetic styles to those of international football teams, I believe. Perhaps your poems are of the classic (not the 2010!) Italian style, George? A Franco Baresi-type Canzone, perhaps? An absolute Rossi of a last line. Or something like that.

England were very good in qualifying, indeed. Really exciting, too. Certainly not the team that turned up for the finals. It was a shame - where I live, in the coastal suburbs of Lowestoft, there are many of those blanket-size red-and-white crosses flapping from boy's bedrooms - I see them being sadly, silently withdrawn, like the wrong kind of cutlery at the table.

Hope you are well, George - and to catch you around the campus at sometime.

Poet in Residence said...

"blanket-size red and white crosses" and maybe that's part of the problem, the halfway house mentality thing, it must affect the players too, must it not?

Would it not be better, since we no longer have the desire for an annual series of internationals between Scotland, England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, to unite under one banner, notwithstanding that the Welsh flag is not on the Union Jack?

I've always thought it absurd that we enter 4 teams in the European and World Cups, and even with 4 chances against everybody else's one chance we still can't win anything.


Best? I saw him live at Man U. You'd thing the ball was tied to his bootlace. Control, passing, basic skill.
And goalkeepers? We haven't had a top drawer keeper for generations. James, had a lucky tournament. Normally he's a fumbler. And he can't kick the ball. Every time he kicks the ballhe kicks it to one of the other side.
Your Roy Hodgson as England manager idea might have something in it, he brought in a ballet teacher when he was at Blackburn.