Sunday, 5 June 2011

England are Crap, Capello Out, Any Other Business?

First up I should probably take something back. Some of Saturday's Euro 2012 Qualifier between England and Switzerland was anything but boring. Watching the distinctly average visitors pin the white shirts in their own half and race into a deserved 0-2 lead represented some of the most compelling viewing I've seen in an England international for many years. A complete absence of drive, effort or urgency was typified when a two-man England wall contrived to break for Tranquillo Barnetta's free kick from a tight angle. Joe Hart was caught out and should have done better, but in truth the shot had no right to get as far as it did.

This refusal to put bodies on the line underlined all that was wrong with the English performance in what was a game of enormous significance. Mentally, many of those in white shirts appeared either to be totally jaded by a long season in domestic and european competition, or alternatively their minds may already have been on a beach somewhere. This famine of zest manifested itself in a weary, lethargic looking side who stood off their limited opponents and handed over vast quantities of territory, possession and as a consequence, the dynamics of the game itself. Only for a 20-minute period either side of half time were England stung into life. However, once a penalty and Ashley Young's well-taken strike had got them level, it appeared that the Swiss were the team interested in getting a winner, and much the more likely as a result. Darren Bent and Stewart Downing missed late chances to steal it, but in all honesty an England win would have bordered on larceny.

Only a Bulgarian favour in drawing 1-1 with Montenegro has kept the Group G Table as it was at the start of play. The visit to Podgorica in October casts a long shadow over this qualification campaign with only three games remaining. A trip to Sofia is never easy and is an encounter from which England are well capable of emerging with only one point or even none. With the Montenegrins having proved themselves by being second only on goal difference, a side with a 0-0 draw at Wembley already to their name will also fancy their chances of getting a positive result from what will in all likelihood be a last round shoot-out. Only the home game with Wales, a shambles of a team whose whole falls well short of the sum of its already modest parts, represents something like a bankable three points.

The most predictable scenario is that England will travel to Podgorica with their opponents having the opportunity to overtake them by winning the game, ensuring an automatic pass for themselves to Poland and the Ukraine, while forcing England into a highly unwanted playoff. To give themselves the best opportunity of making the finals, direction and leadership needs to be found at all levels within the team setup. That is why Fabio Capello's time as coach has run its course. In truth the FA and the Italian should probably have parted company following the catastrophe that was England's World Cup campaign in South Africa. Many of the players look as lost now as they did in the horror shows against Algeria and Germany, and his inability or outright refusal to learn some coherent English after over three years in the job undermines every message that he is trying to get across to those players.

Capello's rambling post-match interviews are now sounding like the efforts of a man with an intellectual age of about seven. Like most, I initially welcomed the move after the disastrous tenure of Steve McClaren, who single-handedly managed to make the Mike Bassett - England Manager film look realistic. Some sort of new coach bounce was reflected in the early positive results, but then look at England's recent record against opposition 'half-decent or above' and you'll see that it is, to put it bluntly, fucking shit. From Capello's first defeat as coach in Spain through to the abject performance on Saturday, anyone capable of asking England a serious question appears to walk away with some sort of result.

A caller to Radio 5 Live's 606 on Saturday night suggested that England should bin all of their current personnel and pick a squad exclusively from the Championship, the second tier of domestic football. Now that appears something of an extreme solution, and would be manifestly unfair on the likes of Jack Wilshere, the country's one great prospect who cannot influence some of the crap that he has to float along with. However, I completely understood the sentiment behind this somewhat erratic phone call. Too many England players are 1) not nearly as good as they or the general public think they are and 2) living in a very comfortable zone of automatic selection, regardless of results on a collective or personal level. What is badly needed is a new coach who has the balls to drop some of 'the golden generation' for good and restore the England team to being the terrain of players who actually want to wear the shirt and play for each other.

Harry Redknapp has many supporters for whenever the vacancy next arises, mainly off the back of his relatively successful domestic club career and reputation as a good motivator and man-manager. I cannot help but think that his all-round 'cockney geezer' image does him no harm in terms of winning friends in the London-centric media either. However, there are three factors which in my view cannot be ignored when weighing him up as a candidate.

Firstly, Harry is 64 years old so you have to ask how long-term a move his appointment would represent. Then there is the question of whether Tottenham's failure to qualify for the Champions League constitutes a black mark given that they have been, after Chelsea and Manchester City, the division's biggest spenders in the last 3-4 years. The final issue is an off-field one, the small matter of an impending tax evasion trial at the same court in Southwark where several MPs have not exactly left by the front door when the case ended. It might be wise to wait and see how that particular saga ends before touting the man in the dock for an international job.

The problem, as has been the case for the best part of a decade now, is that English coaches are not getting the opportunities at clubs with a realistic shot at major domestic and european success. Of the other English coaches doing well, Roy Hodgson, who is in my view still the best technical coach who was actually born here, is no younger than Redknapp and may now see a glass cieling applied to his name following a less than brilliant spell managing Liverpool. All the others are now managing in the Championship. I'd love to see an England team coached by Ian Holloway just for the press conferences at major tournaments. Brian McDermott has impressed many as a man who exudes calm authority on the touchline and with the media, while setting his sides up with a clear game plan and a requirement to play as a team.

Had Reading made it into the Premier League, maybe he would have found himself with an opportunity to put himself in the frame with a solid firsts season back in the top flight. Maybe if Blackpool had completed the miracle and survived in the Premier League then the insane prospect of Olly's unique brand of metaphors and motivation could potentially have found their way into the international dug-out. Alas, neither happened so if we really do want the best man for the job then we might need to go abroad again. However, the first two questions to any interviewee for the job should be - "Who in your view are the automatic picks for England?" to which the correct answer is of course "no-one" and, more importantly, "can you actually speak English?".

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