England 2010 are dogged by familiar problems. The lack of a stomach for the big occasion is already much-discussed, but the rumblings of discontent from their camp since the Algeria game suggest that there is a nostalgia, among the players, for the less stringent leadership of Sven Goren Eriksson, and the power they themselves wielded back then.
This is a folly. If recent England sides have had a continuing flaw, it is that the players hold themselves in a higher regard than their actual abilities warrant.
Talk of a “golden generation” was always excessive, and as John Giles says, it is probable that the English players who impress consistently in the Premiership benefit from the presence of foreign players who provide guile and superior technique to compliment the more “English” qualities.
Perhaps technique has been coached out of their football. In England, there seems a disproportionate emphasis on hackneyed expressions like “giving 110%” and “getting in their faces”. The national side is quite often outplayed by comparatively unheralded nations.
Once the sense of unwarranted hype was acknowledged, the smart thing to do was employ a strict, respected tactician like Capello to guide a newly humbled set of players. A serene qualification campaign suggested the turning of a corner, but at the first sight of adversity in South Africa, the players have reverted back to their old self-importance, demanding that their thoughts and feelings be acknowledged.
Foremost in the collective mind of the anointed ones – Gerrard, Terry, Lampard, Rooney – is the necessary inclusion, as they see it, of Joe Cole. England have lacked guile and so it is natural that many clamour for the inclusion of the instinctively crafty Cole.
However, his stock has risen ridiculously on the back of a couple of passable performances in friendlies, after an injury-ravaged season at Chelsea that has culminated in his release on a free.
He could yet provide the spark that resurrects England’s World Cup campaign, but one can understand Capello’s wish to persevere with the players and the system who had until recently served him well, and the whole affair carries unwelcome echoes of the arrogance and undeserved swagger of the players during Eriksson’s reign.
Odhran Harrison is the editor of Moral Courage