As the ball slipped past Robert Green the feeling of emptiness inside of every England fan would have resembled the look of Barack Obama’s list of favourite people currently working at BP.
However, instead of muddying the water, this calamitous error of sorts should be the clearest signal yet that England, I’m afraid to say, are not good enough to win the World Cup. But instead of berating this assessment of their team England fans should, assuming they want their nation to succeed, lower their expectations and support the Three Lions accordingly.
Everyone in the world of football knows that England’s first eleven is good enough to beat anyone and therefore compete for a World Cup. However, as was so painfully exposed on Saturday evening against the USA, there is not much beyond the likes of Rio Ferdinand and Gareth Barry to warrant England being held in such high esteem.
A team is only as good as its bench warmers and James Milner, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Robert Green and Jamie Carragher are all honest professionals, but ultimately lack the spark to be consistent international performers. This was partly shown by the way that Jozy Altidore (one goal in 28 appearances for Hull last season) breezed past Carragher with consummate ease before almost scoring a second for the United States. Even more telling was how James Milner was dragged off after thirty one minutes- apparently unable to handle Landon Donovan. If England’s depleted squad can’t keep up with Donavan and Altidore then how can it be expected to keep up with Torres and Villa?
England’s dominant qualifying campaign was largely built on the way in which Capello finally got Lampard and Gerrard to play together, and nothing was more central to this plan coming off was the deployment of Gareth Barry in front of the back four. However, with Barry’s lack of fitness Capello made the decision to alter the whole system to a flat four-four-two relying on Gerrard and Lampard to sort out the midfield defensive responsibilities between themselves. What does this say about Barry’s supposed deputy, Manchester United’s Michael Carrick? Is Carrick so inferior to Barry that Capello doesn’t feel that he can make a straight swap against an average team such as the Americans? If England had played an out and out defensive midfielder, such as Barry or Carrick, would Clint Dempsey have even got the shot off that led to the now infamous goal? It is something to ponder but we will never know and we shouldn’t worry about it as it’s now in the past.
What matters now is that England fans look to the future, accept their team’s limitations and therefore stop putting unnecessary pressure on players to perform miles above their capabilities. Upon the evidence shown thus far England may not be able to win the World Cup but they can still get a long way should the right approach be taken.
Take a look at the philosophy taken by the Germans. This World Cup sees Germany fail to be blessed with talented and experienced players that the English possess, even losing their captain and midfield General Michael Ballack at the eleventh hour. This is a different Germany side, a team filled with young players who lack international experience and have no proof that they can compete on the World stage. However, instead of demanding for them to bring home the ultimate prize, the German public, the media and their manager are wary of the circumstances set upon them and have set their expectations accordingly. In their first match, albeit against a weak Australia side, the Germans put on a fearless display winning 4-0 whilst still managing to miss a host of chances. This terrifically entertaining performance managed to intertwine an exciting sense of flare whilst also maintaining the traditional German discipline to devastating effects.
What would England have done for such a performance and what can they do to make it happen? The return of Gareth Barry will be huge as it should allow England to revert back to the system that served them so well in qualifying without leaving Gerrard and Lampard to share defensive responsibilities, and allowing them be more creative in the process.
But most importantly of all the England team must be allowed to go and express themselves without worrying about what any newspaper columnist, fan or pundit says about them. The reason the likes of Gerrard, Lampard, Rooney, Lennon and Ashley Cole are so brilliant for their clubs week in week out is that they can play with a sense of freedom. Whatever may be said about the nature of overpaid Premiership footballers, they are still human beings who are affected by unconstructive negative criticism just like anyone else. They have got to where they are in their careers because of their undying love for the game of football and nobody enjoys their job when they are living in goldfish bowl 24/7 whilst having unrealistic demands set upon them. And without the players being given the freedom to enjoy their football, what chance does any team have?
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Written By Kieran Lovelock