Lineker on target!

The torpid sterility of Roy Hodgson’s team which ground to a goalless draw against Ukraine in Kiev recently compelled the former star player to post his series of tweets criticising England. By Frank Malley.

Gary Lineker’s preferred mode of wit often comes heavily laced with sarcasm.

It is not to everyone’s taste yet Lineker scored 48 international goals in a career during which he played for the most successful England side since Alf Ramsey’s boys lifted the World Cup in 1966.

A side which should have reached the World Cup final in Italy in 1990 if Chris Waddle and Stuart Pearce had been able to convert penalties in the semifinal against Germany.

A side which contained arguably England’s greatest creative midfielder in Paul Gascoigne, a dribbling winger in Waddle and two intelligent attacking midfielders in Peter Beardsley and David Platt.

It was a side which had the capacity to lift fans and neutrals alike to the edge of their seats. Perhaps the stark comparison with the vigour of that side and the torpid sterility of Roy Hodgson’s team which ground to a goalless draw against Ukraine in Kiev was the reason Lineker felt compelled to post his series of tweets criticising England.

“We’re seeing a lot of one touch football. England have a touch. Ukraine have a touch. England have a touch...,” Lineker wrote.

He upped the sarcasm at the end: “Good result for England… Brazil, Spain, Germany, Argentina et al, you’re in big trouble!”

It was the tweet he deleted, however, which perhaps had most resonance.

“Awful,” wrote Lineker. “What happens to some of these players when they pull on an England shirt?”

Lineker has toned down some of his criticism since and insisted Hodgson is doing a good job and that is a school of thought, considering the draw, with key personnel such as Wayne Rooney missing, kept England’s chances of reaching Brazil next year in their own hands.

Yet, at times in Kiev, England really were ‘awful’, squandering possession time after time and struggling to produce any cohesive attacking play in a performance devoid of rhythm and tempo.

It is no use wrapping it up in diplomatic soccer speak. The resolve and spirit were commendable but the reality is that England did not play like a big football nation. In truth, they have not done so for quite some time.

And let’s pour some cold water on the notion, which has gathered pace in recent months, not least from Hodgson, that Group H is a tough qualifying group. It isn’t.

Ask yourself this: Would Ukraine, Montenegro or Poland be expected to go beyond the group phase if they qualified for Brazil? No way.

As for Moldova and San Marino, the latter who conceded nine to Ukraine recently and are a fixture at the foot of the world rankings, are as near as it comes to a ‘gimme’ in world football.

That is as easy as it gets in qualifying terms. Who knows, Hodgson’s team might yet defeat Montenegro and Poland at Wembley and take the automatic qualifying spot to Brazil.

They may, but the fact remains that England have not beaten Montenegro or Poland or Ukraine so far in Group H.

Under Hodgson they have become the draw specialists. Tough to beat. Solid and organised, but when asked to be creative they lack ideas and verve, mostly on account of their inability to treasure possession. That is not being unpatriotic, just truthful.

What happens when the players pull on an England shirt? It is a fair question considering nine of the team who started in Kiev will be playing Champions League football for their clubs this season.

They are not bad players. Yet you can bet Theo Walcott will be more of a threat in Europe for Arsenal than he was recently. The same goes for Jack Wilshere and for all the hullabaloo around Frank Lampard’s 100th cap the Chelsea man was a pale imitation of the star who has graced Stamford Bridge for a decade.

Wearing a national shirt should guarantee an extra 10 per cent or so from a player’s performance. With England often it appears to do the opposite.

One-dimensional. Predictable. Pragmatic. A touch boring and a shade ugly. That is where England are right now, especially when Rooney is unavailable.

The sarcasm was unnecessary, but Lineker has no need to backtrack on his tweets. As in his playing career he hit the target.

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Sometimes the timing in football is just right.

It is why the Football Association of Ireland should waste no time in appointing Martin O’Neill as the new Republic of Ireland manager following the sacking of Giovanni Trapattoni.

O’Neill enjoyed successful spells as manager of Wycombe, Leicester, Celtic and Aston Villa and while his two-year stay at Sunderland was not the best, his credentials are impeccable.

He has passion, meticulous organisation, tactical awareness and at 61 the nous and experience to breathe new vigour into the Irish. It is a no-brainer.

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