So it turned out the nature of England’s defeat was overwhelming enough for the press to all but ignore the controversy over Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal, made more obvious today by the pleasant bemusement that greeted Sepp Blatter’s apology to the FA for the terrible decision. Had England lost 2-1, sorry certainly wouldn’t have been good enough, but as we were soundly beaten, it apparently was.
Naturally, the papers have decided to play the blame game, as they attempt to get to the bottom of just how England’s campaign collapsed so embarrassingly. An angry Mirror was apoplectic at Ashley Cole sharing a joke with Ledley King as the pair were stepping off the plane – understandably so, as it shows a distinct lack of thought on the players’ part. No-one’s saying everyone should be purposely morose as they walk down the steps, but a bit of tact wouldn’t go amiss.
But elsewhere, the papers seem entirely unimpressed by Fabio Capello, many suggesting we should get rid of him immediately, in that typically knee-jerk British way whenever we crash out of a big tournament. It doesn’t seem to occur to these people that perhaps England are only really a second-tier team in the world game, and that reaching the quarter-finals is just the team punching its weight. Second round is perhaps a little harder to swallow, as is a heavy defeat rather than a narrow one by the odd goal or on penalties, so perhaps that’s why the headlines and bylines on the back pages are so vitrolic.
So does Capello deserve to go? Detractors point to the apparent quality of the England squad – the so-called ‘golden generation’ – but in reality, few of England’s players came into the tournament in any kind of form. Lampard and Wayne Rooney had both enjoyed excellent seasons but others were struggling for fitness while many had had poor to average seasons. Steven Gerrard and Glen Johnson had suffered through Liverpool’s worst campaign for a long time, while despite Chelsea’s title, worries had been raised about John Terry in the latter stages of the Premier League campaign (not helped by the off-field shenanigans which saw him stripped of the England captaincy). Matthew Upson hadn’t impressed at a struggling West Ham, where Rob Green had also conceded plenty of goals, while our other keeper David James was relegated with bottom club Portsmouth.
That said, Rooney laboured even more than most in South Africa, many suggesting he was England’s most disappointing player. Lampard huffed and puffed but didn’t look the inspirational figure he often is for his club side. Some blamed the system, but then it got us through the qualifying group with ease. Did England perhaps get a little lucky in qualification? Well, it wasn’t a particularly tough group, with arguably our most serious rivals Croatia not seeming like the force they once were. As I mentioned yesterday, alarm bells should perhaps have started ringing in the lacklustre interim friendlies. But even so, few would have predicted England would struggle to emerge from a group everyone had considered easy.
One aspect of Capello’s management which is often ignored is the fact that his English-speaking skills leave a lot to be desired. The man the media love to call The Don has now been in charge of the England team for two-and-a-half years, and it perhaps speaks volumes that Capello himself doesn’t. He still struggles to communicate efficiently during press conferences, so who’s to say it’s not a similar situation in the dressing room?
Capello also made some curious decisions during England’s short-lived campaign, with bizarre substitutions (Emile Heskey – a man with three goals to his name over the past season – coming on to try to save the Germany game?) and a seeming total lack of a contingency plan. The right-sided Shaun Wright-Phillips was played on the left, while England’s most prolific scorer in terms of goals per game, Peter Crouch, didn’t get chance to improve on his international tally.
Then again, this was – lest we forget – Capello’s first big tournament. Not just his first as England manager, but as an international coach. Even as experienced a boss as he will have learned a great deal from this failure. While the majority clamour for a new face – Harry Redknapp seems to be the current favourite – it might be more prudent to give Capello a little longer to try to regroup and reshape this England side for the European Championships in two years’ time. It would give the FA chance to more closely examine and assess the current setup rather than attempting to paper over the existing cracks by simply introducing a new boss who would have the same old problems to deal with.