So today is the day is the day for the English national team to exorcise a ghost?
A win against Croatia, the team who qualified for Euro 2008 at our expense, will see England qualify for the World Cup in South Africa and help erase the “pain” of that wet night at Wembley a few years ago. Wet unless, like Steve McClaren, you were in possession of an umbrella – what’s the big deal with that it was raining for f*cks sake and Wembley’s new design couldn’t stretch to a covered area?
Our own Steven Gerrard seems determined to purge the memories of that night. He was stand in captain for John Terry. Speaking in yesterday’s Telegraph he said…..
“It was definitely my lowest moment in an England shirt. It has taken a long time to get over it. I am still not over it now. I don’t think I will be over it until we get that qualification under our belts on Wednesday. Slovenia was a good test for us but the ‘cup final’ comes on Wednesday.”
Steve McClaren, on Sky, has also gone on record saying he was haunted by that night
“I don’t think a day goes by that some aspect of the experience with England doesn’t come flashing back to mind and teaching me a lesson, making me move on.”
Perhaps more haunted were the FA who appointed McClaren in the first place and basically cocked up the whole selection process going back from his appointment to Sven’s departure. Even with time the view of McClaren’s legacy hasn’t really softened The England squad isn’t significantly different for the one he was working with but the results under his successor are. I suspect one of the differences is that Capello, on a personal relationship basis, is less familiar with the squad? He seems not to tolerate any prima donnas, if you don’t play well or do it his way you’re out, regardless of who you are or what you’ve done in the past? Surely in the age of the pampered player, this is a refreshingly good thing?
One of the players who has blossomed under Capello is our own Glen Johnson who, somebody correct me if I’m wrong, has played in every one of the games under him. However, despite this and despite scoring twice for us so far this season and playing in what, let’s face it, was nothing but a warm up for tonight it’s clearly not good enough in some quarters. Reporting on Saturday’s match Monday’s Guardian stated
“Capello is old-fashioned in his fairly consistent belief that it ought to be tough to break into the line-up. Eight of the men who started against Slovenia are 28 or over. At 25, Glen Johnson can therefore be classified as a young buck. His defending is sometimes gauche and Nejc Pecnik outfoxed him in the 84th minute to send in the cross from which Zlatan Ljubijankic scored…….Ditching Johnson would not, in theory, be difficult since Wes Brown was trusted enough to be Capello’s right-back when Croatia were swamped 4-1 in Zagreb”
Then, in another article on the same day, the paper took another opportunity to stick the boot into our man,
“And on Saturday he (Capello) learnt one or two useful things – notably about the defensive flaws of the flighty Glen Johnson and the stolid Matthew Upson, about the enduringly enigmatic nature of Steven Gerrard’s contribution to the England team”
Let’s get this straight. If Johnson and Gerrard are not doing the business for England then no one would be happier than me if Capello dropped them. I’d rather have Gerrard and Johnson with their feet up watching Eastenders this week resting for Saturday’s game against Burnley rather than chuntering about in an England shirt and risking injury. And yes I know if they aren’t doing the business for England they are unlikely to be doing it for us but this hasn’t always been he case, ask John Barnes!
The descriptions of Johnson as “flighty” and “gauche” made me laugh. Is he now the footballing equivalent of Amy Winehouse? They imply that Johnson should work more on his defending and granted, against certain opposition this might be true. For example Johnson was given a difficult time in the friendly before against Holland when, of all people, Ryan Babel gave him the run around.
However, this ignores Johnson’s offensive strengths. Rafa likes his full backs to attack and get down the flanks, so far Johnson has done that for club and country. This is an accepted part of the full backs game but such diversity seems to be frowned on in certain quarters. No wonder the England side isn’t achieving if we still think defenders should do nothing else but defend!
If Johnson gets forward then someone else from the opposition, generally in the midfield, who could be attacking needs to drop back, attacking to defend? Capello and Rafa know what they are getting from Johnson and, presumably, what they are missing out on as a consequence. Either they will do something about it with the player, make provision elsewhere in the team if he plays (I think it’s called “covering”!) or, if the opposition demands it, not pick him. It is no different from any other tactical consideration a manager would make taking into account the respective strengths of his players and the opposition? Above all it does Johnson a disservice by ignoring the positive contribution he brings to the game. However, that seems to be the press’s way with the Liverpool players and our manager and these days!
Prediction for tonight? I suspect the haunting will end but above all let’s hope all our players return home safe and sound.