Dry your eyes mates. Why the forty-four year wait is likely to continue…..
Despite the current waves of optimism (and the freakishly good form of Wayne Rooney) England can’t win this summer’s World Cup, well technically, with them being one of the final 32 participants, they can. They just won’t. Here are some of the reasons why.
Despite the claims of West Ham, Blackburn and Birmingham fans every week, “England’s number one, England’s England’s number one” seems set to be one David James. After a stop-start international career, the 6’5’’ Portsmouth keeper has always been number one in Fabio Capello’s eyes. Handed the shirt in Capello’s first game in charge (and the subsequent twelve), James has featured every time injury has not stopped him from doing so. If one was to tell an England fan ten years ago that they’d be entering a world cup with James as first choice net minder they’d likely tell one to lay off the snakebite. In fairness to the man who used be known as “Calamity James”, the errors have been severely curbed in his latter years (although not eradicated, see here, here and here) but who can claim complete confidence in him over the course of a gruelling month where he will be expected to shut out some of the world’s top stars. The only thing the English seem to love more than a hero is a villain and it’s unfortunate for James, who always seemed a nice guy that he may quite easily end up one. Then again, whether a man who will turn 40 in August can be expected to last the course of such an intensive tournament at all is another question for Don Fabio to mull over.
At the time of writing:
- First choice right back (G. Johnson) is only just back from injury and frequently faces questions over his defensive capabilities. As good as an attacking full back as there is on his day, is he capable of keeping some of the best attackers in the world quiet when required?
- Second choice right back (W. Brown) has just been ruled out for six weeks and isn’t even first choice for his club.
- First choice left back (A. Cole) faces a race against time to be fit to take part at all.
- Seemingly preferred second choice left back (W. Bridge) has removed himself as a selection possibility.
- One centre half (R. Ferdinand) is a strong breeze away from a series of debilitating back spasms and has featured in back to back games only once since October. Although a truly world class defender when fully fit, can he be trusted to last the pace in South Africa?
- The other (J.Terry) is battling through the worst loss of form of his career and a media and supporter revolt caused over him (allegedly) sleeping with the mother of the preferred second-choice left back’s son.
You can almost hear Paddy Power’s odds drifting out.
England’s midfield now is in no way an improvement on the one that crashed out four years ago. For all the passion and leadership they show at club level, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard have never been able to consistently deliver it for their country. Every manager has struggled to accommodate two of the Premier League’s best players and all have failed. Gerrard is likely to feature on the left of midfield, a position he neither likes nor excels in. Coming off the back of such a frustrating season at club level, it will be interesting to see how he performs. The fact that he must take up a position on the left is another of England’s seemingly eternal problems. Never have they been able to deliver a left footer of true quality to nail down the spot and make it his own. The day that Ryan Giggs (nee Wilson) declared for Wales is one of the darkest in English football history. Steward Downing, Joe Cole, Ashley Young and (long shot) Adam Johnson are all possibilities but it is telling that Capello still sees Gerrard as the number one option. On the right things aren’t much better. Theo Walcott (despite his performance against the worst performing away side in British football last weekend) is nowhere near good enough to win a World cup and Shaun Wright Philips isn’t far off him. Aaron Lennon will likely be number one (if fit) but he has his own problems with delivering on big stages in a consistent manner. Compare England’s midfield options to those on offer to Spain just to get a perspective as to how bad things are. In last week’s 2-0 win over France, the Spaniards gave run outs to Cesc Fabregas, Xavi Hernadez, Andres Iniesta, David Silva, Marcos Senna and Xabi Alonso. Frightening.
4. “Bottle” (and penalties)
As big a cliché as they come, but England just don’t seem to have any. Chris Waddle, Gareth Southgate, David Batty, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, Paul Ince, Stuart Pearce. All top-quality, influential players, all missing crucial penalty kicks in big tournaments. Obviously this trend is going to end eventually, but has it gotten to the stage that it is unrealistic to assume that any England player walking up to take a penalty does not see flashbacks of these horrific moments and subsequent flash forwards to his crying face on every TV channel and newspaper the next day. I’m sure England have a fine sports psychologist in their ranks, but I’ll be putting my money on the Argies/ Italians/ Germans/ Dutch/ Portuguese (I could go on) in such a situation any day. Aside from penalties, if it did somehow come about that England made the last four or the last two, would they be expected to be capable of handling the pressure? Finals are a piece of cake to the likes of other footballing powerhouses.
5. The press.
The English print media realized a long time ago that the only thing that sells newspapers better than epic success is epic failure. The power of the media is remarkable and it is foolish to believe that players don’t fear the torrents of abuse arising from a writer’s opinions on their performances or off field antics. Just ask John Terry. David Beckham was made out to be worse than a murderer upon his return from France ’98. Fair enough, his act of petulance in flicking his foot at Diego Simeone and subsequent red-card did little to help England win that game against Argentina, but the hyperbolic headlines and photo-shopped images that went on to adorn tabloids for weeks afterwards were a disgrace. Beckham was jeered and mocked at almost every away ground he played at for the next two or three months. All in all, he showed a lot of character and mental strength to come through it. Other young players may not have it in them to do likewise however and would perhaps be excused in being afraid of putting themselves in such a situation at all. Would the thoughts of death threats to family members and seemingly unceasing future vitriol directed at them make Aaron Lennon or Theo Walcott think twice about tackling a player or taking a risk in getting on the end of a cross where a finish would be expected, but in no way guaranteed? It’s tough to call, but in no way is it beyond reasonable question.