Over the years, I’ve always tried to stay objective when examining England performances and following their nice win over Bulgaria on Friday in Sofia, I was somewhat interested to read many of the media comments from some pretty well respected columnists across the soccer world, who fell over themselves to praise the performance. Whilst a win is always a positive, the game nevertheless, for me, highlighted some of England’s tried and tested problems that never seem to go away, despite the success. Talk of a new era with a 4-3-3 formation only serves to highlight how fragile our thinking is these days. Quite simply, that team and it’s formation, would get simply murdered by Spain, Germany, France, etc.
Following the nightmare of South Africa last summer, my confidence in Fabio Capello and the current crop of players plummeted. Riddled with self-doubt and false bravado about “we’ll be better next time”, the squad feebly left the tournament early and came home firmly with it’s tail between it’s legs. At the time, I advocated that Capello should go, or alternatively, the veteran players should go, and start afresh with youth. Needless to say, the FA didn’t have the foresight or the stones to do either so here we are, almost 12 months later, with arguably a very positive position in our qualifying Group for Euro 2012. Top of Group G with a three point lead over Montenegro with only two games left against Wales and Montenegro suggests that we should qualify automatically without too much trouble. Generally, the performances have been solid, if you ignore the two home games with Montenegro and Switzerland, and many fans are very optimistic about our chances next summer in Poland and Ukraine. Recent published FIFA rankings elevating England to 4th in the world have added to the upbeat tone. Friday’s win in Sofia, with a few new young players in the team leaves many to believe that the short term future is bright. I’m afraid I don’t subscribe.
Last summer, I was filleted by droves of fans who hated my negativity surrounding England’s build up to the World Cup. I saw a team which had no speed, no passion, and sadly lacking in drive. It got worse as time progressed culminating in the disaster of the Germany game. We were led up the garden path with promises of how good this team was, inevitably resulting in failure on the field. I see the same tell-tale signs again, although not so obviously noticed.
First and foremost, the problem starts with Capello. Strangley enough, I was a huge advocate of his following his appointment, but over time, I have seen his man management skills destroy this team. He focuses his energies on the veteran players, who for me, have proved time and time again that they cannot deliver under pressure, whilst ignoring the young talent he has available. Take the Bulgaria game for instance where the most promising center back in England, Phil Jones, didn’t even make the bench. Capello trotted out the same old crew in Terry, Barry, Milner and Lampard, players who have proved they don’t have it anymore for the big international stage. Remember Joe Hart in South Africa ? Capello refused to play him because he was too young even though he was the best keeper on the squad and chose to roll out Robert Green and Calamity James who ultimately both cost us the tournament.
I was never a believer that England cannot produce young players anymore, but I do believe that we don’t handle them correctly when it comes to our National team. As I stated earlier, we should qualify comfortably for Euro 2012, and then only then, will Capello consider his young players, and that my friends, is too late. Instead of blooding them now and getting them valuable experience playing together, he’s playing them in bit parts with a bunch of crusty old veterans who are so negative about the England set-up, that they can hardly bring themselves to show up anymore. I would be prepared to accept failure to qualify for Euro 2012 in exchange for seeing the back of “the golden generation” if we had this young exciting group, firmly established as regulars on England duty. Young players take time to develop but they develop faster if they are together. Just ask the Germans.
I doubt any of this will come to fruition as Capello is a stubborn old Italian, set in his ways, although I have seen a chink in his armor with his comments regarding Frank Lampard this weekend. I hope and pray that I am wrong about all of this and England move forward to a top finish at Euro 2012 next summer.
Lord knows, the fans deserve it.