All right, I got some things wrong. I thought 4-5-1 might work. I defended Sven bringing Walcott (although I did say we needed some more reliable cover for Owen and Rooney). I even thought Beckham should keep his place and England inarguably played better without him (although I think this is partly because the team realised they could no longer rely on him to rescue them with a moment of inspiration). But I would like to remind everybody that I’ve been a keen supporter of Owen Hargreaves for some time, and was defending him from the haters at the beginning of this tournament. Just in case this fact passed you by, readers.
When Hargreaves played in the first few matches, he did pretty well – but still not well enough to convince those who’d made up their mind that he was essentially useless. But then came Portugal, and he was immense. He seemed to run the length of that pitch fifty times: he practically made up for the loss of an eleventh man all on his own. This was literally the case at one point when his path was blocked by a defender, he looked up to make a pass to the left wing, saw there was nobody there because Joe Cole had gone off, and simply decided to run into the position where Cole would have been and then ran back inside. And he was still getting back and making crucial tackles throughout the match. And he was the only one to convert his penalty.
Not only was it England’s outstanding performance of the match, it was (given the lack of alternative contenders) the team’s outstanding performance of the tournament. Sadly, this is what it takes to impress England fans: not just performing your role effectively in a successful team, but actually running your guts out. We’re weird like that: we’d rather feel proud than win. Effortless players like Zidane are all right for fancy-dan foreign teams, but we like to see hard graft and, preferably, actual blood running down a player’s face and soaking into his shirt. (Top tip for future England players: win the fans over by having a razor blade in your shorts pocket and engineering a clash of heads with an opposition player. When you clutch your head in ‘pain’, sneakily slash it open, avoiding major arteries. As long as the FIFA officials don’t spot it and have you banned for life for carrying an offensive weapon on the field, you’re laughing.)
With Beckham no longer central to the team, the midfield should be rebuilt around Gerrard’s strengths – which means Hargreaves should take over the defensive duties that have stifled Gerrard for so long in England matches. You’d think I’d be satisfied with Hargreaves cementing his place in the team, wouldn’t you? But I’m not going to stop there. Instead, with Beckham having sensibly resigned the captaincy, I plan to commence my Hargreaves For Captain campaign. Just think – the first Canadian to captain England. We can make it happen.
Bringing Hargreaves into the set-up was one of Sven’s most controversial decisions, but has ultimately turned out to be one of his best. Yeah, Sven also made some bad decisions but I think we should focus on the future now rather than wasting time laying into him. There’s no need for an autopsy, we’ve been doing it as we went along – probably too much. The only thing most people have been able to agree on is that Sven was doing it wrong. The actual advice was often contradictory. People have been saying Sven should have done better with these great players… but everybody also seems to agree that they couldn’t all play in the same team. They’ve also said that the likes of Beckham, Lampard and Owen have underperformed, and that Rooney wasn’t fit enough. Take those players away and is the team really that great? Probably Sven’s biggest failing was that he did try to fit all those players into one team – that and his conservative habits.
For most of our history we’ve been a quarter-final team and Sven failed to raise us above that – but he didn't make us sink below it, which is more than you can say for a lot of England managers. With good young players coming through, the next manager has a solid base to build on. It’s just a shame that the next manager is a smug, clueless twat.