Saturday, June 19, 2010

Less than the sum of the parts

Half of me wants to avoid any further World Cup comment, but the other half needs to get it out my system, so apologies to the uninterested. Please feel free to ignore.

All of the English football following public are now trying to understand why it is that England fall short of expectations every time one of these major tournaments come around. Somehow when it comes to the crunch, we rarely witness a competent and confident performance. Qualification is frequently a trauma, and when we do eventually get through, there's usually a bit of craziness - whether the 'Hand of God' in '86, sendings off or the nightmare of a penalty shoot-out. Even in 1990, England's best result since 1966, the team started slowly, struggled to win, and had 3 games in a row go into extra time.

To put it simply, the England team is usually less than the sum of the parts, and many of our fellow competitors are the reverse - this year think Switzerland, Serbia and even North Korea to name a few.

Quite apart from my personal (but not very serious) theory that England play better in red than white (think '66) there does seem to be a long shadow over English football. Maybe some of that comes from the win in '66 - there is always something in the air that says we ought to be able to do it again, whereas if England had never won, a quarter-final would seem a pretty decent outcome. Whatever the cause, good and occasionally brilliant players become ordinary and passionate players go flat. Mind you, England did badly in 1950...

So is it the manager? In Capello, we've got an expensive manager with a very good club track record. As a technician he has been very capable through qualification, but I do wonder whether it gets harder for a foreign manager to motivate a team when that seems to be the relevant issue. His reputation is as someone distant, yet England looked like a team that needed a good talking to from someone who's been there. Of course Pearce is available...

He also has seemed to be quite inflexible. One issue that seems to blight a lot of managers is having the nerve to leave out big names if they're not performing well. Sven and McLaren had their favourites, and so does Capello. Even if the team sheet is a secret until 2hrs beforehand, we know some of the names that will be there, which presumably makes it all the harder for those in the dark.

Lots of people are commenting on the formation. England have been devoted to 4-4-2 for a long time (although they won the World Cup playing 4-3-3 and Robson changed things during Italia 90.) Perhaps the obvious thing to say is that a formation should be chosen which brings the best out in the players - didn't seem to be the case for the last 2 matches. Also worth noting that although 4-4-2 used to be standard British tactics, the "big 4" don't tend to use it. Interesting to think what a 4-2-3-1 (Liverpool's shape) England would look like.

And that 2hr notice thing. David James certainly seemed less than impressed with how the goalkeeper situation had been dealt with, and how can a defence prepare as a coherent unit and team if they don't even know who's playing.

Ah well, it's easy to criticise from an armchair. History would suggest that England will revive, win the next game, and go through to the knock-out stage, thus raising all kinds of ridiculous hope. They will then crash out with a sending off or losing on penalties in a subsequent round.

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