English football fans tend to take one of two extreme postions. Some say the country, which is home to the world’s top professional league, is long overdue to add a second World Cup trophy to its vintage 1966 cabinet given the exceptional quality of the players and passion of the supporters. Others, such as our resident Englishman Paul Savery, seem to believe the national team is doomed to a future of failure. They point to the fact that the Three Lions have only advanced past the quarterfinals once since their 1966 victory and have lacked luck in losing all three times they’ve gone to penalty kicks.
So despite the feeling of hopefulness among many, Savery always said that Fabio Capello’s men wouldn’t advance past the quartefinals and that he feared playing the Germans. On June 16, Savery sent a note to the Triangle Offense editors detailing his top 10 reasons why England would disappoint all those optimists who believed they could and would win the World Cup trophy. Much to his disappointment, he was spot on. Here’s why:
1. Sir Alex Ferguson said we won’t win. The Scottish manager of Manchester United was convinced in November when he saw Brazil outclass England in a November friendly match in Qatar. Despite coaching England’s striker in Wayne Rooney, Ferguson tipped Brazil to bag the trophy.
2. We lack top class players, both goal scorers and goalkeepers. There wasn’t one English player who gave a world-class performance in any match. Rooney was huge disappointment, and I think Capello was wrong not to substitute him against Germany. Captain Steven Gerrard showed some industry but little flair except for his goal against the Americans. I could go on, but it is too depressing.
3. The team has to carry unrealistically high expectations England is not a world football power, and many would argue they haven’t been from before their one and only World Cup victory in 1966. Other teams might display some sugary sentiment toward England as the home of football, but I doubt if even Andorra truly fears us.
4. There’s too much weight on Rooney’s shoulders Wayne suffered through an embarrassingly bad goalless tournament. (The English fans suffered more)
I don’t know who he needed the most attention form a shrink or a physio, but something was not right with England’s great hope. However even if Rooney had been at his pugnacious best, one man does not make a team. Capello was wrong to build his team around Rooney.
5. The England squad doesn’t have enough depth This became evident as the tournament wore on. Matthew Upson clearly was not the man to replace the injured Rio Ferdinand in central defense. Left back Ashley Cole played quite well during the tournament, but he was not at his best after injury. Goalkeeper David James settled into goal although, one can never be convinced that he won’t reproduce a classic “Calamity James” moment. Our deficiencies in the holding midfield position were clearly demonstrated by Gareth Barry, who Capello appeared to anticipate would solve all England’s problems, but was merely sluggish and certainly not dynamic enough to save the team.
6. Spain, Brazil and others are better teams I am stating the bleeding obvious that there were better teams in the tournament. England ranked No. 8 in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking made Slovenia (25th) and Algeria (30th) look their equals. I suspect Uruguay (16th), my dark horse for the tournament, would have run rings around the higher ranked England team.
7. The team struggles to hold the ball and to find the right tempo England can’t keep possession of the ball, a rather essential trait to succeed on the international stage. It was embarrassing to look at the statistics on number of passes made by English players that failed to find their way to a player wearing an England shirt. The Premier League is famous for its quick tempo. It is not always pretty, but it is fast and furious. England’s national team tempo was reminiscent of a pub team of guys older than 50. The England croquet team plays at a faster pace.
8. We never figured out how to take penalties I still doubt if England can take penalties, but they were beaten so convincingly by Germany that we never got a chance to see them fail on this front, too.
9. Two words: Emile Heskey Return to No. 5. What was Emile Heskey doing in South Africa in the first place? He scored only five goals, just three in league competition, during this past season for Aston Villa. He has scored four goals for England since 2001, a record which is not likely to give opposing defenses any sleepless nights. Capello has a lot to answer for including Heskey in the squad, let alone giving him a starting place.
10. Capello never figured out how to play Gerrard and Lampard together Gerrard (and Rooney) was asked by Capello to play out of position for the national team. Gerrard has never looked happy playing wide and he has never linked up well with Frank Lampard, whose form until the game against Germany was a shadow of his club quality. Gerrard and Lampard and two great Premier League players who somehow seem to cancel each other out on the national team.
11.And, a bonus reason for why England had to take a flight of shame The one reason I overlooked that might contribute to England’s failure was, to put it bluntly, the team’s lack of balls. I was disappointed by the team’s lack of passion. Let me correct that statement — I was furious about their lack of heart. One wag (not WAG) suggested the England badge should feature three kittens rather than three lions. The English players lacked both ferocity and tenacity. To mix metaphors, one expects the English team to possess bulldog spirit even if it lacks great skill and tactical nous.
The England team has now returned home, and the players will probably be too embarrassed to show their faces until the start of the new Premier League season. Let the inquest begin. There is a lot of blame to go around. There is one consolation: Emile Heskey and many of his underperforming pals will be too old to spoil England’s chances in the World Cup 2014.