England’s bleak future
It was supposed to be a glorious homecoming for our all conquering heroes. Instead, England’s players will be made to feel more like pantomime villains when they run out to a (deserved) chorus of boos before tomorrow night’s friendly with Hungary.
The FA has lowered ticket prices to as little as £20 for Wednesday night’s game at Wembley, as players and FA suits alike get ready to feel the wrath of the England faithful after the abject failure in South Africa.
And who can blame them? Only the most blindly patriotic supporters thought that the Three Lions stood a serious chance of World Cup glory this summer, but most of us expected a team that had impressed in a near faultless qualifying campaign to at least restore some pride on the world stage after the Euro 2008 no-show.
How wrong could we be? After watching England’s ‘Golden Generation’ (surely a term in violation of the Trade Descriptions Act) produce three abysmal performances in their four games in South Africa, the failure to qualify for Euro 2008 was perhaps a blessing in disguise, allowing us to sit back and enjoy the festival of football without the ritual humiliation of eleven Englishmen being outclassed by technically superior opposition.
As in Germany in 2006, England were arguably the least aesthetically pleasing side on show, technically inferior to all their opponents, lacking creativity and imagination and seemingly incapable of passing the ball to one another without resorting to desperate long balls forward in search of flick ons and knock downs from the proverbial target man. The injury to Rio Ferdinand before the tournament was a huge blow, as England lost their captain and the only defender in the squad capable of bringing the ball out of defence without hitting aimless long passes towards Emile Heskey.
Looking back, the desperate performances against the United States, Algeria and Germany made you long for the days of Sven Goran Ericsson, when at least England looked compact and well-drilled defensively, even if they did lack ideas and attacking ambition.
Fabio Capello has certainly lost his aura, as well as the respect of some of his players, since England’s World Cup debacle. In his press conference yesterday, the once infallible Italian seemed bewildered by his players failures in South Africa and offered no solutions for their current malaise. It was as if the futility of the world’s most unforgivable job had finally dawned on him.
That said, the FA made the right decision to stand by the experienced Italian coach, who must be allowed to learn from his mistakes in South Africa as he prepares his beleaguered squad for the upcoming qualifying campaign for the European Championships in 2012.
The calls for for an English coach and the World Cup squad to be resigned to the nearest scrapheap were as predictable as they were depressing, but the likes of Green, James, Wright-Phillips and Upson will surely never pull on a national jersey again after their travails in South Africa. However, despite the obvious shortcomings of the ‘Golden Generation’, the future does not look bright and England fans may be dining out on ’66 for a few more years yet.
The promotion of Jack Wilshere and Kieron Gibbs to the senior squad, with the latter missing virtually all of last season through injury, smacks of desperation and playing to the gallery, as neither, despite their obvious talent, are likely to be playing regular first-team football this season at the Emirates Stadium. Blooding youth into the senior set up will take time, and England just don’t have the quality coming through that Germany, Spain and Ghana possess.
Adam Johnson and Joe Hart are the only young players on the fringes of the squad likely to break into the first eleven for the start of the qualification campaign, with Michael Dawson set to be overlooked by Capello once Ferdinand proves his fitness. Of the players coming through, only Jack Rodwell looks like a genuine world-class prospect, while the members of the European Championship winning England U17 team are far too young to be fast-tracked into the senior squad. This week, various pundits have been talking up the credentials of Lee Cattermole, Ryan Shawcross and Micah Richards, which is a sobering reminder of the lack of quality in the English game.
So the call ups for Wilshere and Gibbs are effectively a ploy by the FA and Capello to sell more tickets and convince gullible England fans that the country has some bright young talent coming through. The reality is that the same nucleus of players who were so out of their depth in South Africa will be leading the charge towards Ukraine and Poland come September.