Sunday, 20 June 2010

Another Painful and Frustrating England Performance - Capello Must Fix a Broken System

While England fans attempted to forget the night before, few will have taken note of an extremely impressive victory for our rugby union team over Australia yesterday lunchtime. Martin Johnson's men, after a lacklustre display in the first test down under, pulled out their finest performance under the current manager as Jonny Wilkinson, back on the scene of his career defining drop goal to win the 2003 World Cup, played a decisive cameo role by kicking the winning three points in a 21-20 upset.

The shape of the ball may differ but - and this is certainly not something I foresaw myself saying during Martin Johnson's reign - there are things that the footballers in South Africa can learn from the men in Australia, who's victory yesterday could not have been in greater contrast with their round ball counterparts' painfully poor performance the night before. Perhaps the rugby team thrived off playing outside of the spotlight and without the pressure of expectation. If adversity helped to unite and rally Martin Johnson's team to such great effect, then the circumstances are undoubtedly right for Fabio Capello's side to do the same when they take to the pitch on Wednesday.

I am not, of course, about to compare tactics but there is something to be said for comparing the mentality of the two teams and the approaches of the respective management. The rugby team played with a simplicity that enabled them to play to their strengths. The footballers, however, appeared guilty of over-thinking every move they made and every touch on the ball leading to widespread confusion. Moreover, the rugby team's victory was due, largely, to a united team spirit and passion that the England football team seemed utterly devoid of. England's footballers cut forlorn figures against Algeria as their frustration and apparent helplessness was all too evident.

Assessing the failures and inadequacies of the England's performance against Algeria is, however, too long, tedious and painful a task to explore at length. They were as tactically, technically and mentally weak as they have been since the dark days of Steve McClaren's time as manager of the national team. Ultimately, blame must fall equally between Capello's tactics as it must with the players who left the field to deserved boos from the travelling swarm of fans.

It would appear as though Fabio Capello needed his Italian to English dictionary on hand to look up the words 'left' and 'wing' so he could try and tell a player to fill that vacant role. A wandering Gerrard, uncharacteristically sloppy Barry, aimless Lampard and out-of-sorts Rooney packed the centre of the pitch and left England with no attacking outlets. Cole was left in isolation down the left while Heskey was hopelessly trying to lead the line with little to no quality service to feed off.

The players' technique may have failed them but it was their attitude and team spirit was that was far more concerning and which angered fans. Since the squad came together at the end of the domestic season they have given us no reason to believe they warrant the label 'genuine contenders' many had given them in the build up to the tournament. They have been consistently uninspiring. They look dejected and fatigued. Probably the result of the weight of expectation placed upon them rather than a lack of trying. It is far easier to show good team spirit and passion when a team is winning and playing well and one would assume that in their final must win group game on Wednesday they will have corrected this.

As infuriating as it has been to watch the team so far in the competition you would still assume that they will beat Slovenia and scrape their way into the last 16. The only hope that can be taken from the painful 90 minutes of football on Friday night is that Capello will realise that the current formation is not utilising our key players and, more importantly, the team itself looks neither comfortable nor confident in the system. They play with no swagger, style, flair or belief. Something has to change and back-to-back draws in England's opening two games may be enough to make even a character as resolute in his own decisions as Capello willing to rethink his plans.

Gerrard, who was apparently suppose to be playing on the left of midfield against Algeria, was ineffective. Rooney, meanwhile, has shown none of the threat that he so menacingly carried throughout Manchester United's season. The saying goes, 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it'. England's 180 minutes so far would quite obviously suggest that it is broke and it needs fixing.

Pundits, commentators, players, managers and every Tom, Dick and Harry down the pub has been pleading down the television screen for Capello to change the system. What people almost unanimously want to see is Gerrard playing off Rooney, the lone striker, in the positions they play in for their clubs to such great effect. Milner, Joe Cole or Shaun Wright-Philips could then play on the left and give England the width and balance they have desperately lacked in South Africa.

Will Capello break from the system that has served England so well in qualification? We can only speculate. Will England still reach the knock-out stage? You would assume so. One thing remains inevitable. Watching the Three Lions will never be easy. Nevertheless, things can change very quickly in football. Three points, a couple of goals for Rooney and a better team performance and England's World Cup dream will be reignited so all hope is far from lost.

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...

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