In the final game of the 2010-11 season, Fabio Capello and his 11 man ensemble showed us a 90 minute summary of modern football for the English national side. Gasping. Timid. Desperate. By the time 70 minutes dragged around (and they did just that) it seemed as if the England players were perfectly content with the 2-2 draw. In the second-half, you could count the amount of real shooting opportunities England had on one hand. After Ashley Young volleyed home in the 51st minute, every English supporter in a packed Wembley Stadium would have had the belief that an onslaught of English lions was the only possibility. But it never came.
Watching the match was tedious. As a half-Welsh, half-Irish teen, I should surely be the perfect candidate to revel in England’s perils the first chance I get. But alas, even I felt the pain of a saddened fan. The Lions have far from secured their Group G qualification, but at times gave the impression that it was all sewn-up. Montenegro are of course the biggest threat to them proceeding at the head of the group, but even following a string of ‘ifs, buts and maybes’, Switzerland are still in the running. At 2-0 down, England had everything to lose. At 2-2, they were playing as if there was nothing to win.
The fault will of course lie with the manager. Whether it’s the media’s influence, or a xenophobic attitude towards the Italian, Fabio Capello seems to always take the brunt of the blame. At times, you can’t help but feel sorry for the 64 year-old. He has the humility to admit when he’s made a mistake, but really what more can he do?
Certain pundits (and I’m thinking of a particular MOTD couch critic here) were bemused at the fact that Ashley Young didn’t start the match. So, of course when Young scored within six minutes of coming on, the critics were automatically correct. But is James Milner really that bad an alternative? It’s the manager’s job to select the team and the nation’s job to support it, and although many would argue otherwise, not all the nation do it.
The ex-Milan veteran has a selection of the Premier League’s finest to put together a side that can topple giants. Now, the starting XI that was put out on Saturday was as good as I could choose, save perhaps for a certain Manchester United striker currently enjoying the fruits of a relentless 2010-11 campaign. You’ve got Champion’s League finalists, Carling Cup finalists and winners of the FA Cup. Yet, it is unsynchronised. So maybe it is time for change. When going forward on Saturday, England looked as if they had missed the shot before they even got to the opposition’s box. So much so, that in a tie that really needed to be won, a late John Terry dribble was the most attractive bit of play in England’s last 20 minutes.
Against an inexperienced Swiss XI, the back four of England just about managed. When one thinks of a Rio Ferdinand/John Terry pairing, you’d struggle to think of a strike duo who could penetrate such a lock. Fair enough, Switzerland’s goals came from two set pieces, but even there England seemed unsettled. The players struggle to express themselves in the same free and flowing style that makes the likes of Spain and Holland so invincible. There’s scandals amongst the players that spoil any chances of a real camaraderie being formed. John Terry’s antics a year ago are just one of the most recent examples of an English player not ‘playing by the rules’, but as the captain it makes it all the worse.
It’s these kinds of moral outrages that affect the whole team, and it’s no coincidence that the more successful international sides in the world don’t see themselves in the papers for these reasons. They are much more likely to be in there for a nomination for goal of the decade, while England’s players are too busy dealing with Twitter allegations and super-injunctions to feature.
The latest excuse for England’s latest shoddiness is that the players were ‘fatigued’. It wouldn’t have taken a rocket scientist to tell you that, as in the last 15 minutes of the match, several players were struggling to run the pitch. Now, when you hear £150,000-a-week, if you weren’t familiar with football, you’d assume the recipient put their lives on the line on a daily basis. However, it sometimes feels as if these players forget that this is their job. Their honour. Their privilege. Maybe it’s the fact they aren’t getting paid for national performances, or see just a pittance of what they would for their club, but the same passion just doesn’t seem to be there.
So that brings us full-circle. I move that instead of jumping on bandwagons and criticising Fabio Capello, England embrace him. Instead of being hung-up on his failings, encourage him. It is my opinion that a few England internationals have lost the sense of pride they would have had as an emerging teenager, and as such do not deserve a place on the team. Jack Wilshere, Ashley Young and Joe Hart are the kinds of players that regularly perform for their country, and although have only an average age of 23, have never been in the tabloids for the wrong reasons (yet).
Capello needs to take a risk and sacrifice some of his superstars to bring in the hungrier talent. The Barclays Premier League is known as the most exciting league in the world for a reason, so the players themselves need to believe that. They need to forget about the past 40 years and become the new breed. A dynasty of England that won’t emulate 1966, but better it.