As England crashed out of the World Cup in the most humiliating fashion perhaps the best consolation for those Reds following the national side is that Manchester’s finest will always be bigger. England’s ‘Golden Generation’ has evolved since Sven Goran Eriksson’s side lost to Brazil in 2002 but the squad’s nucleus remains.
It’s a squad that has now failed five tournaments in a row. The Fool’s Golden Generation.
England’s non-performance in South Africa is perhaps the worst of any in the last decade, bar the side’s failure to qualify for Euro 2008 under the hapless Steven McClaren. Poor against USA, abject in the draw against Algeria, England were little better than mediocre in the scrappy 1-0 win over the tournament’s smallest country Slovenia.
Then came today’s dénouement with Capello’s side taken to pieces by a vastly superior Germany. Out-passed, manoeuvred and thought, England resorted to bringing goal-shy forward Emile Heskey into the action at 4-1 down. If ever a substitution summed up England’s utter incompetence.
Supporters can point to Frank Lampard’s goal-that-never was, with Uruguayan referee Jorge Larrionda inexplicably missing the Chelsea midfielder’s shot that bounced off the crossbar and then a yard behind the line. In truth any complaints about the officials is a red herring, with John Terry and Matthew Upson performing their best Chuckle Brothers impression for the full 90.
For all Fabio Capello’s previously trophy-laden CV – in the 1990s at least – even the 64-year-old Italian failed to extract more from this group than McClaren or Eriksson before him. Indeed, Eriksson’s side made the quarter-finals of major tournaments in 2002, 2004 and 2006, which is about par for the course over England’s international history.
Indeed, something deeply troubling emerged from this tournament with the players’ almost universally down-tempo performances unveiling a deep unhappiness within the squad.
On taking the post more than two years ago Capello argued that the English played with fear. On today’s evidence they have no belief, , shape, confidence or talent either.
The perennial debate in England will now move on to why national team’s players supposedly under-perform for England when compared to their clubs. It’s a question, however, that particularly misses the point this time out. Of the starting XI against Germany only Wayne Rooney – who looked distinctly unfit in South Africa – the aforementioned Lampard and James Milner had outstanding seasons for their clubs.
Indeed, ‘keeper David James, right-back Glen Johnson and central defenders Terry and Upson each had campaigns to forget in domestic football. It showed today, with the BBC’s Alan Hansen given plenty of cause to discuss England’s ‘schoolboy’ defending post-match.
Perhaps the truth of England’s failure is closer to the quality, or lack thereof, demonstrated in the team’s performances during this tournament. It’s a poor team, with a distinctly average set of players that Capello has failed to gel into something greater than the sum of its parts. The stubborn addiction to a system that restricted too many of England’s limited pool of talent is just one of Capello’s major failings in South Africa.
Which brings us back to Sir Alex Ferguson’s United. The United manager has, with ever dwindling transfer funds, managed to squeeze every last ounce out of an ageing squad last season. The proud Scot has turned down England on three occasions but there is no doubt this England group, although limited in world terms, would have benefited from Ferguson’s continuing magic.
The Football Association, having successfully negotiated an end to Capello’s mid-contract break clause, may now live to regret that decision. It’ll cost the FA about £12 million to sack the Italian when the board holds its biannual inquest into English failure at a major tournament later this summer. His replacement certainly won’t be Ferguson this time either.
With the ineffective Rooney now off on a well-earned holiday, and Park Ji-Sung and Javier Hernandéz also knocked out in the round of 16, United now has no representative’s in South Africa. Michael Carrick, Rio Ferdinand and Nani didn’t play a minute in the tournament, while Patrice Evra, Nemenja Vidic and Zoran Tosic left South Africa in the group stages. It bodes well for the squad’s freshness next season.
As for England – we’ll return to the same debate about the side’s failure when it is inevitably knocked out of Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine in two years time.
If Roy Hodgson’s team makes it that far of course.