England’s woes

As a player, Fabio Capello could be charming and humorous. As a manager he is a sterner figure.

Well, at least if England appoint Fabio Capello, that should be the end of David Beckham. Who is still, believe it or not, talking of “revenge” on Croatia in the ensuing World Cup eliminators as if he would again, Lord help us, be part of the team. Hard, in fact, to think of any rational manager sharing McClaren’s magnificent obsession with Beckham which twice, as we know, had him flying 6000 miles to Los Angeles without even seeing Beckham play.

At Real Madrid, Capello gave Beckham very short shrift, perhaps a little, unfairly, when David announced that he was to leave for the Galaxy. Subsequently, Capello restored him to the team with some success, but then he disappeared into the elephant’s graveyard of the so-called Major League Soccer and was injured there for weeks into the bargain.

None of which stopped the benighted McClaren restoring him to the England squad. Beckham these days cannot run any more and he still finds it so hard to beat his man. In an ideal world — at least for him — soccer would emulate the American gridiron game in which goal-kickers are kept on the bench till needed, when they would climb off it, have their kick, then return to the bench. Yet again, a perfectly calibrated cross from the right flank by Beckham gave Peter Crouch, England’s one success, his elegantly taken goal; but what else did he or could he do?

I’ve known Fabio Capello for many years, from his impressive playing days when he was an inside forward, ‘inter alia’, with Juventus and Roma. He even scored the winning goal when the Italians at long last won on English soil at Wembley, though it was no more than a tap in, after big Giorgio Chinaglia had easily negotiated a waning Bobby Moore on the goal-line.

As a player, Capello could be charming and humorous. As a manager he is a sterner figure. A little ominous perhaps that Real Madrid — where he was in his second spell — should get rid of him at the end of last season despite his eventual success on the grounds that his tactics were too negative. But I well remember speaking to him immediately after England had feebly lost one of their three qualifying group matches in the 1988 European Championship finals in West Germany. Where, he demanded, was the English “rage,” the way in which England teams reacted to incipient defeat?

A vast amount of nonsense has been spoken since Croatia humiliated England at Wembley. The huge influx of foreign players has been blamed for the supposed lack of talent available for the English team. The quality of English players has been impugned. How easy it is to forget the remarkable triumph of the unfancied Greeks in the last European Championship, a team without a star, yet so superbly deployed by that wily German veteran, Rehhagel?

As I have had cause to say before, you should perhaps blame the hapless, hopeless McClaren — who now marches off into the sunset £2.5 million to the good! — less than the dim wits, bird brains and buffoons of the FA who appointed him. And before a ball had even been kicked in the last World Cup. Brian Barwick, the deeply unconvincing Chief FA Executive went training round Europe trying to secure Big Phil Scolari, the Brazilian manager, without success; then alighted on McClaren. Only a couple of weeks before the Croatian debacle, the egregious Sir Dave Richards, vice-president at the FA and President of the Premiership, was announcing that McClaren had done “a bloody good job”. What planet does he live on?

Had McClaren been sacked, however much it cost financially in the short run, immediately after his absurd 3-5-2 tactics cost defeat in Croatia, England might well have stood a chance. But he seemed committed to dicing with death. Or to be moral exact, with Paul Robinson, guilty for that awful mis-kick in Zagreb which cost a goal, in alarming form for Tottenham, his club, yet picked regularly by McClaren, even after another inept blunder at Wembley in the friendly against West Germany had cost England that game.

And so it came to pass that Robinson played and erred again in Moscow, failing to hold a shot, and thereby giving Russia a vital goal. The disaster compounded by the fact that after England had gone ahead, McClaren went into his shell and imposed negative tactics which simply gave the Russians the initiative and an eventual 2-1 win.

Keeping Robinson in for so long against all logic meant that there was no chance for another better goalkeeper to bed in. By the time McClaren at last chose the young Aston Villa ’keeper Scott Carson for a meaningless friendly in Vienna which should never have been arranged — and cost England the injured Michael Owen — it was too late. Carson didn’t have a shot to stop and when it came to Croatia at Wembley he made the appalling mistake which gave away that early goal.

McClaren’s tactics were again, in that first-half, a disaster. He packed, overloaded, the midfield with players, five of them, including Frank Lampard whom he has seldom had the wit to exclude, even when we know how that nullifies Steven Gerrard. Lampard in that first period was invisible to the naked eye. How some idiot chose him as official England Man of the Match was inexplicable and was properly greeted with boos from the crowd.

We heard a lot about the appalling state of the Wembley pitch, where the mastodons of American gridiron had been allowed to tread so recently, but it hardly bothered Croatia who had in the quick, intelligent, inventive little Luka Modric, now coveted by English clubs, arguably the best player on the field. The classical, creative inside-forward, general, schemer or play-maker if you please, so lacking with England. Once upon a time there was Glenn Hoddle, then Paul Gascoigne. Who is there now?

How foolishly arrogant of Michael Owen to proclaim that none of that talented Croatian team would get into England’s. Well perhaps they wouldn’t if McClaren were still in charge. But, once again, I give you the shining example of that starless, splendid Greek team. So long as soccer remains a team game, the whole can always be greater than the parts.