James – 6 – Did as well as he could given the defence that was stuck in front of him.
Johnson – 4 – Does this guy ever actually bother defending?
Terry – 3 – Exposed, once again, as a national joke.
Upson – 4 – Credit for the goal, but the man is a Championship defender at best. “Go on Matty, pretend it’s just Ricardo Fuller…”
Cole – 5 – I kind of sympathise with him because he was left completely exposed by his left winger, but this was pretty poor all the same.
Milner – 5 – Put in the only decent cross of the day, but contributed very little otherwise.
Lampard – 4 – Just as woeful as he’s been throughout the tournament.
Barry – 4 – One paced and incapable of moving the ball forwards.
Gerrard – 3 – No positional sense, no discipline and no guts, but an almighty ego.
Defoe – 4 – Hit the bar while standing offside. Other than that, he made no contribution whatsoever.
Rooney – 4 – Yet again, almost every time he touched the ball it went to a German.
J. Cole – 5 – Looked no better than anybody else when he came on.
Heskey – 5 – Did absolutely nothing.
Wright-Phillips – 5 – Came on because Johnson had hurt himself. Capello should have left him on the pitch instead.
How embarrassing it was to listen to the BBC’s pre-match broadcast, where we were told by their panel of ‘experts’ that England had a much stronger team man for man and that you wouldn’t swap any English players for any German players. Straight away, I knew that that statement was nonsense, and I suspect that plenty of other people knew that as well. Off the top of my head I can honestly say that I would have quite happily swapped Mertesacker for Upson, Schweinsteiger for Barry, Ozil for Lampard, Klose for Defoe, Lahm for Johnson and Friedrich for Terry. That’s just off the top of my head. But, of course, this is England’s ‘golden generation’, a collection of, ahem, the world’s greatest players who are better than everyone else and anything less than winning the World Cup is underachievement. This ridiculous level of media hype, that certain England players appear to have started to believe, is crippling the England team. As Phillip Lahm said after the game, ‘maybe they underestimated us because our players are not as famous as the English players’. Germany showed us how to play and win football matches at this level: possession is nothing; you just need to have a solid defence and a team with no stars but one creative spark. Whenever you get the ball, you move it forward as quickly and accurately as possible with the object of creating chances. Everybody works hard and does their job for the team. That is why the Germany is a successful footballing nation, while the latest adventures of the ‘golden generation’ have resulted in a second round humiliation.
Lampard for Schweinsteiger: two that I'd have loved to have swapped before the game.
I can’t go much further without putting the ‘golden generation’ myth to bed. You could look in almost every position in this current England team and replace the incumbent player with an England player from the last 20 years. In fact, let’s just look at the four year period in between Euro ’96 and the 2002 World Cup, the last tournament before the ‘golden generation’. At this World Cup England have been able to choose Rooney alongside Defoe, Heskey or Crouch up front. Even in the botched Euro 2000 campaign, England had two very good strikers in Shearer and Owen, with the likes of Phillips and Cole in reserve. That’s four strikers who are better than any of Rooney’s potential partners, without even considering Sheringham at Euro 96. If you go back to the World Cup in 1998, you could have Michael Owen in the best form of his career before the injuries took their toll, so from the last 14 years, I’d have Owen and Shearer up front. In goal, Seaman is a better goal keeper than Green or James, while at centre-back Tony Adams was a much, much better player than John Terry currently is and anybody out of Sol Campbell, Gareth Southgate, Martin Keown and Rio Ferdinand would be better than Upson. Gary Neville in his prime easily beats Glen Johnson and it’s only really at left back where you have to actually think about replacing the current player. Ashley Cole is one of the best left backs in the world, no doubt about that, so it’s a complete toss-up as to whether or not you’d put his polar opposite, Stuart Pearce, in his place. In midfield, even at his current age Paul Scholes is much better than Lampard, Gerrard or Barry so he’d breeze his way into the centre, while Paul Gascoigne had more creativity than the rest of the current squad put together. To be honest, I’d probably prefer Paul Ince, David Batty and David Platt to the likes of Barry and Carrick. On the right, a fully fit David Beckham from 2002 would be better than James Milner and would offer the England team more from set pieces. The left of midfield has always been a problem position for England, but even Darren Anderton or Nicky Barmby would be a better option than watching Gerrard spend the full 90 minutes abandoning his position and leaving his full-back exposed. So there you have it, the best England team that you could put together from the last 14 years is Seaman, G. Neville, Adams, Campbell, Pearce, Beckham, Scholes, Gascoigne, Anderton, Shearer and Owen. The only player from the supposed ‘golden generation’ to even come close to getting a look in is Ashley Cole. Going back even further, I don’t think that it’s too much of a push to say that the ‘golden generation’ has, in fact, produced the worst England team for at least 20 years. That sounds like hyperbole or exaggeration, but when you look at the teams and players that could potentially have been fielded over the years, you realise that it is actually true.
The last hurrah for the last stragglers of the 'gold generation', thank goodness.
The long and short of it is this: asides from Rooney, who is a world class player despite his awful performances, and Cole, who is still one of the best left backs in the world, the England team is massively over-rated. Steven Gerrard may be the chest-thumping talisman figure for Liverpool who pops up every now and then with a vital goal, but it’s no coincidence that as soon as Xabi Alonso packed his bags, Liverpool sank down the table. Most of England’s star players are somewhere in between mediocre and good, but are made to look like world beaters thanks to their superior foreign team-mates. Would Lampard have developed into the type of player he is for Chelsea without Makelele? He’s a good player, but he only flourishes in his role at Chelsea because he’s got plenty of superior foreign team-mates surrounding him. Chelsea tried playing in a 4-4-2 system, but Lampard couldn’t fit in and they were forced to revert to 4-3-3 so that he could benefit from having two players to back him up. If John Terry wasn’t surrounded by the likes of Alex and Carvalho, who are there to mop up every single mistake he makes, he’d be seen as a very mediocre Premier League player. I have seen him mauled and rag-dolled all over the Britannia Stadium pitch by Mamady Sidibe, a free transfer from Gillingham. I have seen his superb man-marking allow Abdoulaye Faye to score an easy header while completely unmarked. I have seen him get so fed up of failing to win a single ball in the air against Stoke that he rolled around on the floor clutching his face pretending to be injured in an effort to get a Stoke player sent off. If you couple this with his general demeanour during the game (for example, when he had realised that the referee wasn’t going to send the Stoke player off, he got straight back up to play and shouted at the referee for making him go off the pitch in accordance with the rules), you begin to realise why England fail so frequently. Pampered mediocrities led to believe that they’re the best in the world and given a free rein on the pitch by the referee.
For my money, then, a second round defeat against a strong team is probably the most that this England team were capable of. A lesser manager probably wouldn’t have even gotten us through the group stages, so there’s no sense blaming Capello. That said, he has made some very strange decisions during the tournament and they have not benefited the team. Gerrard has absolutely no positional discipline on the left hand side and so the manager should have removed him and put him either in the middle or on the substitutes’ bench. Matthew Upson is not up to Premier League football, never mind World Cup football, and so Capello would have been better off picking Dawson to partner Terry in the middle. Up front, Darren Bent was forced to miss out despite probably being a better option up front than Defoe, whilst Capello became just another in a shamefully long line of England managers to completely ignore the country’s best target man, Kevin Davies. He may be well past his best and playing for an unfashionable club, but that says more about the state of English football than it does about Kevin Davies. Capello was right to stick by his system, but he persevered with the wrong players. Lampard cannot play without two holding players behind him, so bin him, bring in someone who fits the system and move on. Gerrard doesn’t work on the left, so put him in the middle, put a real left sided player out there and move on. Rob Green is a Championship level goalkeeper and James has had a poor season, so play Joe Hart from the start and move on. Unfortunately, plenty of other things were out of Capello’s hands. Somehow, Glen Johnson is the only right-back that this country can produce. He is a player who offers little in attack at international level and whose defensive frailties are even more exposed than usual. Capello cannot single-handedly overcome the ‘player power’ culture that has come to dominate the likes of Chelsea over the years, either. If John Terry doesn’t like the manager at Chelsea, he forces him out, just like Shearer forced out plenty of Newcastle managers over the years. The England players don’t like a bit of discipline and being made to work hard, so the likes of Terry openly question the manager’s authority and methods in public in an attempt to make his position untenable and force him out. Capello cannot simply dispose of him though; if Terry went, Lampard would likely follow and then there would be media outcry as two of the darlings of the ‘golden generation’ had been senselessly exiled, despite obviously being two of the best players in the world. This current crop of England players are simply unwilling to work unless everything is dictated according to their terms and it is yet another reason why they will consistently fail to achieve anything.
The Germans gave us an exhibition of what modern football is all about. England had something like 55% of the possession in the first half, but the Germans demonstrated that possession is virtually nothing. The opposition can do what they like with the ball in their own half, so long as when they eventually give it you back, and they will if you defend properly, you move the ball forward quickly and accurately, with the focus on creating chances. England tried to play with two defenders and the Germans punished them for it. Germany was patient when England had the ball and every player kept to his position. England did a good job of forming a back eight against the USA, but as soon as the Germans invited pressure upon themselves, the England players completely lost their shape. Typically, when the Germans launched a counter attack, Gerrard would be somewhere in the vicinity of the right sided attacking midfielder’s position, Cole and Johnson would both be somewhere near the edge of the box and Lampard and Barry would be in the middle, preparing to jog back at around half the speed of their German counterparts. Three of the four goals came as a result of the Germans counter-attacking ferociously and catching the English players completely off guard and out of position, while the first was simply a routine they’d worked on in training to take advantage of one of the English defence’s weaknesses. To be honest, the Germans were a joy to watch.
So what now for the future of the English game? Well, I personally wouldn’t advocate a change of manager, although it appears to be on the cards. Capello is a very good manager who did the best he could with a bad hand and he should be given a chance to clear out the rubbish ‘stars’ from the England team before he leaves his post. It is pretty obvious, though, that fundamental changes to the English game need to be made. These are already being discussed at length and so I shall not go into that here, but I do think that the national football centre at Burton is an absolute must. As for the short term, if we must have a change in manager then there is likely to be a clamour for Redknapp or Hodgson. This is pretty reasonable, seeing as they’ve both been successful in recent seasons, but I fear that they’d just bring us more of the same. They’d go on telling us that the current English crop of players are amongst the best of the world and then try to take on the Spanish or Brazilians at their own game, resulting in defeat. If the top international teams formed a kind of ‘Premier League’, England would be the team with a big reputation but players who are, technically, massively inferior to their counterparts. There are two men in the Premier League who are good at getting results with this kind of team, Sam Allardyce and Tony Pulis. As Pulis is Welsh, that leaves us with Allardyce. It may not be pretty, but it sure as hell will be effective. Allardyce would get the current crop of England players playing to a system which accentuated their strengths and focused on the team, rather than putting a bunch of individuals into a formation and expecting them to perform as they do for their clubs. At Newcastle, Allardyce failed because he was stuck with prima donnas who didn’t like being made to work hard and play as a team. For England, if the players didn’t want to work then Allardyce could just ship them out and bring in two destroyers instead. Defending resolutely and bullying top teams into submission may not be the prettiest way to play football, but in the short term it’s probably the only way to get the best out of the current team.
The ‘golden generation’, however, are a dead loss and need to be cut adrift as soon as possible.