England must face reality after World Cup failure
Other English sports teams show strength and spirit - so why not our footballers?
It won't have been lost on some English sports fans that on the day their football team slumped to a humiliating 4-1 defeat to Germany, their cricket team held their nerve to complete a series win over Australia in the One Day Internationals. And last weekend England's rugby team won for only the third time in Australia, a pulsating 21-20 victory with a young and inexperienced side. Only England's footballers fail to deliver, time after time after time.
And 'fail' is the right word. England are failures on the international football scene. Only once in the history of the World Cup have they reached the final – in 1966, on home soil – and England haven't even reached a final, let alone won, the European Championship. It's a pathetic record, particularly compared to that of Germany, who have appeared in seven World Cup finals – winning three of them – and who have also won the European Championship three times.
Of course, one could blame the press for overhyping England's expectations, and the public, too, who for reasons known only to ourselves are seduced every four years into believing that this will be the year when 'football comes home', whatever that means. But it's not the public who is to blame, it's the players.
Players like Wayne Rooney, who only three months ago was a man on fire. He was scoring goals at will - in the Premier League, the Champions League, the Carling Cup. To watch him in South Africa has been pitiful, like seeing a once-great actor stumbling over his lines.
The same goes for Steven Gerrard, John Terry and Frank Lampard. For their clubs they play as if their lives depended on it; for England they play as if they're killing time until the new club season kicks off. Contrast their lethargic display yesterday with that of their German counterparts, players like Miroslav Klose and Thomas Mueller, who buzz with desire the moment they slip on the black and white shirt.
And Fabio Capello must take a great deal of blame for the fiasco. The 4-4-2 system had worked well during England's qualification for the 2010 World Cup but by the time the side reached South Africa it needed changing to allow his best players to shine. Gerrard should have been moved into an attacking position behind Rooney, a positional switch both men reportedly favoured. Instead the stubborn Capello moulded his team around his system and not the system round his team.
But if Capello wasn't prepared to change his system he should have been prepared to change his personnel. In cricket and in rugby, when a player's form is shot to bits, he's dropped. It happened to Jonny Wilkinson during last season's rugby Six Nations, when he was replaced as fly-half by Toby Flood, and it's happened to opening batsman Alastair Cook in England's One Day cricket side.
But in football there seems to be a blind loyalty to the team's biggest names, no matter that they've long since lost their touch.
Rooney should have been dropped after the Algeria game, and replaced by Peter Crouch (21 goals in 40 international games compared to Rooney's 25 in 63) and Lampard, frankly, was lucky to find himself in South Africa at all having failed to deliver for England since, well, some time around 2004.
But so big are the reputations of Rooney and Lampard that England managers seem reluctant to drop them. Only by the grace of God – and his dodgy Achilles heel – was David Beckham ruled out of the World Cup. If he'd been fit no doubt he would have been in the squad too. Well, he's a good-looking lad, isn't he, and he helps shift replica shirt sales.
Some England fans will wail and whine about Lampard's goal that-never-was, but the truth is the 'three lions' were mauled by Germany, reduced to clawless, toothless, spineless pussy cats.
In 2005 England's cricket team found reserves of strength and spirit at the Oval to fight back against Australia and win the Ashes. In the 2007 Rugby World Cup, the England team overcame a shambolic 36-0 pool defeat to South Africa to reach the final. The England football team in the 2010 World Cup played four games, scored three goals and won one match.
Still, not to worry, the Premier League season starts in a few weeks. Until then, they can retreat to their mansions and count their millions. ·
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