If cab drivers, tabloid newspapers, radio phone ins and Carlsberg adverts have taught me anything, it’s that the one thing an England captain needs to be, is passionate. In fact, if any of those things have taught me anything at all, it’s that all an England captain need be is passionate. Actual footballing ability is an added but non essential luxury, somewhere down the pecking order below bravery and not being a total bastard. And so it was, to great fanfare, that Sky Captain Flight Leftenant Scottsforth “Scotty” M. Parker was tasked with the brow beating, chest thumping honour of leading out his country, almost 20 years since he earnestly tried to convince us that takeaway McDonalds was the surefire path to professional sports excellence. Rewarded no doubt for his commanding performance in the North London derby last week, Scotty was all blood and thunder kamikaze heroism and no nonsense football. Imagine Carlos Tevez but without most of the skill, none of the unbearable arsery and only some of the facial scarring. At one point he even tried to win back a ball he’d lost with his face! And in the end, isn’t that all we really want from an England captain? Well, no. But it’ll do for now.
Tomorrow’s Children – Staying true to his edict of showcasing things we wouldn’t normally see in an England team, Stuart “Psycho” Pearce manfully led from the front by showing us what he’d look like as a proper, grown up manager in a suit, complete with imitation Scott(y) Parker hair do. This had the unfortunate side affect of making him look ever so slightly like a right wing politician vying for mainstream credibility, though it did at least dampen his previous unfortunate resemblance to Bradley Walsh’s permanently kitted, over eager assistant from Mike Bassett England Manager. And the pervading notion that he was always secretly hoping to be brought on. On the field his mantra took shape in a number of ingenious ways, most notably playing Danny Welbeck as a lone target man, and then instructing everyone else to play as far away from him as possible. Daniel Sturridge’s introduction provided some needed impetus, though his slightly baffling man of the match performance mainly consisted of a nice wriggle and shot early in the second half, and a lovely cushioned pass back to Stekelenburg. Meanwhile the youthful defence were nothing short of admirable in their consistent ability to look more composed, assured and effective going forward than they ever did defending, which was thankfully aided (or perhaps encouraged) by the fact that Scott(y) Parker spent most of his time playing as a kamikaze sweeper.
Yesterday’s Men – Despite this brave new world approach in defence and attack, the ethos obviously failed to fully stretch to midfield where, for reasons that continue to escape my fragile mind, the mighty talents of Barry, Milner, Downing and Young were yet again given their bi-monthly chance to under whelm us all into tedium. To Ashley Young’s credit, he has at least conspired to gather a rather impressive goal tally, which – by the law of Crouch – entitles him to a prolonged presence. The others however continue to be considered as “still promising” or “settling in” despite for all intents and purposes being relative mainstays. Pearce qualified his exclusion of the good old boys (i.e. the mainstays we actually know are quite good, but getting on a bit) on the grounds that we all already know what they can do. Paradoxically, he continued to pick players who we’re all very well aware of what they can’t. This slightly schizophrenic approach was given an added dimension by the simultaneously indulgent and undermining inclusion of Steven Gerrard for 30 minutes. If giving new blood a chance was the aim, surely playing Welbeck and Sturridge together from the start would be more preferable than playing a knackered Gerrard for a token cap whilst very publicly giving the captaincy to someone else? Oh Psycho, to know your mind.
Mind the Gap – Despite what was actually, despite my nit picking, quite a spirited performance, the one stark contrast at play was just how large the gap was from Holland’s impressive front three to anyone in England’s roster. Arjen Robben in particular did his best to ram home just what the difference was between some decent well meaning try-hards and a genuine world-class player. This despite the fact his first goal was aided by some of the best English defensive retreating since the American Civil War and the fact he continues to run like a ballerina trying not to step on a hot floor.
You’re sh*rt, and you know you are – All in all though, it was an enjoyable game, and not an embarrassment of any kind for England for once. For one, we were playing a World Cup runner up of genuine class rather than a collection of semi professional firemen, and many in the side are young and learning enough to write off the defensive frailties as youthful exuberance. In fact the only truly offensive thing on display last night worthy of scorn and derision was the new and completely unneeded kit, and indeed, everything it stands for. For shame. If only we had some brave, passionate, no nonsense kit makers, everything would be alright.
You can follow Oscar on Twitter at Twitter/oscarpyejeary where he will gladly offer to dye the crest on your England top red for £50. Shipping not included.