Saturday, June 19, 2010

Rip It Up And Start Again

I’ve been posting here less because I’ve been doing World Cup stuff for MSN, but I had to get this off my chest so here it is.

There’s precious little balance when it comes to discussion of the England football team. When I scribble these blog posts, I do try to bring some balance – I don’t believe it’s our birthright to win the World Cup, neither do I believe we are inherently rubbish. But after the game against Algeria, even I am inclined to advocate a clear-out of the team.

The term ‘golden generation’ has always been used ambivalently – in fact, I can’t recall ever having heard it used to earnestly describe Beckham, Gerrard, Lampard, Ferdinand, Rooney et al. More often, it’s been used ironically or in the context of them having failed to live up to their potential. Yet individually these players have all shown high quality, which accounts for successive England coaches’ persistence in trying to create a high-quality team out of them.

This has failed. Rooney aside, the players in question are almost thirty or over thirty. I don’t see the point in giving most of them another chance to come good. They’ve had several and when it’s come to the big tournaments they’ve under-performed. They also seem to be getting worse. I’m no longer interested in the reasons why this happens. Nobody seems able to fix it, so the reasons are academic. I just want them gone.

Even if you do want to look for reasons, I’m coming to the conclusion that the problems can’t be fixed if certain players stay in the team. Admittedly, this highly scientific analysis is based on the fact that I’ve decided I don’t like them despite never having met them. But it’s about attitude on the pitch. It’s notable that Beckham has left a hole in the squad. A hyped-up multimillionaire he may be, but he always played like an honest trier who loved turning out for England. By contrast, the likes of Gerrard, Lampard, Terry and Ashley Cole all seem to have peculiar ego problems – and I think it goes deeper than the often-identified complacency of cosseted players.

Many pundits adore Gerrard and believe that if England could harness his strengths we’d be awesome, but perhaps he thrives at Liverpool because there’s no question that he will always be the fans’ hero there. He’s become symbolic of the entire club, and modest as he is in interviews, the way he plays suggests a need for matches to be all about him. I’d suggest that this is why he’s never the same player with England (and why he might not succeed at another club).

I’m not going to psychoanalyse the lot of them, but if the personalities are the problem it would explain why nothing has really changed. You can change the system but you can’t change personalities. So I’m advocating that we just get rid. I don’t buy this idea that the next generation isn’t good enough – I think we need to give them a chance. Other teams have done better than England with more limited resources in recent years, so it doesn’t automatically follow that dumping our ‘best’ players will make us worse. (The next generation might be better than you think, anyway – England recently beat Spain in the final of the Under-17 European Championship.)

Granted, we might beat Slovenia comfortably on Wednesday and this will all look less important, but at this point nothing less than a semi-final will convince me that these players deserve another chance. I’d keep Rooney, due to his talent and the fact that I generally like his attitude (which made it all the more disappointing to see him grumping at fans who had spent thousands of pounds to travel across the globe to watch that rubbish on Friday night). But the other big names, mostly, have had their time. Watching them clod about the pitch yet again, inexplicably misplacing simple passes, failing to achieve any penetration into the box, I just wanted them gone. The fact that we so often seemed outnumbered on the pitch gave me a strong suspicion that England just weren’t working as hard as the opposition, which isn’t good enough.

Rip it up and start again. Let’s see if we can assemble a whole team of good honest triers. Ideally ones who can focus for the whole match and pass the ball competently, but right now I’m not picky.