Well, here we go on another thrilling cycle of boom-and-bust expectations for the England team. After a few weeks of we-can’t-beat-anyone-probably-not-even-Kazakhstan type despair, we’ve got a new manager and we’re talking about winning the World Cup again. What’s doubly ridiculous about this is that we’re already hearing concerns that whilst Fabio Capello may win us some games (I hear he is quite good at that), we won’t do it very stylishly.
Let’s step back from that statement, to make sure we’ve really taken it in: some people are worried that Fabio Capello will destroy the England team’s propensity for playing attractive football. Apart from being a beggars-can’t-be-choosers situation on a par with a group of crack-addicted tramps wondering which Fortnums Christmas hamper to order, how often have you ever seen England play really attractive football?
We’ve only ever pulled it off intermittently. The 4-1 win over Holland in 1996, remember, was followed by the turgid 0-0 against Spain. The 5-1 against Germany (which, though a marvellous result, was full of comedy defending – Germany simply failed to punish ours) was followed by a scrappy 2-0 against Albania. I suspect that if you ask around, you’ll find that most people who aren’t England fans will not think of England as an exciting team to watch.
The fact is, teams tend to play more attractive football when they actually keep the ball, and regardless of any concerns about too many foreigners in the Premiership or players being paid too much, keeping possession has been the England team’s problem for as long as I’ve been watching them. The good performances usually come when we sort that out.
This is why I think Capello is the ideal manager for England right now, because I think he will put an emphasis on possession. I can’t see him going for full-on catenaccio, because England will never make a system like that work, but I think he will want to see tight possession football, and that’s more likely to win games for England than trying to play a sparkling, free-flowing game. Yes, the man was sacked from Real Madrid for winning too defensively. But that’s Real Madrid, who don’t buy defenders because they’re boring. And, lest we forget, Capello’s England haven’t even started playing yet, never mind winning ugly in the predicted fashion.
Apart from anything else, it’s not as if there are other potential managers who could get England playing attractive football – least of all the English candidates, who have had to master the conservative style necessary to hold your own in the Premiership mid-table these days. Harry Redknapp might have managed it, but only by bringing in a bunch of prodigiously talented Africans and Eastern Europeans who suddenly discover hitherto unsuspected English grandparents.