England are out of the 2010 World Cup, we face four more years of hurt (and, let’s face it, probably many more after that) before football comes home. What went wrong for the side that qualified so promisingly under Fabio Capello? For England’s supposed golden generation?
1. Squad Selection
From the moment I saw Capello’s selected squad for South Africa, I lost a degree of excitement for the tournament. Instead of backing the players who did him so well in qualifying, he panicked and tried to coax has-beens out of retirement (and only getting one never-been). Instead of going with the promise and passion of youth he went with the tired arrogance of experience.
To go to a World Cup with no recognised left-winger is ludicrous. To take Ledley King, who is ridiculously injury prone,was ludicrous. To take Jamie Carragher, who had his worst Premier League season for ages, was ludicrous. To take Gareth Barry, who was injured (and shit) was ludicrous. Not to take the highest scoring English goalscorer (Darren Bent) was ludicrous, and taking Emile Heskey in his place was even worse.
Despite the extent to which we all, myself included, kidded ourselves that this group of players could win the World Cup, it is apparent in the harsh light of hindsight that they simply weren’t.
2. Team Selection
Although his squad selection was abysmal (see above), Capello could have used it better. He refused to play his most talented goalkeeper (Joe Hart) and he refused to play one of his more creative players and the only midfielder who possibly could have played on the left hand side (Joe Cole). He played his target man against teams we could have outplayed and his midget against teams we might have out-muscled.
He lapsed back into the habit of England manager’s approaching the sack of trying (and failing) to play Lampard and Gerrard together, he insisted on playing four central midfielders in one team and wondered why we couldn’t find any space, and he completely failed to find a system that got the best out of Wayne Rooney, when the England Manager Job Description should read simply: “At all costs, get the best out of Wayne Rooney.”
3. Refereeing Decisions
Don’t worry, I’m not blaming the referee. I’m blaming the linesmen. But not really, as already acknowledged (see above) and as I will acknowledge (see below), England weren’t good enough to win the World Cup. That said, in sport anything can happen, and no one can pretend that a massive decision cost England in today’s last sixteen clash with Germany.
Yes, Frank Lampard’s goal – not shot, it was a goal – did cross the line by a mile. The referee should have been able to see it (everyone else in the stadium did) but the linesman has absolutely no excuse not to. That would have brought the game level, given England a second goal in two minutes and given them incredible momentum. It should have been a different game afterwards.
And on a side note, no, this doesn’t get ‘levelled up’ with the ’66 Hurst goal. No one has yet managed to decide whether Hurst’s was in or not, we will never know, it was that close. Lampard’s, however, was clearly a goal, and there should be absolutely no debate or comparison between the two. They are completely different incidents.
3. England simply weren’t good enough.
This is the main reason that England didn’t win the World Cup, make no mistake about it.
Robert Green let the side down early on. Glen Johnson can’t defend. Jamie Carragher and Matthew Upson aren’t international class. Shaun Wright-Phillips and Aaron Lennon were completely ineffective. Gareth Barry could barely pass the ball to a team-mate. Steven Gerrard cannot play on the left side of midfield. Frank Lampard went missing again. Emile Heskey is an atrocious finisher. Wayne Rooney looked like he’d never seen a football before.
These are all individual faults (and there are more while some have got off lightly). The main thing though, was that England never ever looked like a team. Despite being together for weeks, that side completely and utterly failed to gel. They showed no discernible sense of what I’d call English spirit, they didn’t fight for their country and they simply weren’t fit to where the Three Lions on their chest.
So where do we go from here?
It’s quite simple. Get rid of Capello for a start. He has got too big for his boots, carried away with all the praise that was lavished upon him. He completely failed in fostering any sense of team spirit, he actually produced a miracle by putting the players under more pressure than they would have already been by maintaining his ridiculously disciplinarian approach and his tactical nous failed him while he also completely compromised his own stated selection policies.
After that, build for the future. This ‘golden generation’ has failed, we won’t get another. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have faith in our young players. More and more young players are making a splash in the Premier League and in international football – look at the German side that just out played us. There are plenty of fantastic English talents who should be brought together and nurtured as a team for four years.
Some of them should have been in South Africa this time – I’d have taken Theo Walcott and Adam Johnson, for instance. Some were merely close – Jack Rodwell and Jack Wilshere should play a big part in England’s future. Some were there – Joe Hart must now be England’s number one while Wayne Rooney remains our most important player. We have the foundations of a solid team there, perhaps without the obvious talents of the so-called ‘golden generation’ that has gone to waste but talent is not everything.
Bring them through as a team, a team that will play together and for one another. A team managed by an Englishman – someone like Stuart Pearce – who knows what it means to play for England, who can retain their natural English patriotism and fire. Someone who won’t frighten them, someone who will inspire them.
In all, this has been a disastrous World Cup for England, and I am devastated. But before this match even kicked off today I had a conversation with my Dad and my brother in which we decided that many of England’s squad weren’t fit to lift the World Cup. The likes of Carragher and Warnock don’t deserve to go down in history alongside the greats of ’66. That does not make it any easier to take. I’ve looked forward to this tournament for four years, and have been let down again – it never gets easier.
I hope this time, we finally learn from our mistakes. I’m nothing special, what I write here is just my opinion, but I’ve watched a lot of football in my time and I’ve seen England fuck things up over and over again. What I’ve written here is, I think, common sense. That is something that English football has been lacking for a long time now. We need to go back to basics, embrace our young talent and build a new team, one that might be more worthy of a nation’s pride than the useless sacks of shit that just ruined my World Cup.