A side containing the combined talents of Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, John Terry and Ashley Cole couldn’t even string a series of passes together against the so-called African minnows Algeria and were rightly booed off the field at the final whistle. Wayne Rooney then added petrol to an already combustible fire by declaring his anger on camera at those English fans that had the temerity to actually boo their own players.
To make a bad night worse, an English ‘fan’ was able to saunter past three lines of security and enter the English dressing room and berate David Beckham. Luckily Beckham obviously began speaking his usual nonsensical gibberish because the \’fan’ promptly turned on his heels and walked back out again.
Fabio Capello cut a confused and somewhat irrational figure as he valiantly tried to explain away another woeful English performance. “I think the fear of the World Cup is in the minds of the players. It’s incredible. The performance on one side is good in training but on the other they are not the same players” said the English coach following the 0-0 with Algeria.
Memories of England’s terrific qualifying campaign have quickly subsided and the pressure to defeat perceived weaker nations such as Algeria and the USA has seen the pre-tournament confidence and swagger seep from Capello’s charges. “I speak a lot with the players, we train and everything is perfect, but when we play the players are not the same”.
Enough guff has already been spouted about where England are going wrong and news of player unrest within the squad is hardly surprising when you consider the week the English side has endured. So here are the simple questions (and attempted answers) facing the Italian as England stare into the precipice of an early exit from World Cup 2010.
Q. How does Capello instil confidence back into the England squad?
Call a behind closed doors squad meeting and get everything out in the open. Let the English players actually state what they think is going wrong and even have an argument about it because if the coach and players are not on the same page then the Slovenian game is already lost.
Get back on the training pitch as quickly as possible and lighten the mood and tension by joking around with the players. There seems to be a constant authoritative air about Capello and maybe a less stringent approach might help relax the players ahead of the game.
Remind the players how they qualified for the World Cup. The free-flowing performances which yielded an unbeaten run to South Africa was achieved playing some cracking football. Go as far as to show the players DVD’s of the best moments of that run if only to remind them what they are capable of.
Q. Does Capello change tactics for the Slovenia game?
Absolutely, although a radical move to a 4-3-3 is dangerous with the Slovenians more than capable of hurting England on the counter-attack as they demonstrated against the Americans. Michael Dawson or Matthew Upson will come in for the suspended Carragher so the defence is settled in front of David James.
Picking a midfield will be intriguing as Barry and Lampard will more than likely patrol the middle of the park. A big decision will be whether to play Gerrard wide on the left or as support to a so-far ineffective Wayne Rooney. Gerrard does his best work for Liverpool marauding through the middle and supporting the attack so why not place him there?
The remaining wide positions will cause the most debate and controversy. The shouts for a Joe Cole recall grow louder by the day but Capello does not seem to fancy the Chelsea player as a starter let alone an impact sub. Neither Wright-Phillips nor Lennon have impressed for England on the flanks so far though and a change is needed. Cole may well get the nod. Mystery still surrounds the fitness of Milner so Aaron Lennon remains England’s speediest winger but must add a quality final ball to his game.
England XI v Slovenia: James, Johnson, Cole, Terry, Upson/Dawson, Lampard, Barry, Cole, Lennon, Gerrard and Rooney.
Q. If England fails to qualify for the knockout phase should Capello resign or stay on?
News of a pre-tournament change in Capello’s contract with the FA has surfaced this morning allowing both parties a fortnight’s window after the World Cup to possibly severe their previous agreement . If ever a parachute escape out of his current job was being prepared by the Italian it is this contract amendment.
Fabio Capello was brought in as the new England manager amid much media hype and fanfare but has so far failed to inspire a so called ‘golden generation’ to so much as a win or even a decent performance at South Africa 2010.Capello has not become a poor manager overnight and England – albeit playing well below par – are still a decent side.
A decent side (at best) is ALL England are though and far from being one of the countries favoured to win the World Cup.
If Fabio Capello cannot inspire this crop of talented players to World Cup success then no one else is likely to either.
English fans would do well to remember that should they exit South Africa next Wednesday.
Ger McCarthy is author of the book entitled \’Off Centre Circle’, published by the Evening Echo, which chronicles the curious life of a West Cork amateur soccer player.