Posts Tagged ‘England’

The need to exorcise demons, brilliant orange, a solution for Fabio.

November 23rd, 2011 No comments

Psychiatrists often advise people to confront their demons.  Using this as a template, Tony Pulis would be well advised to take his players to Bolton’s Reebok Stadium for a day out.  We discovered on Saturday that we still bear the scars of the thrashing we received a fortnight before.

The Bolton aftermath haunted the build up to the QPR game.  Oddly, Tony Pulis even stated publicly that he’d been too harsh on the players.  It was odd but understandable.  We were preparing for a home game we expected to win.  A win was crucial to wash  the pain of Bolton away.  Initially it seemed our players had responded to the challenge.  We started at a blistering pace and immediately carried the game to the opposition.  On eight minutes we took the lead with an impressive finish from Walters.  Our early dominance had got it’s reward.  When Crouch squandered an excellent opportunity it seemed a matter of time before we doubled the lead.  On 22 minutes static defending led to Helguson equalising for QPR.  That was the pivotal point of the match.  From being in complete control of the contest we were at Bolton again…. visibly shaken, confidence shattered and discipline lost.   The early zest disintegrated  completely and yet again we were reduced to chasing the opposition.  It wasn’t a huge shock to go in down at half time.  For a right back Luke Young’s finish was masterful but why we stood off and failed to challenge is a mystery.  Having to chase games is a depressingly familiar feeling. 

The second half started as the first concluded… with QPR passing through us. When Helguson put us 1-3 down the game was all but over.  It’s to the credit of our players that they did rally to try and get us back into the game.  Shawcross scored to get us back to 2-3.  This should have been a signal to lay siege to the QPR goal but the  onslaught never arrived.  Lacking the craft to open them up again we were stifled in relative comfort.  There’s no doubt we should have been awarded a penalty but it’s important not to cling to that grievance too tightly.  We made too many mistakes to deserve anything from the game. 

We face Blackburn next in yet another winnable game.  As with all bad runs of form, the current malaise is nothing a win won’t put right.  But to ensure we get that win out players must remember that if we face a setback it’s vital to be mentally strong and to continue to do the things they do well.  Then, and only then, will get the crucial victory we need…. and start to exorcise the Bolton demons. 

The remarkable thing about Brisbane Roar’s 2-1 victory away to Newcastle Jets is that Brisbane for long spells were second best.  For most of the first half Roar’s play lacked it’s usual  fluidity.  Newcastle had set out to play a high tempo physical game and to their credit it worked.  The Jets deserved their half time lead and it seemed likely that the day had arrived when Roar’s record breaking run would come to an end.  In the second half however Brisbane showed a side to their game rarely seen.  Instead of bemoaning their lot they outnumbered Newcastle in midfield which helped them to match the physical prowess of the home team.  It was also noticable that the incisive through ball from Brisbane was coming from deeper positions, this could prove a useful plan B to accompany the usual style.  At half time a win was highly unlikely, but displaying variation and application, three precious well earned points were accompanying the team back to the river city.  Overall it wasn’t the stylish total football that has underpinned this amazing run but it’s sometimes worth remembering… an ugly win is still a win. 

Brisbane’s win was a milestone because it equalled the longest unbeaten streak in the history of Australian sport.  The record was set 74 years ago by an Eastern Suburbs rugby League team who enjoyed a 35 game unbeaten run.  The home game against Perth on Saturday could prove to be a huge piece of Australian sporting history.   Hopefully the Australian sporting landscape will be bathing in a sea of orange!

Wayne Rooney will be a huge talking point during England’s preparation for Euro 2012.  There is still the possibility that the 3 match ban he received be reduced to 2, but the manager could be forgiven if he’s seething.  Being placed in such a situation, for no good reason, by one of his most important players, is an unwelcome obstacle.  However, every problem contains it’s own solution.  Italy’s habitual caution is genuine and legendary.  But in 2006 Marcello Lippi, wily old fox that he is, contradicted this regular policy of football suicide by taking six forwards to Germany in 2006. SIX. More to the point, in the semi against Germany alone used five of them.  This is a lesson for Fabio Capello to take on board. Instead of filling the squad out with holding midfielders, take an extra attacker. Take 5.  You can’t have too many attacking options. Capello’s  Milan in 1994 stunned many with the unexpected display of attacking football in the European Cup Final. An England side with a variation of attacking options may surprise people.  This would address the issue of Rooney’s self imposed absence with positive sympathy.

Reflecting on May 14th, sexual equality, not so wild about Harry.

July 10th, 2011 No comments

Whilst Watching Manchester City beat Spurs on the Tuesday night before the FA Cup Final I came to the grim realisation lifting the trophy would be too much for us.  That victory confirmed Man City’s qualification in next seasons Champions League, and the elation and relief were there for all to see.  They could head into the final having achieved their primary objective for the season.   The final provided them with the chance to finally get that wretched banner at Old Trafford taken down.  Combine their exuberance with our injury list, the cup was on it’s way to Manchester. We can take some pride in the fact that despite our injury depleted warriors facing billionaires, it took a late scrappy goal to beat us.  I was in the Quality Hotel at Wembley on the Friday night and participated in Radio Stoke’s eve of final special show.  Presenter John Acres asked for a prediction and I managed to give an answer without actually addressing the question so perhaps a career in politics awaits!  It would also have sounded too downcast to suggest that having travelled so far miles to attend a football match we’d emerge defeated.   I’d hoped with all my heart my miserable premonition would prove flawed but it wasn’t to be.

Of course the result wasn’t what we wanted, but May 14th 2011 will be remembered as a special day in our lives.   There were so many moments to cherish.  At midday I walked past Wembley Park Tube Station and glanced right up  Wembley Way to the stadium.  The sight of the  stadium draped in huge pictures of the old trophy combined with thousands of supporters heading towards the ground was amazing.  It’s a famous scene but this time it was us on one of the grandest stages in football.  I expected to cry during Abide With Me, instead tears arrived when the teams walked out onto that famous lush green turf!  Those moments alone were worth a 12,000 mile journey.  When I boarded that plane for the UK, it won’t wasn’t just to see a football match, nor was it self indulgent laddish wackiness. This was a piece of history we could be proud to be associated with…. a pilgrimage. We doffed our collective red and white caps to  shared heritage.  And now we all hope we don’t have to wait so long for another chance!

Barcelona’s dismantling of Man United and majestic stroll to the European Cup confirms their status as the finest club team of the modern era.  Some have suggested that Europe’s top club competition is now the game’s pinnacle.  Despite what some of UEFA’s sponsors and marketing executives would like us to believe, the World Cup remains the peak of world football.  The majority of supporters don’t follow Champions League teams.  If you support Southend or Ponferradina the Champions League is largely irrelevant. But those supporters do support their national team.  We don’t all fawn and feint over the worlds mega clubs.   The World Cup will always be more inclusive than any equivalent club competition.  Not good news for the corporate juggernaut that the Champions League has become but it’s good news for those of us who treasure the essence of football as an emotional entity.  Despite the circus that surrounds  big clubs it’s emotion that sustains it.

It was pleasing to see this article about the shamefully overlooked ex Liverpool manager Joe Fagan. If Fagan is ever remembered he’s often regarded as a stopgap between Paisley’s departure and the appointment of Dalglish which overlooks several aspects of Liverpool’s success.  Fagan won three trophies in his first season in charge, including the European Cup… won by beating Roma on their homeground.    His second and final season saw Liverpool struggling to handle the absence of Graeme Souness.  Despite this they reached the ill fated European Cup Final in Brussels.  Had the tragedy not occured would Liverpool have retained their title?  We’ll never know.  Returning to the UK Fagan was seen weeping as he left the plane.  That was his final act as Liverpool manager.  He deserved better than that.  Much better.

The Women’s World Cup is reaching it’s conclusion in Germany.  During the match between Equatorial Guinea and Australia the referee missed the most astonishingly blatant handball in the history of astonishingly blatant handballs.  This incident will surely go down as one of the most baffling moments in football. There are so many unanswered questions.  Why did she pick the ball up?  How did the ref not realise what had just happened?  Why wasn’t the penalty given?  Had Australia not gone on to win the game the fallout would be much louder and considerably more severe.  It seems female referees can be just as incompetent as male ones.  The similarities between the female England campaign was so similar to those of their male counterparts is eerie.  Get though the group stage without particularly playing well then make a quarter final exit on penalties. Claire Rafferty’s awful missed spot kick was truly painful to watch.  Poor officials, England making an exit on penalties.   Sexual equality is alive and well in  football it would seem.

The pre- season friendlies are getting underway.  As full scale training sessions they can be useful exercises.  To read too much into any results is foolish.  The only time a pre season friendly has any bearing on the proper stuff is if you suffer a particularly harrowing defeat a week before the start of the league campaign.  Other than that the only relevance they carry is when you support an underdog who has beaten a big club.  Therefore, Central Coast Mariners will still be celebrating their victory over Celtic!!

The media kerfuffle surrounding the possibility of Harry Kewell joining an A-League team rumbles on.  He seems to have been linked to every club in the past week.  His manager Bernie Mandic appears to be doing his negotiating through the media.  One suggestion is that Kewell should be paid a percentage of the increased gate receipts from away games.  If Kewell seriously wants to return to Australia he should return.  There can be little doubt his presence would be a huge boost the game needs.  But allowing his manager to dictate terms and haggle his dignity away does his reputation no favours.  Harry is widely believed to be the greatest Australian footballer ever.  If he’s returning he should join a club and have done with it, then the public can look forward to seeing him play football instead of reading about his agent exploiting his client.

New signings a new manager and mock shock

September 9th, 2010 No comments

The transfer deadline arrived amid the usual media bullshine and ballyhoo BUT this time it was different.  Different because Stoke City were one of the main players in the bi annual game of protracted negotiation.  Since reaching  the Premier League it’s felt at times as if nothing changed when transfers fall through andwe’ve look on enviously as other clubs seem to effortlessly acquire their targets.  Now we have turned that around and we have bought several new players in… like a Premier League team does!!  It’s hard to imagine Jonesy won’t be a first choice striker so the main interest will be who partners him.  It has been widely suggested that Gudjohnsen is a long way from match fit leaving Fuller Walters and Tuncay contending for the starting spot.  These are difficult decisions but that’s all part of a manager’s job, and there are much worse situations a football manager has to confront.  By the time we face Aston Villa  on Tuesday morning,  the new players will have had a nearly fortnight to train with their new colleagues and for the gaffer to impose on them what’s required.  Over to you Tone!! 

The Villa game takes on new levels of interest with our new signings taking their bow and it being their first game with a new manager in charge.   Gerard Houllier is the latest manager to try and squeeze Villa into a top four spot.  His excitable predecessor blew his chance when their 08/09 campaign disintegrated after a 2-2 draw with us.  Can Houllier gel all that potential into a side that can dine at Europe’s top table without getting food down their shirt?  Tuesday morning will be their first step on that journey.  We mustn’t give the genial Frenchman the warm welcome we gave to Sam Allardyce at Blackburn.  It was exasperating to read reports that Big Sam had motivated Blackburn to a much needed victory.  In actual fact, we decided to hand the game to them by way of brainless defensive errors.  Sonko’s unnecessary lunge set the tone for the rest of the first half.  No new manager anywhere  will ever have an easier welcome.  

Is anyone seriously appalled by the allegations / revelations (delete where necessary) about Wayne Rooney’s private life?  Did the populace  collectively feint in exasperated, astounded, disgusted, devastated, marinated shock?  I can’t help thinking the News of the World are tapping into the mood of the nation, that being their is still a lot of anger over the horrendous World Cup campaign.   Not that many people seem too bothered aboutwhat he may or may not have done!!  If his two England performances are any indicator the pandemonium has inspired him!  Two excellent performances that made a big contribution to two victories for England and the ideal way to start to lift the dark clouds of South Africa.  Joe Hart was impressive against Bulgaria and, despite a few edgy fumbles, was competent against Switzerland.  It’s important that now, despite the aforementioned fumbles, FabCap makes it clear that Hart is no.1.   It ends speculation and gives Hart confidence and sheds any fear he may be feeling.  Similarly Adam Johnson has surely earned an extended run in the team.  A new younger face and feet filled with talent.  Give him a starting place against Montenegro andtell him to enjoy himself.  Although it contradicts the aura a lot Englandplayers carry in tournaments it might be refreshing for them to remember it is possible to play for England and have a good time.  It was Brian Clough who’s main motivational technique was to ensure that his players never went out to play with fear in their hearts.  Two wins is an excellent way to commence the campaign, this may seem premature but victory in the next game actually gives us one foot in the finals.  And preparation for 2012 starts now.  It’s hardly a surprise that Capello has announced he’ll be leaving the job after the European Championship.  Since the World Cup he’s had the air of a man wondering why he ever took the role in the first place.   So who to replace him?  It’s highly likely the next manager will be English, and why would that surprise anyone after the roaring success of Steve McClaren?   

One of the oddest rumours is that Ryan Giggs could be poised to take the job of managing Wales. Surely this is paper talk.  There has been suggestions he could combine the job while still playing.  Well despite what gets suggested you can’t really manage part time.  He should remember that Brian Clough said he’d happily give away his managerial success to have completed his playing career to it’s natural end.  While he had the job Kenny Dalglish was asked if managing Liverpool was the best job in the world and he said it was the 2nd best job in the world….  the best was PLAYING for Liverpool.  Giggs shouldn’t be too hasty.

Only 84 days until the announcement of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosts.  Hosting the World Cup could be the biggest thing in the history of England.    Nobody can deny The English game has had sickening problems since 1966 but it’s time.    Many things have improved in the last twenty years and the world coming around for a  dinner party (a very big dinner party) would be the perfect  way to celebrate these developments.   Please register here and back England’s bid to host the 2018 World cup.

Elation and deflation

August 16th, 2010 No comments

Welcome back football, my friend, my strength, my passion and of course, my eternal frustration!   Over a month since the World Cup ended and  Weekends are just inconsequential without you football my darling.  A return to midnight (or 1am) kick offs then retiring to bed accompanied by liberal doses of fatigue and deflation.  

And deflation is the key word to describe the lasting effect of our performance at Wolves.  After Jonesy went off injured our players joined us in the deflation collective and allowed Wolves to get over the top of us and dominate.  Our inability to keep the ball combined with our players bad decisions all over the pitch led to a very, well, deflating day for us. There can be no doubt at all the first goal we conceded was a brilliant piece of skill but we have to remember our part in it.  Whitehead lunging into that challenge was foolish and unnecessary.  Foley was actually moving away from goal when Dean steamed in.  The physical approach is part of what we do but football is a bit of everything if and when it’s needed and flying in like that was just asking for trouble.  The second goal may have been slightly unlucky for us but to cling to that for comfort after a performance as undisciplined as Saturday would be to hide our heads in the sand.  Even when we got the goal back we rarely showed the required energy or imagination to drag an unlikely point out.  In the last minute Rory had a throw that, to the euphoric gloating  of the home fans, just skidded out of his hands… an appropriately embarassing end to a bleak day for Stoke City.  Ah well, upwards and onwards.  Easy games to come…. Spurs and Chelsea.  Will we get a point on the board before the international break?  It feels like we won’t BUT, this feeling of dread is nothing a win wouldn’t put right!   I wonder when it’ll be.

Could it be that Capello’s comment that Beckham is too old was a joke that missed the mark?  His lack of English skills render that a feasible possibility.  If that’s an irrational suggestion it’s no more irrational than the media pandemonium that followed his comment.   Saying that publicly before discussing it with Beckham was ill advised and clumsy but does it really merit the media examination that followed?  The Telegraph declared that Capello had reached a “New low”.  The News of the world solemnly announed that it’s been “One of the worst weeks of his (Beckham’s) soccer career”.  Both melodramic statements which are more in line with Fabio Capello’s current lowly standing than any substantial rational coverage.  The News of the World in particular should be aware of the ups and downs of Beckham’s career and that he’s had much worse weeks than this.  It was after all, that very tabloid organ which gleefully printed the story of his affair with Rebecca Loos in 2004. In fact, Sunday’s comment came as they kindly told the world that his sister has had to claim benefit payments.   After the 1998 World Cup Beckham had to face the prospect of an effigy of himself hanging from a roof and The Mirror bullishly gave readers a David Beckham dartboard.  The England manager forgetting to tell him he’s out of future plans isn’t going to mortally wound him…. or anyone else for that matter. 

Spurs and Man City started the Premier League season with a fantastic entertaining game.  Spurs started at an incredible pace and made their possession count by creating a sequence of excellent chances.  Hart was a colossus.  Surely Hart is now well and truly England’s number one keeper…. better late than never I suppose!  It was a much better game than 0-0 suggests but if Spurs can maintain that level of pace and creativity to their play surely they can contend for a top four spot again.  Blackpool were the romantic story of the first day of the season.  Whatever else happens this season, their fans will always be able to treasure that memory, the kind of memory we all love this game for.  Wigan Athletic and their fans will remember the day less fondly!  The real daunting thing about Chelsea’s effortless dismantling of WBA is that WBA didn’t really do much wrong.  In fact for much of the game they tried to get forward and got a few decent crosses in.  That Chelsea hit six without really breaking sweat hammers out a warning to Man Utd.  Talking of Man utd, I sit typing thins during their game against Newcastle and the main talking point has to be Joey Barton’s moustache!  What’s he done that for?  Apparently he’s refusing to shave it until they win a league game.  Now that’s risky!  Otherwise Rooney looks as if he’s carried his world cup form into the new season.   Berbatov just scored.   

Aston Villa’s win over West Ham had an air of crisis what crisis?  O’Neill’s decsion to go hardly the ideal way to prepare any team for the first game of a season.  We can only come to the conclusiion that Villa is now a hard club to manage and Randy Lerner a difficulty man to work for.  The ongoing talk of funding players and having to sell to buy and whether the Milner money would be available must have just worn O’Neill down.  Can anyone blame him?  Does a manager of his reputation need that kind of aggravation?   Where will he work next?  Will he work anywhere?  All will be revealed now the emotional rollercoaster of football has returned!!

Gazza, it was twenty years ago

July 5th, 2010 No comments

Early in the 88/89 season I went to Anfield to watch Liverpool v Tottingham Hotspurts.  Back then every close season saw a flurry of spending by clubs  trying to compete with Liverpool.  Spurs always seemed to be at the forefront of the spending and in the summer of 1988 saw Spurs buy the young prospect Paul Gascoigne. 

1988 was the days before every single moment of every single football match was filmed and each tackle pass and fart analysed by cameras placed at six different angles.  As a result, we knew there was a young talented portly player named Paul Gascoigne from Newcastle and some of his goals were shown on Saint and Greavsie, and he was a bit of a character who loved Mars Bars, but we weren’t as clued up on him as we would be now.  Nowhere near in fact. 

At Anfield, The first time Gascoigne got the ball a collective gasp seemed to encircle Anfield. Was this fat Geordie lad any good?  Well, yes he was, in fact he was better than anyone could have imagined.  He joyously sprayed accurate passes around and whenever Liverpool attacked seemed to be the one who received the ball to initiate a fresh wave of possession. He’d gleefully skip past opponents, ball at his feet, and his grateful teammates would know an incisive pass was on the way.   The Spurs supporters cheered him warmly and if they didn’t he told them to, then emerged with a big grin.  When The Kop chanted to tell him that he was a fat bar steward, he smiled waved and did a silly walk.  The endearing thing about Gazza at this time is that he clearly loved being a footballer.  At the end of the game (it finished 1-1) he ran up to the Kop with a big smile and they responded in kind and chanted his name.  This was in the wake of Englands 1988 European Championship calamity and new talent and faces were needed for 1990 so Gazza was a breath of fresh air. Paul Gascoigne could become a superstar, and he’d enjoy every minute of it. 

After several appearances in England’s  friendlies he gradually established himself. Bobby Robson described him as being “As daft as a brush”.   This wasn’t a personal criticism it was more meant with affection to show what a livewire character he was around the camp.  He eventually cemented his place in the World Cup squad.   He was a special player at Italia 90.  The real pivotal point was during the game against Holland when he turned his man with skill on the byline and crossed for Lineker. A top quality player who could make the difference for England.  And he often did.  So much went through Gazza, his hyperactive presence charging around Italian football pitches.  We left it late against Belgium, dodged a bullet against Cameroon and finally found ourselves in a semi final against West Germany, and we all know what happened next. 

This week saw the 20th anniversary of that huge landmark game. We’ve never been that close since (will we ever be that close again?) to landing the ultimate prize.  At the end of the extra time, and with Gazza sobbing his broken heart out, Bobby Robson tried to console him by assuring him that “You’ve got your whole life in front of you, this is just your first”.  Of course, Robson wasn’t to know, but it was also his last.  He’d never have believed it as he left that tear drenched Turin pitch, but that proved to be his last ever game in a World Cup Finals.  Sadly, That was the highlight of Gascoigne’s England career. He never seemed to fully recover from The self inflicted injury he recklessly acquired in the 1991 FA Cup Final.  In Euro 96 we saw some flashes of brilliance and in assorted qualifiers we got some difference making moments but we hardly ever saw the happy excited Gazza that used to illuminate football grounds with a flick of a  Geordie boot.

In the build up to the 1998 tournament Gascoigne was clearly unfit. Glenn Hoddle made huge headlines by omitting him from the squad.  But what initially seemed a controversial decision turned out not to be controversial at all.  More just an obvious management decision that simply had to be confirmed.  Gascoigne’s lack of fitness and drinking had become a serious problem, and being  photographed buying a kebab didn’t help.  In his autobiography Paul Gascoigne described his own violent reaction to the news and that his mindset at the time in itself was enough to justify the decision.  He was clearly unhinged and being at close quarters with the squad for a month could have led to all sorts of problems.  And him being too unfit to play effectively meant it just wasn’t worth the risk.  Paul Gascoigne’s life had been unravelling for several years and in Hoddles room at La Manga his England career finally reached a sad undignified end.

Since he finished playing Paul Gascoigne’s numerous problems have been well documented.  He’s rarely far from the headlines and I,like many others, fear the worst when I see his name in a newspaper headline.  As Terry Venables has said “Only Gazza can save Gazza.”

So much has surrounded him but as we acknowledge  the 20th anniversary of that epic night in Turin, and a turning point for English football, I prefer to think of the great Matt Busby’s words when talking about George Best……  “We had our problems with the wee feller, but I prefer to remember his genius” And when I think of Paul Gascoigne I like to think of the Geordie who charmed Anfield and ran Cameroon ragged and scored that free kick in the FA cup semi final. 

20 years.

Brazilian agony Gyan’s pain Orange ecstasy Agreu’s swagger

July 3rd, 2010 No comments

As  Holland were about to take that corner I was reminiscing about the many virtues of a good near post corner.  Particularly I had in mind the Stoke City 82/83 Big Bren flick on phenomonon!   Then hey presto the Dutch read my mind and bagged the winner.  What happened to Brazil at half time?  The first half consisted of Brazil keeping the ball well and Holland struggling with Brazil’s kaleidoscopic movement.  In the second half Holland increased the pace of their game but it shouldn’t have been too much for the Brazilians to handle.  The clumsy defending for the equaliser shook them and the collapse was well underway.  Being undone by something as simple as a corner won’t please Dunga at all.  Melo’s
daft stamp on Robben was the final significant act of Dunga’s reign.  They never looked like  remotely like equalising.   The plethora of self inflicted wounds bringing the curtain down on their campaign.   Two World cups in a row Brazil have been eliminated in the quarter finals which is a poor showing for a team of their immense stature.  2014 they will surely emerge victorious in their own back yard when they can finally lay the ghost of 1950 to rest.

I watched in the pub and Brazil might be the Man Utd of world football.  For all the Brazil shirts on display there weren’t actually many Brazilian people.  On the stroke of kick off I turned to wish a ‘Brazil fan’ good luck and he replied with a broad cockney accent.  All the more bewildering that the cockney Brazilian seemed baffled to hear some of the Brazil shirt wearers actually talking Portugese!!   The Albert Square soundalike looked on suspiciously.  How can they support Brazil when they are Brazilian?   It just ain’t right guvnor!

The real question about the Uruguay v Ghana game is the red card.  No question the ref was 100% correct to send him off but why did he handle it when it would have been just as easy for him to head it??!  It was going straight for his bonce. Gyan missing the penalty was one of the most pivotal moments of the tournament. In one fleeting moment the dream of an entire continent dissolved.  Gyan will be haunted by that moment forever, although the point has to be made that to step up minutes later and score one in the shootout took admirable character.  Agreu’s clinching penalty was the epitome of grace under pressure.    
Clicking about on the interweb I just found this article.

There were times when the notion that a host city would want England in town was unthinkable.  The transformation is pleasing.  Instead of places cowering at the prospect of an England visit the three lions are embraced. Instead of skinheads with NF tattoos there are family holidays from Carlisle.  Of course there will be some English people who would prefer to see fear in the eyes of locals, but then again, some people still think the earth is flat.  It’s just a pity the team let us down so pitifully.

MysticalDescent’s views on England vs Germany

June 28th, 2010 No comments

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 and Schweinsteiger

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 Golden Generation

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.

England. The time is now. The slate is clean.

June 27th, 2010 No comments

It’s here.  The day has arrived.  In a few hours England will face Germany in a knockout World Cup match.   The last was 1990 and the nation was transfixed by the tears of a clown.     We’ll soon experience this years rollercoaster.  In 2030 will we remember tears of joy? 

So far it’s been a traumatic tournament for England.   Rumours of mutiny and boredom following the bafflingly incompetent showing against Algeria led to some vicious condemnation.    Fortunately a football match broke out on Wednesday and we put aside the distractions and won in (relative) comfort.   That’s all in the past now.  When knockout stages start it’s like  a new  tournament.   It’d be fantastic if  Wayne could ‘Write the Future’.   Imagine in twenty years looking back on the night we beat Germany!!   To make the difference on a stage like this is to become immortal.   No reason to feel afraid.  There will only be a billion people watching.   The time is now.  I can’t believe I wrote this paragraph and didn’t use the words ‘Penalty shootout’.  AAAARRRGH dam!!  

Both knockout games so far have been excellent.  Both filled with spritely attacking football and teams going all out for the wins as opposed to waiting to take a chance on penalties.    It was thrilling to watch the USA play their way back into their game against Ghana and exciting to see Ghana’s resilience in getting back in front.  Both sides were a credit to the game.   It’s becoming a great tournament now.   Let’s hope it continues. 

Much of what can be achieved is down to attitude and approach.   Brazil and Portugal were both qualified for the second round but even bearing that in mind their boring violent dirge on Friday was vile.   Is that the best they could conjure up?  Two sides filled with talent and excitement yet they just spent all game barging into each other and arguing like a load of little kids.  Spain have clicked into gear though.    Iniesta’s goal against Chile had the swagger and execution Barcelona have shown for the last two years.  Villa took his chance well but you can’t help wondering why the keeper dashed out.   If Spain continue to improve the only future Christiano will be  writing next week will be on postcards from his holiday home in the Bahamas.  Wouldn’t that be a shame!!


MysticalDescent’s views on England vs Slovenia

June 24th, 2010 No comments

James – 7 – Good safe hands for the majority of the match. He looked a calm, experienced head in a crunch game.

Johnson – 5 – Anything he did in the match, of which there was little good, was completely overshadowed by his persistent cheating. He was eventually booked for exaggerating contact, but he was very lucky to get away with a couple of other dives.

Terry – 7.5 – I was actually impressed with Terry, he was good at the back, was unlucky not to score and put in an exceptional, vital block. More of the same please.

Upson – 6 – Made one good block, but the rest of his game wasn’t really up to much. Somehow, he’s even slower than Carragher.

Cole – 7.5 – Not up to the level he performs at for Chelsea, but much, much better. He really got down the flank and gave his full-back a nightmare. How much better would he be with a left winger to help him out?

Milner – 8 MotM – His crossing ranged between awful and inch perfect, but his all round performance was probably as good as any England player this tournament.

Barry – 7 – A good, quiet game from Barry, but his forwards distribution left a lot to be desired at times.

Lampard – 6 – He still hasn’t really impressed, he missed a good chance and everything he did well was cancelled out by a mistake.

Gerrard – 6 – He looked dangerous throughout the game, but he completely abandoned his position on the left hand side time after time.

Defoe – 6 – Got the winner, but that was almost his only touch of the game and I’m far from convinced by him.

Rooney – 6 – Better than his shocker against Algeria, but he looked low on confidence and was making poor decisions.

Cole – 6 – Didn’t have a huge impact on the game.

Heskey – 6 – Also didn’t have a huge impact on the game, but was at least a decent calming presence who was a useful get out ball in the tense last few minutes.

It’s been a long time in coming, but England has finally arrived at the World Cup. Like our tournament to date, we started off sluggishly but unlike the tournament so far, we had a real flourish in the 25 minutes prior to half time and it continued for about 20 minutes after the break. In that period, we looked like we could have scored three or four and it was a complete turnaround from the last two games. We mustn’t get carried away, however.

Defoe scores for England

England have scored in the middle of a good spell! What, really?

Slovenia is not a team of world beaters. Slovenia is a team who finished in third place in a bog standard World Cup group and who never had any real hope of getting beyond the group stage. They are not a top, top team and there are certain things that we got away with against them that we will not get away with against the likes of Spain, Brazil and Uruguay (who remain my tip for the trophy). For a start, I’m a long, long way from being convinced by Jermain Defoe up front. He scored the winning goal and that’s a big plus, even if it did go in off his shin. Would Heskey have gotten himself in that position to score? It’s unlikely. That was one of Defoe’s only touches over the course of the match, however, whereas Heskey would be involved in most of England’s attacks. It would be alright if Defoe were the sort of player who will pop up almost every single game with a goal, but he isn’t, at all. It’s all a bit of a quandary really, and I don’t envy Capello for having to make the call on Sunday. The more I look at it, we really are very, very weak up front. Defoe, Heskey and Crouch are all limited players and none of them is a world beater. Even in Euro 2000 we had two very good strikers to call on in Shearer and Owen. This year, we just have Rooney.

Secondly, Capello has to spend a lot of time thinking about what he does with his captain. Steven Gerrard simply does not work out on the left wing. He does not behave with any of the positional discipline that you would expect of a left winger. Instead, he plays the same game that he plays for Liverpool when he plays in the centre, apart from when defending in which case he drops back over to the left hand side. Throughout the game Gerrard appears all over the pitch when England has possession, but he is never where he is supposed to be. The ultimate effect is that we are left short if we ever move the ball over to the left and as good as he is, Ashley Cole cannot consistently take on two opposition defenders on his own. For what it’s worth I would move Gerrard to the middle, take out Lampard and put Joe Cole on the left. Bizarrely, Capello doesn’t seem to have considered this, as he showed when he brought on Cole to play behind the main striker while Gerrard stayed out wide. Gerrard’s indiscipline will cost us in both defence and attack against the better teams unless it is nipped in the bud now.

We can at least be pleased with the performance that James Milner put in. Aaron Lennon is a good player, but there was something missing from his game against the US and Algeria. His failure to use his pace to get down the line to put a cross meant that he offered just as little in attack as he did defence. Milner, however, was a revelation after his bizarre cameo against the US. He was constantly getting balls into the box and whilst they were a bit hit and miss, when he got it right he got it very right indeed. The cross for the goal was inch perfect and there were one or two others that he put into the right areas. He’s a player who has really come on quietly over the past few years and he is now starting to demonstrate why he is such a crucial player for Aston Villa. In a team that has been blighted by workshy, arrogant prima donnas, it’s nice to see a quiet and hardworking player who also has a bit of talent. Hopefully we’ll get a repeat performance against the Germans.

James Milner

James Milner's performance was a revelation, hopefully he could become the star of this tournament for England

I have already mentioned in this article and others that I think Wayne Rooney is our only world class player. For some reason, however, he just hasn’t turned up so far. A change of strike partners hasn’t helped him and every minute that passes over the course of the game just seems to place more and more weight on his shoulders. I think that he’s being affected by a combination of a lingering injury and feeling the massive, massive pressure that’s on him to perform. The press are quite happy to remind him every time he sees them that he’s seen as the single creative spark that England has who is capable of single-handedly winning the World Cup. He’s constantly told that he’s the best English player for a whole generation. I think once he gets one goal, he could well get another and the pressure would start to alleviate a little, but a lack of confidence caused by the pressure then begins to come into play. Against Slovenia, he quite often chose to pass when he would have been able to shoot, or shoot when he would have been better off passing. He had an excellent chance to score, but he fluffed his lines and ended up taking his shot with the ball already behind him. It was a top quality save, but a poor miss, regardless of whether or not he thought he was offside. I think we’ve seen the back of the player who will get so frustrated that he’ll lash out on the nearest opposition player, so with careful management that shouldn’t be a worry for us, but he needs something to happen for him soon because he’s currently becoming a liability. Worse than that, he’s an undroppable liability, somebody who England cannot do without, but who is holding England back.

Of course, a good 45 minute spell across the middle of the match won’t be enough for us to beat the Germans. There’s a reason that they haven’t failed to reach the quarter finals since 1936 and it is engrained into their football culture. We cannot afford to let the game go beyond extra time; we must win it before the dreaded penalty shootout. Do that and maybe, just maybe I’ll let myself suspect that it could be our year. We can potentially face Argentina in the quarter-finals and Portugal in the semi-finals, should we beat the Germans. It’s all lined up for us to take our revenge for so many footballing disasters over the years. I’m feeling strangely optimistic.

England lose to Germany on penalties

Let's try not to take on the Germans at their own game, let's just beat them in ordinary time instead.

A win at last!

June 24th, 2010 No comments

That was better.  We played with a bit more purpose and opened Slovenia up now and then.   Defoe put some much needed mobility in to the forward line and he took his chance well.   Fantastic cross by Milner too which was a pleasant surprise.  Rooney was more involved and  should have scored Rooney the chance that the keeper saved but he was looking a bit better.   If he scores one he’ll score another.   The defence hasn’t had the credit it deserves.  Upson and Terry were rock solid.  Apart from THAT moment fron Green we’ve rarely looked like conceding. 

The last five minutes were annoyingly tense because we should have scored another one (or two) to finish them off.   When the final whistle finally blew and celebrations commenced I looked around the pub and noticed the Americans watching their game against Algeria suddenly go barmy.   At first it seemed they were just acting a bit weird then it dawned on me they were going barmy because of the late winner.  Afterwards speaking to some of them it dawned on me they had watched and some of them hadn’t really understood what was happening.   Talk of a “Late score” and “Desperate interceptions” is unusual football terminology! 

Of course, that late USA goal means it’s Germany next.   There’s no reason to fear anyone but it’s common sense that Germany avoidance was preferable.  We may pay a heavy price for our slackness in the first two games.   The dreaded penalties loom large in our collective mind.   I fear our journey will end on Sunday.  We usually get knocked out when we face a side with genuine aspirations to win the trophy.  1990 was fantastic but, with all respect Belgium and Cameroon weren’t contenders to win the trophy.  I’d love to be wrong.