I said yesterday that England needed to produce a credible performance to match the bold claims made by the likes of David James and Joe Cole. They didn’t. What they produced against Germany was as bad if not worse than the display against Algeria. The stats might show that England had more possession and more shots on goal but the gulf in class was obvious.
The early signs are that the media post-mortem is going to separate the absurd decision that denied Frank Lampard a perfectly good goal to even things up at 2-2 and the observation that England were comprehensively outplayed for large portions of the game. In the grand scheme of things the Lampard “goal” is irrelevant. For the good of the English game the strategists need to leave the official complaint to the bureaucrats and find out how they get to the root of England’s serious problems.
Irish television pundits have been highly scathing of England’s efforts. This YouTube video of their broadcast after the Slovenia game has become a breeding ground for anti-Irish sentiment from English fans who obviously saw the punditry as being anti-English. As it turns out Johnny Giles, Ronnie Whelan and Eamon Dunphy were spot on about everything.
While Lee Dixon, Alan Shearer and Gary Lineker were highly impressed with Rooney, Gerrard and England in general against Slovenia, Dunphy called Rooney “a shivering wreck”, “could not believe how bad Gerrard was today” and labeled the performance as “shocking…absolutely incredibly bad…pretty awful stuff.” Would you trust the opinion of the old boys club or a bunch of jumped up foreigners? Well it depends on whether you believe that England did deliver one quality performance sandwiched in between three awful ones … or take what I think is the more reasonable view that the BBC pundits were employing a serious dose of hyperbole and trying not to upset anyone.
But what’s the harm in them acting as cheerleaders for the nation you might ask? Well, while Fabio Capello was cementing this positivity and optimism by declaring that England were “back” in the post-match interview, Robin van Persie was announcing that the Netherlands needed to improve their performances in spite of impressively topping their group with three wins.
And maybe that’s a difference in mentality: England seemed to genuinely believe that their performance was good enough. Well if they did then it was a short lived euphoria. Today England came up against their first decent side and they were humbled.
James Milner is supposedly a £28m target for Manchester City. If he’s worth that money then I can only think that Mesut Özil – who was part of the German U21 team that beat Milner’s England equivalents 4-0 a year ago – is worth about £100m. I don’t mean to pick on Milner who is a decent player but Özil (21 years old), Thomas Müller (20) and Sami Khedira (23) were a different class to anyone in an Engalnd shirt today. Bastian Schweinsteiger is only 25 and he has 21 goals in 78 appearances. He dominated midfield with Khedira. These players have pace, technique, vision and passion. Based on what we’ve seen at this tournament England simply have nobody with these qualities.
If we found out that Steven Gerrard, John Terry, Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard were all going to retire tomorrow (and unless they pull a Beckham they should be all out of the picture in 2014 anyway) who would replace them from the under 21s? Sure, we can talk about prospects like Dan Gosling, Jack Rodwell (both of Everton), Micah Richards (Manchester City) and Lee Cattermole (Sunderland) but if they are simply shoved in to the same rigid system, are unable to find each other with passes or create chances then it could be a demoralising and humiliating experience.
It’s too late for the Golden Generation but let’s hope the FA’s Director of Football Development, Trevor Brooking, is able to push an agenda of radical reform.