What now for England?

Published : Mar 25, 2010 00:00 IST

The embarrassing fact is that Capello, constantly eulogised for his uncompromising demeanour, still hasn’t found the courage to tackle the expensive dualism between Gerrard and Lampard, writes Brian Glanville.

Well, let us at least be grateful for small mercies. At least, in the recent game at Wembley against Egypt, David Beckham didn’t come on to win yet another of his cheap caps for what can politely be described as a cameo performance. Notionally he has even caught up Bobby Moore, who won 109 caps in genuine circumstances and captained England in two World Cups. But at lone last Fabio Capello found in himself the strength and resolution to keep Beckham, on the bench. No w what about Lampard and Gerrard?

Both were eventually substituted and England looked none the worse for that. The embarrassing fact is that Capello, constantly eulogised for his uncompromising demeanour, still hasn’t found the courage to tackle the expensive dualism between these two players. What it absurdly means is that Gerrard is scheduled as a left flanker but it isn’t his role, it will never be his role, and he simply drifts off the wing and into the centre. In ideal circumstances, this would still allow Ashley Cole to race forward on the overlap as he so excitingly does. But Cole, after a clash with America’s London Donovan, now at Everton, has a broken ankle and we can only hope that he will be fit for South Africa. Where he would be in direct confrontation in the first England game with Donovan himself, the American right flanker.

Against Egypt, in the absence of Ashley Cole and that of his obvious substitute Wayne Bridge, who refused to play in the same side as John Terry, who had an affair with his ex girl friend, England deployed Everton’s Leighton Baines who simply wasn’t up to the job. Though one good centre brought a goal, but by and large he was far too cautious to exploit the huge gaps on the left, vacated by Gerrard.

As for Frank Lampard, he is beyond doubt a powerful figure in the Chelsea midfield and on his day a fine right footed finisher; but he is not in essence a playmaker and when Michael Carrick came on, there was a distinct improvement in the passing.

Goalkeeping is still a problem and I wish Capello has been bolder about it against Egypt. Arguably the best of all English keepers is still the 39-year-old David “Calamity” James, still superb on his day though ever prone to making the basic errors which have given his nickname.

The most obvious alternative would surely be the 22-year-old Joe Hart who, on loan to Birmingham City, has been having a superlative season. But remarking that Hart was too young and inexperienced, Capello refused, to go for the whole game with West Ham’s Robert Green. Seldom tested by the Egyptian attack, he did well enough, but his club form has been shaky and he hasn’t impressed in his previous England games. This, a mere friendly, was surely a chance to give Joe Hart the experience. the international exposure which he lacks. He has just once come on for England, as a substitute in Trinidad. His form all season at Birmingham has been outstanding, and to exclude him on such dubious grounds seems absurd. Must a keeper be well into his 30s before he can be judged as reliable?

On that blessedly Beckham less right flank, the strongest contestant of all, the electrically fast Aron Lennon, who did so well in the last World Cup in Germany when graciously permitted to replace Beckham, was alas absent against Egypt with a groin injury which has refused to clear up.

We can only hope that it will do so in time for South Africa. Theo Walcott, who started the game, and still seems to need a few more matches under his belt, started the game with one splendid run, but then faded from the scene. Shaun Wright Phillips, who has been in and out of Capello’s teams, came on at half-time in his place and did far far better, rocketing home a shot for an important goal.

Wayne Rooney, after his two fine headed goals for Manchester United against Aston Villa three days earlier in the League Cup final on the same ground, was adequate but disappointing. Perhaps one expects too much from this versatile, hugely gifted, player, who drifted between midfield and all out attack, occasionally showing his flair, skill and strategy, but never imposing himself on the game as he has done in recent games for Manchester United, not least against Milan at San Siro in the European Cup.

Jermain Defoe, who seemed the plain and logical choice as a striker, was strangely out of form, missed chances and made scant impact. Lanky Peter Crouch, who came on in his club mate’s place in the second half did a good deal to claim a role, scoring twice and looking effective an unselfishly productive.

He does score many a goal for England but it is usually against lesser opposition. Whether he would succeed in a World Cup is problematical: but I am quite sure Capello was right for once not to deploy Emile Heskey, useful foil to Rooney though he may be. So big, so strong, so robust, Heskey just doesn’t score enough goals.

John Terry? After a public appeal by Wayne Rooney, booing was limited, after his bitter feud with the affronted Wayne Bridge, who four days earlier playing for Manchester City, refused to shake hands with him at Stamford Bridge. After four dreadful games for Chelsea, Terry after one early mistake proceeded to play competently enough for England. His partner in central defence, Matthew Upson, was unlucky to slip and thus give Egypt an easy goal, but overall he did well enough; though I still cannot see him as an international centre half. Rio Ferdinand, at his best certainly is one, but he remains injured and who knows when he will ever be fit again?

Quite why the excellent, versatile James Milner had to wait till well into the second half to get on, only Capello can tell you. Why a player in such form, adopt on either wing, just as good for Aston Villa in central midfield, has to be used as a mere substitute baffles and seems wasteful to a degree.

He should surely at least be on that left wing so deserted by Garrard, and where he did so well on his debut in Holland, or even in central midfield. A gift horse is being looked stonily in the mouth. England simply haven’t got enough talent to ignore so accomplished a footballer.

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