They say that history repeats itself. In England’s case, stupidity repeats itself, ad nauseam.
You could drive yourself insane hypothesizing how England will line up against Croatia (doesn’t matter if players lack discipline and composure), criticising lack of upcoming talent (yes, we get it) or for fun’s sake, put on your progressive hat and champion the cause of Theo Walcott and Jimmy Bullard (and then watch as Lampard and Beckham come on at half time and score from a corner and a free kick to save the game).
So, just to set the record straight about England and to give fans a taste of what they can expect on Wednesday (not that they haven’t had enough practice already), here are five things we know about England, things that will determine how this team plays in Croatia:
5. They’re slow to adapt.
Either they’re stupid, or they’re just afraid to admit the reality in public. You have to hear Steven Gerrard to believe it – this is a player who as recently as last year was emphasising that he could work together with Lampard in central midfield when everyone and their dog knew it wasn’t happening.
Now Gerrard is saying that he plays best in central midfield alongside a defensive midfielder. It would have been nice if he’d taken a stand on it before the Euro 08 qualifiers, don’t you think?
4. The players can’t work together.
John Terry and Rio Ferdinand are the two best defenders of their respective clubs. They are the two best central defenders England have to offer. And yet these two can’t operate together at the heart of England’s defence. They just don’t click, and part of the reason is because both are used to commanding the defensive line at their clubs and when they need to take a backseat at the international stage it fails to work out for them.
There are similar examples in midfield and up front, but England’s defensive lapses (and there have been many) in the past few years merit a rethink in team selection and choosing a new first-choice central defensive pair.
3. Undisciplined to a fault.
Joe Cole can’t hug the left flank – sure he’s right-footed and has to cut in to get the best out of his abilities, but you’d think that so many years of playing for Chelsea and England on the left flank would teach him to make proper runs down the left flank so as to stretch the opposition defence and create spaces for his teammates to run into?
Wayne Rooney is young but for several years he’s been asked to play as a striker and yet he constantly sacrifices positioning and leverage for short-term involvement in the game.
Then you have your central defenders and central midfielders who can’t tame their instincts enough to play how the coach wants them to play. It’s a team-wide problem, but with certain players who are outrageously talented it’s sad to see.
Part of the blame goes to the manager for playing them out of position, but if you don’t have a good enough left winger or a standout right winger then what are you going to do?
2. They’re afraid to lose.
Terry got it right before the Andorra game (even though he was echoing what we’d seen for years now) – England players are under far too much pressure.
However, many of these players are playing for clubs where the pressure and levels of expectations are just as high on a weekly basis, so you’d expect them to be able to handle the pressure, no?
I think it also has to do with how the media has a stronger hand in shaping the fans’ view of England as opposed to what they can do to shape the fans’ view of their own team. The national team is in a sense vulnerable to criticism no matter what happens, but there comes a point when the players just have to suck it up and do their jobs, just like the fans just have to bear the fare on display and support their team through thick and thin.
1. The Best XI never gets picked.
Do you know what the ideal starting lineup for England is (from the current selected squad), keeping in mind that players need to be able to play with each other?
We’ve got two options – 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2, and here’s what they look like:
4-2-3-1: James, Johnson, Ferdinand, Brown, A. Cole, Barry, Beckham, Walcott, Rooney, J. Cole, Heskey.
4-4-2: James, Brown, Terry, Upson, A. Cole, Bentley, Barry, Lampard, Rooney, Walcott, Heskey.
If the central defenders can’t play together, then pick the lineup that will get the most out of your defenders (hence the deliberate effort to keep Terry and Rio apart).
Capello has gone to the qualifiers with only one player comfortable playing as a defensive midfielder – Barry. Hargreaves and Carrick are injured, fair enough, but where’s Reo-Coker?
In their absence, the best alternative for the second defensive spot is Beckham – his lack of pace isn’t exposed if he sits in front of the defence, he can tackle (as good as the other ‘central’ midfielders, at least), his passing is top-notch and he’s on the field for free kicks and corners when needed. Every other player put there is absolutely wasted, but be my guest and play Lampard or Bullard there if you want.
Similarly, if you’re going to play Rooney then have him cover the left flank which he can do just as well if not better than Joe Cole.
Up front, Walcott gives you more raw pace than Defoe. If England had a genuine left winger or if Walcott was deployed on the left you could push Rooney upfront.
You’re not going to agree with this because some of the big names aren’t in the starting lineups. That’s the point – pick players who form the best team, and for backup, put impact players like Joe Cole and David Beckham (and even Theo Walcott, swapping him out for Defoe) on the bench.
The England mob will want nothing less than a win, and even then they’ll want one with style and verve, and even then they’ll forget it by the next game. What England need is to pick their best team and to avoid losing the away qualifier to Croatia. If Capello is thinking of entertaining, England will lose. If he’s thinking of World Cup qualification, then England will struggle and maybe nick a win or secure a draw.
It’s time for Capello to earn his paycheck….