As a talisman they don’t get much more intimidating than Wayne Rooney. But even England’s front man seemed to wave a white flag after losing yet another fifty-fifty in last night’s dire draw with Algeria.
I was set to put a tenner on the temperamental striker seeing red when it was obvious his side’s second half was developing much the same as their first – no inspiration, no energy, no conviction, and no belief. But the resigned look in his eyes put paid to that. Some commentators have called for Rooney to curb his untimely aggression but this wasn’t about that. He looked jaded – his post-match criticism of the booing England fans perhaps underlining this.
England’s problems stretch far beyond arguably one of Rooney’s career worst performances. Frank Lampard, who constantly surrendered possession, was a liability. Steven Gerrard’s touch deserted him all night. Gareth Barry laboured admirably but is clearly not fit. Aaron Lennon has yet to perform in an England shirt. Emile Heskey was game but moribund – that he’s anywhere near this squad is an insult to 24-goal Darren Bent. Glen Johnson struggled with the lively Ziani all night and the rest of the back four were employed far more than they probably expected to be.
We saw in the opening game that Algeria weren’t very good, backing up the pre-tournament impression that their poor results had given us. But England made them look good as they displayed technique and a sense of adventure few could have expected. Tactically their back three – well marshalled by Rangers’ Madjid Bougherra – snuffed out England’s sporadic threat. And in midfield England had no answer – they surrendered 52% of the possession to a side ranked 30th in the world.
Regardless of whether or not England advance – and the required victory over a mediocre Slovenia side would seem more likely than not – serious questions need to be asked of these highly paid players. Lampard, Gerrard and Rooney were largely outplayed by players from Sochaux, Wolfsburg and Valenciennes. Their impressive forward Karim Matmour, who gave John Terry problems all night, was signed by Borussia Monchengladbach for €2m. They finished 12th in the Bundesliga last season.
England’s players are a team of highly-trained athletes coached to win. Algeria – like most African, Eastern European and South American sides – are a team of individuals coached to play football. The sight of relatively-limited players effortlessly stroking the ball around the pitch while England huffed and puffed, unable to string more than a handful of passes together, should have been embarrassing to the FA. Are the players weighed down by the England shirt? Are they too tired after their demanding Premier League season? Are they just not as good without talented foreign players to bring the best out of them?
It would seem like basic logic-matics to say that English players + foreign players = good club team; but English players = limited international side. It’s far too complex a problem to sum up so succinctly but the evidence suggests that something is not adding up here. This is not the first tournament where England haven’t performed – and this time there is no Sven Goran-Erikkson to blame it on.