During the build up to England’s friendly meeting with World Cup and Euro Champions Spain on Saturday, references were being made to how many goals Spain would score and how the English fans would see how badly the current National team compares with the best in the world, and I have to admit, that I was one of those doubters. Over the course of the previous 12 months, England have steadily made their way to the Euro 2012 Finals in Poland and Ukraine next summer without turning any heads. They never looked comfortable against anyone except the weaker teams in their Group but despite the lack of style, they did what they had to do. Consequently, given the fact that my “blind faith in England” was seared from my psyche back in the summer of 2010 in South Africa, I didn’t have much optimism for Saturday’s game. England manager Fabio Capello has historically always preferred his veteran players and I have waxed fervently about how that is the wrong way to go, but despite my criticisms, England worked incredibly hard defensively on Saturday to squeeze out a well deserved 1-0 victory over the Spaniards who frankly were average at best, but that is blog fodder for another day. Forget about me though, in this instance. The main question is what did Capello learn from this game, because despite this victory over the World and European Champions, we are only in preparation mode for Euro 2012.
I guess we should start with the starting XI on Saturday which, for me, illustrated how Capello has struggled in the last 12 months to inspire his squad and their fans. The inclusion of Lescott and Jagielka in the center back pairing was a step forward for me just because any combination that doesn’t include either John Terry and Rio Ferdinand is a plus (Ferdinand wasn’t even in the squad which for me is fine). However, the inclusion of Phil Jones in midfield defies explanation just given the fact that even Jones’s club coach, Sir Alex Ferguson, is very reluctant to play the youngster in the center of the park, reprising his days at Blackburn. Why would you play the best young defender in Europe out of position even if the player’s quality would probably see him through those difficult challenges. Moving along, the infatuation with Frank Lampard is beyond me. I understand that he has given a lot to his country, but the crucial difference here is to watch how Scott Parker played that game. Parker wants the ball in midfield directly from his defenders whereas Lampard runs into areas where he knows, and so do his defenders, that he won’t get the ball, because of the traffic around him. That is why Lampard goes missing in games against the more accomplished sides like Spain, and also for Chelsea. There is no doubt that he is one of the most prolific goalscoring midfielders that England have had since Bobby Charlton, but most of Lampard’s goals come inside the six-yard box, which in itself is great, but those are goals that your strikers need to be grabbing. We need our central midfielders to be creative and drive forward from the middle of the park in order for us to be successful.
With the suspension to Rooney for three games in Euro 2012, it’s obvious that Capello has to work something different upfront but the infatuation with Darren Bent is hard to explain. I recall back in the days of Sven Goran Eriksson where he had a basic rule of thumb when choosing his England squad. If you weren’t playing in the Champions League, then you weren’t picked for your country. I know that now, especially with the young players especially, that a rule of that type would limit many of the squad members out of hand, but in the case of Bent, he just doesan’t have the quality to play against defenders of international quality. Did anyone notice the difference to the threat upfront where Danny Welbeck came on in the second half ? It was like night and day. Welbeck’s pace and energy gave us a much more threatening look in the final third. We are definitely short in the striker role for the Euros, especially with Rooney out for the Group games, almost to the point, where despite my insistence upon youth, I might see a spot for Michael Owen as being beneficial just because of his scoring prowess.
With England now into full preparation mode for the Euro 2012 Championships, it looks as if we might have 6-7 friendly matches to play before the Finals to figure out where our starting XI is. Capello likes to throw in different permutations along the way in order to determine who will be his starting players, but I come from a different breed. It’s my contention that we should be playing our starting XI players NOW ! The key to creating a capable team that can contend for the trophy next summer is to build chemistry, particularly with our young players. I maintain that sprinkling the youth factor into a team of spiritless veterans and maybe letting some of them them rot on the bench is the wrong way to go. I had to chuckle briefly at Capello’s comment after the game on Saturday where he said that “I am very happy because we have found some youngsters who can play with the seniors”….it’s the other way around, Fabio. The young players are driving this improvement and we need to cut loose those veterans who do not fit into the game plan. I would like to see the back of Terry, Ferdinand, Barry, Milner, Bent, and Lampard. Gentlemen, you have been great servants to your country, but if we are going to win anything, we have to say goodbye. It’s time to bring in the youth. Frank Lampard said it himself in a press conference last week when he referred to the new generation of England players as “fearless’. That is exactly what has been missing from this squad for the past two years. I have to admit that I was dismayed to see the starting players for the game against Sweden next week with John Terry back in the line-up as captain.This is a backward step for me as we know how Terry performs, and currently, it’s not good enough for England.
I don’t want a bunch of star names anymore representing me and my country in an England shirt unless they have the talent, desire and energy to win. I want a group of young, energetic, intense, eager and fearless players that will contest every ball, and give 125% effort to win a trophy, not for us the fans, but for themselves, and that you can only get with significant change to the status quo that prevails at the moment. Capello is slowly coming around but is it fast enough for us to be a factor next summer. We need to move on from the thought process that that we cannot produce talented players in England. We have the talent. We just have have to know how to handle them properly.
My message to Fabio Capello is that you have a golden chance to put yourself alongside Sir Alf Ramsey as one of the greatest England managers ever, but you cannot do it with veteran players that have proved that they don’t have the mental fortitude to win under pressure, but you can only do it with that level of ruthlessness that you have applied at times to players that have failed to perform, and put your future in the hands of those youngsters who want to go out and passionately represent their country in the worst way and bring a trophy back to England.