Wednesday, February 7, 2007

This Place, This England (national team)

England played a friendly this afternoon against Spain; they lost the game 1-0 on a very pretty goal by Andres Iniesta. In a few hours it will be morning in England; once the tabloids hit the streets, the official “Let’s Shitcan Macca” movement will start in earnest.

There’s really not much to use to defend Steve McClaren. He seems like the ultimate example of substance over style, saying all the right things to the media and having staff members at every conceivable position, (including a team psycologist) but he seems unable to perform the central task of his job; wining football matches. Today’s loss is not really a big deal in the long run (its just a friendly, after all) but it will serve as evidence to his detractors that he needs to go before England loose their slot in Euro 2008.

The players, of course, were quick to come up with their own excuses; chief among them is the famous refrain “Just wait ‘till Wayne gets here,” which is the same one they used during the World Cup; the problem is, things didn’t change much at the cup even after Wayne Rooney arrived.

The central question that fans of the English national team need to ask themselves is whether this team is really good enough to win anything significant regardless of who the coach is. When the squad was knocked out of the Cup this summer I was disappointed (as a fan of the team) but not very surprised: not because I am a pessimist in regard to English football, but because the team, in my mind, is just not very good. In the World Cup the team finished around eighth place or so, a spot that I think was just; they were perhaps one of the ten best teams in the world, but no better. This summer people lamented yet again the English national team going out on pens, but who, pray tell, were they better than among the teams that finished above them? France? Italy? Portugal? Germany? The list goes on, but I see each one of those teams as better than the English.

Why? Because those teams have passers and creators. England, as always, is simply a long-ball outfit that hopes to score the “goal of the century” with every pass. Its true they have “stars” at every position, but many of these stars are either products of the premiership hype machine or scorers who don’t make their teammates any better. (Hello Frank Lampard.) What the team needs is a central midfielder who can tie the team together, retain possession, and set up the vaunted scorers up front. That I why like guys like Zidane and Gourcuff so much; why they illustrate the sides of this blog and not, say, Wayne Rooney: because they are creators on the field who make everyone else better. Until England somehow finds someone who can do this, the team will continue to be a great, star-studded team that never wins anything. To a degree, that lack of a midfielder is McClaren’s fault; he needs to find someone who can play that position. But England itself needs to look at the kind of players it produces, and perhaps ask itself, as a footballing nation, if not seventh or eighth place at the World Cup or European Cup is about the best it can do.

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