Paper Round
June 30, 2010

Rooney was the worst player at the World Cup

Posted by Ben Blackmore on 30/06/2010

Paul Merson never understates a situation, unless of course, he cannot remember a player's name as so often seems to happen. As one of the most talented, and flawed, English footballers of the last 20 years, he would seem a good man to pass verdict on the most talented of the current crop: Wayne Rooney. The article is written in the Daily Star, and for supporters of Rooney, turn away now...

WAYNE Rooney was the worst player at the World Cup. It is painful to have to say it, but it is the truth. His performances in his four games were appalling. Wayne has probably never been as bad in four games since he was 10.

The reason he was the worst is because he sets himself such high standards. We talked about him, and his team-mates did, in terms reserved for Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.But on the world level he just let himself down. He looked so frustrated and angry that he could not play his normal game.

This is a striker who has led the line on his own all season with Manchester United, yet was shackled with England and forced to drop deep looking for any sort of service.

It was dreadful to watch, just like the first goal that we conceded against Germany. I predicted that the game would be end-to-end stuff, but that was just ridiculous. Any pub team would not let in a goal like that.

This might sound over the top, but it was the worst goal I have seen conceded in open play at a World Cup. I know Rob Green’s gaffe was bad, but I am talking about a proper goal that a team has created.

It was shocking truly shocking and should never have happened, but it’s all far too late.

June 29, 2010

The post mortem rumbles on

Posted by Alex Livie on 29/06/2010

The England team arrived back in London on Tuesday morning and a glance at the papers will see the post mortem is well and truly on. Whether it be opinions on what went wrong, who should lead the country or who should be the future of the national team, it is all there. The Daily Telegraph’s Kevin Garside feels the time has come to wield the axe and for pride to be restored to the nation’s game.

If new thinking is required, how about restoring pride and honour in the England shirt by asking those who wear it to do so for nothing? And those who coach the team to demonstrate their desire for the post by accepting terms commensurate with results?

The Capello model is bust. We can no longer tolerate the days of big salaries for zilch results. Just like the parliamentarians with noses too long in the trough, the pampered England footballer has exhausted our patience. We want a return on the emotional tax we pay.
The FA has a duty to recognise the failings of Capello’s reign and send him back to his art collection and mud baths in Ischia.

The new regime should be headed by a vibrant coach willing to end some big careers and promote the best of English youth. And don’t ask who those players might be. It doesn’t matter. They cannot be any worse.

Capello should return his salary for his part in the featureless displays churned out by the Premier League all stars, not hang about for two weeks waiting for the FA to decide his fate.
The £10 million annual wage bill wasted on Capello and his cohorts is an insult to every England fan that made the trip to Bloemfontein and the millions at home that make an emotional investment in a team that appears not to care.

Capello’s England team could not summon the effort to fight back, to try a lick. Running is what they do, isn’t it? Desire is the minimum requirement.

Maybe this £100k a week generation cannot get up for the England gig anymore. The England experience has been demoted in the priorities of the modern international footballer, whose professional responsibility is to the club that bankrolls his Hollywood lifestyle with £5m a year wages.

For the Wayne Rooneys, Frank Lampards and John Terrys of this precinct the Champions League is where the big international challenge is, playing for teams that are arguably superior to the national side. Emile Heskey would not get in Manchester United’s reserves.

England is a step down in quality and intensity. The players would never admit it. The idea that they are not proud to represent their country is anathema to them.

But actions speak louder than words. They cannot escape the depressing evidence scattered about the playing fields of South Africa like elephant droppings.

Rooney, Lampard, Terry, Steven Gerrard; none of them was able to replicate the power and ambition of his club football. Capello said fear was the key. Philip Lahm is nearer the mark. Conceit, he said, arrogance borne of inflated egos was behind the buttery collapse in Bloemfontein.

When the questions were asked, England could not fathom a response. Sorry, but it looks to this observer like the players do not care enough about the shirt.

If that is the case let the England project be what it is for Germany, a vehicle for talented youth, hungry for the exposure, keen to make an impact, to chop down some big trees. And let them be led by a coach that understands their needs, treats them like adults, and is not cowed by the challenge.

Capello utterly misunderstood the tournament environment and misread the requirement in South Africa. England were over prepared and underwhelmed.

By insisting on a boot camp mentality, by disappearing into the Austrian Alps for ten days before departure and isolating his team in the remote, rural north of the country here, Capello effectively disconnected England from the event unfolding around them.

Time for an Englishman

With the pressure firmly on Don Fabio, the Daily Mail's Jeff Powell feels the time has come for England to be managed by an Englishman.

Never in my scariest nightmares did I imagine that anyone could be worse than Sven Goran Eriksson.

The clearest sign that Fabio was morphing into Sven Mark II came when he tried to cash-in with his grubby plan to publish a commercial index of his team’s performances in South Africa.

How much was he earning? The alarm bells should have been sounding louder than those vuvuzelas. Not at the FA.

When Don Fabio cunningly suggested they scratch out the escape clause in his contract — a clause which enabled either side to walk away without penalty if it all went turnip shaped in South Africa — they leapt like salmon to the treacherous bait.

What I read into that was Capello already suspected he might be heading for a disaster and he was banking two years’ compensation in advance.

Now the evidence: when asked if he would resign, he said ‘no’.

Not, he should have added, with another £12 million to come for being sacked. And if the FA think they will soon be able to stop paying by installment when he takes up another position, they should remember he was in virtual retirement when he said that England would be his last job.

First Sven, now Fabio. The millions squandered on these two imposters should have gone into the teaching of football at the grass roots.

The overall standard of football coaching in this country is lamentable.

While England were clinging to enough rabbits’ feet to spark an anti-hunt protest, Germany manager Joachim Low was doing a proper job, planning to exploit a defence not only as wide open as the proverbial barn door but hung on Terry’s rusty hinges.

So much for our latest Eurocrat. Has no one ever told the FA that no team has ever won the World Cup with a foreign manager?

Nor will one any time soon. So the earlier someone puts in a call to Flash ’Arry, Roy of the Rovers or even Big Sam, the better.

June 28, 2010

Give the officials a break, it's Sepp Blatter who deserves the blame

Posted by Rob Phillips-Knight on 28/06/2010

The argument regarding the use of video technology has seen everyone from David Cameron to James Corden push their opinion into the ring, but Graham Poll, writing in the Daily Mail, says officials want to get it right and goal-line technology would only help.

England fans will blame referee Jorge Larrionda for failing to spot Frank Lampard’s shot had bounced down over the goal-line, but the real villain is Sepp Blatter.

Earlier this year, the FIFA president arrogantly dismissed out of hand the use of goal-line technology and the introduction of the extra two assistants who have been operating in the Europa League this season.

How those decisions came back to haunt him on Sunday.

Officials want to get it right. Their job is to use their training, experience and expertise to call it as they see it. The bottom line is that goal-line technology or additional officials would help referees to get the most important decision — when a goal is scored — correct.

Larrionda will have seen the ball come down off the crossbar in the 39th minute. He will have asked his assistant Mauricio Espinosa: ‘Goal?’ — World Cup referees are able to communicate with their assistants and the fourth official using microphones and ear-pieces, just as officials do in the Premier League.

Espinosa will have either answered: ‘I cannot be sure’ or ‘No goal’. The referee then had no option but to wave play on.

However, the reaction of England’s players will have set alarm bells ringing and he will have been eager to find out at half-time whether he should have awarded a goal. The fourth official and the FIFA representative, by that stage, would have seen replays and told Larrionda that he had made a mistake.

Larrionda looked tentative as he came out for the second half. I’m certain he had learned of his error. The officials will have been mortified to get it wrong. But they called it as they saw it — and that is all they can do.

Espinosa was approximately 16 yards from the dead-ball line, correctly placed to judge on any offside calls. Larrionda was up with play, in line with the centre of goal — exactly where the refereeing manual says he should have been.

He is a top referee; part of an elite, all-Uruguayan team in charge of Sunday’s game. Before this error, he was a candidate for the final, but his credibility with FIFA has now plummeted, no matter what they say publicly.

Continue reading “Give the officials a break, it's Sepp Blatter who’s to blame”

June 27, 2010

Win or lose, Fabio Capello has to go

Posted by Ben Blackmore on 27/06/2010

Every so often, a journalist produces what could be labelled a 'marmite article'. One that will split opinion in no uncertain terms. Andy Dunn, of the News of the World, has produced one such article. Claiming England will rely on nothing but spirit in the World Cup knockout stages, Dunn argues that there is no need to pay Fabio Capello £6 million to urge the players to 'give their all'...

WHATEVER the outcome of today's momentous occasion in Bloemfontein, whatever the outcome of England's fraught World Cup campaign, Fabio Capello has to go.

Whether it is in a blaze of glory with an honorary knighthood or in a blizzard of recriminations and pay-off cheques, he has to go. Whether it is in the aftermath or afterglow of this tournament or two years down the line when the dust has settled on Euro 2012, he has to go.

If this South African sojourn has told us anything, it is that the days of the foreign galactico in charge of the English national team must surely be numbered. It's not tub-thumping xenophobia, it's not the little Englander mentality. Sure, there is something incongruous about watching a knot of Italians parading in retro England tracksuit tops, something odd about the manager standing grimly silent while a stadium echoes to the national anthem.

But it's not that. And it's not personal. Capello is clearly an accomplished coach, an impressive individual and a proven winner. It's just that there can no longer be any justification for paying someone £6 million a year to reproduce what we have seen for decades.

England line up against Germany this afternoon and Capello acknowledges that their most potent weapon is their spirit. The spirit that saw Steven Gerrard run himself into the Port Elizabeth ground, the spirit that saw John Terry throw himself full-length to try and block a low shot... with his head.

They don't get that from Capello or from his accomplished assistants. It comes from within. What Capello - and Sven Goran Eriksson before him (leaving aside the Steve McClaren blip) - was supposed to add was tactical and technical sophistication. That horse has long since bolted.

Continue reading "Win or lose, Fabio Capello has to go"

June 26, 2010

Time for a new chapter to be written

Posted by Josh Williams on 26/06/2010

Richard Williams, writing in the Guardian, takes a look ahead to England's World Cup clash with Germany on Sunday and forecasts a gripping encounter for the ages. The standard of football may not be particularly high, opines Williams, but it is sure to be a keenly-contested clash that will enter the sport's folklore.

Forget the nonsense because the players surely will. Wayne Rooney and Mesut Ozil are not looking at each other and seeing maps of the Ypres salient or images of a ruined Dresden. The only worthwhile consideration this weekend is that England versus Germany almost always produces a match which burns itself into the memory – for the quality of the contest, if not invariably for the calibre of the football.

Continue reading "Time for a new chapter to be written"

June 25, 2010

A Royal effort

Posted by Jo Carter on 25/06/2010

Andy Murray's straight sets victory was somewhat overshadowed by the Isner-Mahut marathon on Court 18 on Thursday. But on the day the Queen made her first appearance at Wimbledon since 1977, Murray was a model citizen, writes Mark Reason in The Telegraph.

The revolution can wait. Citizen Murray walked on to centre court, turned to the Royal Box and bowed like a courtier. The borders may have seethed at their man's obeisance but all was well at Wimbledon.

The Queen was in her seat and the Scot was in his heaven, gliding to a straight sets win.

The tabloids may have hoped that Murray was going to dash on court with a claymore and try to shred Her Majesty's hat, but it was never going to happen. Murray is a well brought up lad who is far more interested in winning tennis matches than starting the New Republic.

Relishing the extra attention, it was apparent as early as the second game that Murray was going to demolish Jarkko Nieminen. The Finn leans back on his wide-open forehand as if he were playing air guitar at the Eurovision Song Contest, but he just couldn't get enough amps to bother Murray.

After the early threat to Murray's serve, it was a subdued match, as inevitable outcomes tend to be. Even the crowd seemed to have toned down their dress for the occasion. On one side of the court there was a couple in GB hats. Across the lawn a pair of women who looked as though they would usually be first in the check-out queue were wearing saltire T-shirts.

They were the only signs of rampant Scottishness. Where were the usual orange wigs that tend to turn up at Murray matches? Where was the tartan army? Had it been repelled at the gates of Wimbledon by security officers asking people to remove their Celt before they came in?

Continue reading "A Royal effort"

June 24, 2010

Defoe can do far better

Posted by Ben Blackmore on 24/06/2010

Whoever said the key to Harry Redknapp’s success as a manager was the fact that he put an arm around his players? Judging by his reaction in the Sun to Jermain Defoe’s match-winning performance for England, the Spurs boss is more regimented and hard-nosed than Fabio Capello will ever be...

Jermain Defoe eased the worries of every England fan with his fantastic winner against Slovenia - but I know for a fact he can play a lot, lot better.

When it comes to nicking a goal, you would be hard pushed to name players who would be ahead of Jermain in the queue. But there is more to being a striker than simply knocking the ball into the net.

Last season, against Hull, he was virtually unplayable for Tottenham. He held up the ball brilliantly, knocked defenders off it and, yes, he scored - a hat-trick in fact.

Then he stopped doing those things. He could have held the ball up better against Slovenia and used his physique - he's stronger than he looks - to worry his markers a lot more. I hope I'm not sounding harsh, because I know if you give JD the ball in the danger areas there is every chance it will end up in the back of the net.

I also hope he gets a run in the team but that will depend on what approach Fabio Capello takes in the next round. The decision for the national manager is whether to play as open as England did against Slovenia - who, let's face it, were a poor side - or play an extra man in the middle of the park, which would mean sacrificing one of our strikers.

I can't praise Jermain enough for the way he finished, or James Milner for supplying the cross.
They were two big calls for the England manager to make in starting with those two - and they paid off handsomely. What I like about Milner is he doesn't try to do too much of the fancy stuff but instead concentrates on what is bread and butter to strikers - getting his crosses in.
Every manager should show Jermain's goal to their players as it demonstrates you don't need to beat players on the wing to put in a match-winning cross.

David Beckham was a master at it. You rarely saw him take on players but you knew the quality of his delivery as he bent the ball in would be top class. And it was that kind of crucial play from Milner that decided the game. Great movement, great cross.

There's nothing worse for strikers than seeing your winger constantly lose the ball when he tries to dribble past a full-back. Or watch your winger go on a run and the ball doesn't come in.
You don't have to beat people, you can cross effectively in front of a full-back instead of trying to get past him all the time.

By the way, did anyone notice the bargains of the century who played against Slovenia in Port Elizabeth? Both Joe Cole and David James are available on free transfers.

June 23, 2010

A different side of the Terry story

Posted by Alex Livie on 23/06/2010

After John Terry spoke out in public and seemingly caused yet more disharmony in the England camp, the Daily Mirror’s Oliver Holt felt it was about time to shed some light on exactly what IS going on in South Africa...

You don’t like John Terry much by now, do you? Don’t blame you really. Not after Vanessa Perroncel and poor Wayne Bridge. Not after the dastardly revolt he tried to foment, single-handed, at the England training ground the other day. Not after you heard he’s as devious as Lord Haw-Haw, as mutinous as Fletcher Christian and as manipulative as Rasputin.

The amount of plotting he’s supposed to have done, you’re probably surprised they haven’t flown him home and chained him to Traitor’s Gate.

Well, that’s fine, but what if you knew a few other things. What if you knew a different side to the story?
What if you knew that the vast majority of the players in the England squad felt the same way as Terry about the spartan regime they have been living under for the last five weeks? What if you knew that one of the reasons they’ve been playing like shadows of themselves in their first two games is because they’re eaten up by Cabin Fever?

What if you knew that most of them have been moaning and griping about it but that Terry was the only one who had the guts to speak out about it? And when he did, most of rest of them melted into the background so fast a few tweaked their hamstrings as they ran for their rooms.

Does that make Terry worse than them? Not in my book, it doesn’t. It makes him better. It makes him one of the only ones prepared to say what he thinks.

If that’s seen as unhealthy or mutinous or treacherous, then that’s an indictment of the regime he’s playing under, a regime that has turned a collection of good players into a bad pub side at this World Cup. It’s a regime that stifles responsibility and individuality. And that is being reflected in England’s performances on the pitch.

What if you also knew that at least one figure within the England hierarchy is actively trying to undermine Terry with private briefings to the media because they see him, wrongly, as a threat to Capello’s authority?

What if you knew that the story that appeared this week that said Terry had been causing trouble by refusing to finish a training session was planted by that figure? What if you knew that on the day in question, the Sunday after England played the USA, the truth was that Terry and Frank Lampard were the only players who had been involved in the game who were doing any running at all?

What if you knew that the rest of the team were doing light exercises and swimming and that Terry only stopped when he felt his hamstring tighten?

What if you knew that the same figure in the England hierarchy also regularly briefs against other players known as independent spirits, like David James? What does that say about Capello? That he likes weak players, players who won’t say boo to a goose, players who bottle it on the big occasion. Apparently, a couple of them were upset because Terry mentioned that they had had a beer at the team hotel the night after the game against Algeria.

Really? Capello was sitting on the next table, for heaven’s sake. It wasn’t as if Terry was divulging some terrible secret and dropping them in it.

Capello’s turned some of them into men scared of their own shadows. What are the odds some of them ask his permission before they take a leak?

Maybe that’s why they all looked so utterly petrified at the Green Point Stadium in Cape Town last Friday. Maybe that’s why everything they did was shot through with fear.

June 22, 2010

David Beckham - the 24th man without a job description

Posted by Rob Phillips-Knight on 22/06/2010

As rumours of in-fighting continue to pester England’s preparations for their vital final Group C match against Slovenia, the Guardian’s Marina Hyde questions whether David Beckham, in his role as liaison officer, is nothing more than a concerned onlooker?

John Terry is revolting. Or rather he was revolting – the apparent Terry revolt against Fabio Capello's autocracy was put down within hours, as support from his Cobham separatist movement failed to materialise. How fitting that even England's mutiny should lack movement in the attack.

Something Terry's intemperate comments did serve to emphasise, however, was the missing link, if David Beckham won't object to that description. What has happened to the so‑called 24th man, the chap England deputised to liaise between players and management? We know Beckham has perfected his concerned face for the dug‑out, which is just as well, as the TV cameras seem to cut to it every 30 seconds during games. But on occasions you might have regarded as made for him – putting a consoling arm around Rob Green at half-time in the USA game, say – England's highly billed mentor has come over a bit Garbo.

The uncharitable would observe that while he has never been shy of piggybacking on a celebration, Beckham seems less keen to insert himself into images of failure. No doubt his brand managers have a formula that can calculate the precise number of bottles of Intimately Beckham that will go unsold for every clinical England pass to the foot of an Algerian.

Obviously, it would be perfectly ludicrous to blame Beckham for England's performances – but in the circumstances, it does seem reasonable to ask what exactly he is for.

The assumption has long been that the former England captain was brought to South Africa in a container marked "In case of emergency, break glass". Aside from his 2018 bid duties, Beckham was the sort of trump card to produce when you are really in the schtuck, being the ideal candidate to be slung out to a baying media. Of far more significance, though, was his much-vaunted role as a conduit between the players and the manager – a role glossed by words such as "fluid", "amorphous", and "wholly unclear".

As things stand, attempts to establish from the Football Association the precise nature of Beckham's role in South Africa meet with an intriguing response. "I can't put a label on it," says a spokesman. "I can describe it off the record." Off the record, if you please! Have we truly reached a situation where David Beckham's confected England role is a matter for covert briefing? After some backtracking, the Guardian is referred to Frank Lampard's assessment of Beckham's job description.

"He's got great experience," the Chelsea midfielder told a press conference today. "He has a nice temperament." Other attributes? "He's very relaxed. He makes people feel comfortable and can approach people. He's seen a lot. He spoke to me at certain times. He's been a very helpful presence."

And yet, with relations in the England camp clearly tending toward the strained, has he? There isn't even the vaguest suggestion that Terry tried speaking to Beckham before his amusingly ill‑advised little outing – which is a crying shame, what with the latter's experience in leading players in radical action.

June 21, 2010

I'd have taken Wayne Rooney off against Algeria - but there's no way I'd drop him

Posted by Rob Phillips-Knight on 21/06/2010

While the decisions and tactics of England coach Fabio Capello remain intensely under the spotlight, Glenn Hoddle, a man in touch with the scrutiny of leading his country at a World Cup, has revealed the decisions he would have made differently to the Italian in his column for the Daily Mail.

I'd have substituted Wayne Rooney against Algeria, just to take him out of the firing line.

When he is attempting snap shots, off balance from 30 yards, just to try and spark something, that is no good for anyone. He could have played all night and not found his touch. It can happen.

Sometimes, you have to be cruel to be kind as a coach. Even to your best players. Let him sit and watch from the bench, to see what he is missing.

It would also have been a way of releasing the pressure valve inside his head. Instead, he ended up playing left side and what good did that do him?

But would I drop him for Wednesday's game with Slovenia? Absolutely no chance.

We need to get into Rooney's head and help him. He is such a special player, we need him firing.

Wayne, however, is playing with anxiety. Anxiety leads to fear. Fear leads to failure.

I'd speak to the DVD technician and ask him to cut me a 20-minute DVD of Rooney's best bits, playing for Manchester United and England, scoring goals, especially that run of games where he was scoring freely last season.

You want to remind him of what he can do; replace the doubts in his mind with: 'look, that's me . . . that's what I can do . . .'

When a player is in good form, it all comes naturally to him. He trains, he plays, he plays well, he moves onto the next challenge - simple. When he is struggling, as he is now, it seems a different sport; you come outside of your natural game, where you are most effective.

And you try too hard to put it right. For any sportsman, if you can't relax, then you can't play naturally. We need to find a way to make the kid relax. He hasn't played well since his ankle injury that disrupted a brilliant season.

As I've written here before, I would play Steven Gerrard up behind him, which would help Rooney's load and expectation of being goal-maker and goal-taker.

We haven't played yet in this World Cup, so moving Gerrard forward might be a way to help kick-start the tournament for England. And Rooney.

June 20, 2010

England need a leader on the pitch to fire them up

Posted by Rob Phillips-Knight on 20/06/2010

While everyone from Andy Murray to Vernon Kay has their say on England’s World Cup woes, Graeme Le Saux, writing in the Telegraph, reckons the lack of a leader on the pitch for Fabio Capello’s team is the real reason for their problems.

For a team which boasts so many leaders and so much experience, so many players who bear tremendous responsibility for some of Europe’s best clubs on their shoulders, the most striking thing about England’s dismal draw with Algeria was the silence.

They looked a very quiet side. They were almost timid. No player seemed prepared to point a finger at a team-mate, to motivate, cajole or criticise.

Wayne Rooney spent much of the game shaking his head or throwing his arms up in the air, yet nobody seemed to demand more of him, to encourage him to improve his own performance.
All teams need players who the rest of the squad have to answer to should their performance not come up to scratch. Roy Keane was exactly that sort of leader, the player you would not want to face in the dressing room after a poor display. There is only so much a manager can do once a game has started, after all.

The players have to take responsibility for themselves and their team-mates, too. It is something that has been missing from the England team for quite some time. During the qualification process for the World Cup, it was masked by results, but it is when things are not going so well that these troubles come to the fore.

Why it should be is rather more difficult to pinpoint, but perhaps England’s players have too much respect for each other. Perhaps they are too chummy, too aware of each other’s superstar status. Perhaps they feel they cannot criticise such highly-regarded team-mates.

The best relationships, though, are those which are so strong that criticism can be offered, constructively, and no damage done. My approach was always to offer praise to my midfield player when warranted, and to rebuke him when needed. Such a technique never damaged my relationship with anyone.

There are other factors, too, to explain England’s failure so far. Fabio Capello must take some of the responsibility, of course, for his failure to take any risks with his line-up, for the tactical approach employed and for his failure to act effectively and dynamically to win a finely-poised match.

His substitution of Aaron Lennon for Shaun Wright-Phillips astonished me - it is a like-for-like switch, rather than an attempt to alter the tempo of the match - while his decision to bring on Jermain Defoe and Peter Crouch proved counter-productive. So many strikers simply clogged up the space on the pitch, making England less dangerous, not more.

It is easy to highlight all of these things after a couple of bad performances, of course, but at the same time there are questions that must be addressed, not least of which is the role of David Beckham on the bench during games.

It seems like a trivial issue, of course, but it is at times like this that questions are asked over those things which, otherwise, would not be an issue. By allowing David to sit on the bench as what appears to be a cheerleader-in-chief, Capello is providing ammunition for his critics.

June 19, 2010

Rooney's woes reflect the despair of all England

Posted by Rob Phillips-Knight on 19/06/2010

Against the world's 30th-best nation England were an apology for legitimate World Cup contenders. The Guardian’s Paul Hayward was in Cape Town to see the action and felt Wayne Rooney’s reaction after the final whistle was evidence of England’s growing frustrations at their dismal World Cup form.

An anomaly Wayne Rooney was eager to correct was that he had picked up more red cards at World Cups than he had scored goals. Sendings-off led successful strikes 1-0 as the Premier League's best player arrived in South Africa hoping to justify the extravagant praised piled on him by some of the world's best judges.

There were other awkward stains on Rooney's résumé: for a start, no goal in an international tournament since the two he scored against Croatia in a 4-2 group phase win at Euro 2004, which prompted Sven-Goran Eriksson to lose control of his tongue. "I don't remember anyone making such an impact on a tournament since Pelé in the 1958 World Cup in Sweden," the normally exaggeration-phobic England coach said.

As Steve McClaren's side failed to qualify for Euro 2008, the Euro 2004 echo could be considered misleading but there was no mistaking Rooney's need to pick up the thread of tournament goalscoring, especially as he had not sniffed out the target for England since the 5-1 win over Croatia last September.

So the World Cup family watched at the imposing Green Point Stadium in Cape Town to see whether coaxing a good tournament performance from England is beyond even Fabio Capello and whether Rooney has yet recovered his zip and zest, the man-crushing and net-ripping power that earned him the title of last of the street footballers.

The news is discouraging on both fronts. Against the world's 30th-best nation England, ranked 22 places higher, were an apology for legitimate World Cup contenders and Rooney was so subdued that Capello might have felt half an urge to bring him off when he instead withdrew Emile Heskey in favour of Jermain Defoe in the 74th minute.

Whatever Rooney achieves in South Africa will require an inner victory over the frailties holding him back because it all looks woefully like labour, as if he were a pianist whose timing has temporarily deserted him.

Almost his first act was to misdirect a simple pass to Steven Gerrard to an opponent. In the first half his shooting lacked crispness and his dashes and darts lacked the velocity that made him such a quick-moving terror for Manchester United.

Perhaps the most ominous sequence in an abject first period for England came when Rooney was one on one with Algeria's Foued Kadir on 38 minutes. An on-song Rooney would have made Kadir wish he had stayed in bed by asserting his menace and muscularity, yet here it looked an even contest and the bouncing ball ran on harmlessly.

Continue reading Rooney's woes reflect the despair of all England

June 18, 2010

How a former England boss would do it in Cape Town

Posted by Ben Blackmore on 18/06/2010

With Fabio Capello getting so much stick for having the temerity to draw with USA, it seems only right to ask the last England manager to have threatened a World Cup triumph, Glenn Hoddle, how he would be doing things in South Africa. Hoddle’s class of ’98 were all over Argentina in the second round until David Beckham’s petulant flick of the boot, and general theory is that an 18-year-old Michael Owen would have taken on the world. Unfortunately we will never know what could have been, but we can get Hoddle’s views in the Daily Mail on what team Capello should be picking in Cape Town...

It was alarming to see that Glen Johnson, the right back, had more touches in the penalty box than Rooney against the USA. There is a simple way around this problem. Emile Heskey played well against America, but I’d want Rooney in those positions, playing as the spearhead. I’d send out a team against the Algerians with Rooney up front, Steven Gerrard just off him and Frank Lampard coming through, running on to the ball. We didn’t see enough of that last time.

Joe Cole would get the left side with Aaron Lennon on the right and Gareth Barry as the pivot, taking up the insurance position.

To Rooney, I would say: ‘Look, son, you’ve played this way all season for Manchester United, you demolished AC Milan in that position; go and be a box threat. Get in the penalty area and stay there. I don’t want to see you drifting wide to get the ball. Leave that to others.’

I fancy him to score tonight, I really do. Two goals, perhaps. That indifferent game against the USA is a one-off. England need a big performance from him and he will thrive on that.

Sometimes you come off after a game and think to yourself: ‘I never really got to grips with that.’ It’s what I call drifting through a game. That happened to Rooney on Saturday.

Experienced players are able to take a moment in the match and say to themselves: ‘This isn’t happening for me.’ You reassess your performance and the impact you are having and think of ways you can change and grow into a game.

Younger players aren’t as able to do that, so Rooney will have needed to study a DVD of his performance and work it out from there. He’ll put it right, I’m confident of that.

June 17, 2010

Lampard has to be benched against Algeria

Posted by Ben Blackmore on 17/06/2010

With little over 24 hours until England’s must-win game with Algeria, talk has inevitably turned to Fabio Capello’s starting XI after the disappointing draw with USA. Should Rob Green start? Should Emile Heskey be dropped? Is there a place for Joe Cole? In the Daily Mirror, Robbie Savage suggests Frank Lampard should be the biggest-name casualty...

It is time for the critics to lay off Emile Heskey. He was the best player on the pitch against the USA on Saturday and that was not a massive surprise to me.

I’ve played with Emile and he is one of those unselfish players perhaps only other pros really appreciate. He does all the donkey work. He takes all the knocks. But he keeps getting up and taking more for the team.

At the weekend he won balls in the air, held the play up and did everything that was asked of him – apart, of course, from score when put clean through by Aaron Lennon.

But we should cut him some slack. Emile has spent weeks hearing about how much the Jabulani ball moves in the air if you shoot it straight. On this occasion it didn’t and went right down the throat of Tim Howard. So I can’t believe Fabio Capello is even thinking of dropping him or, come to that, moving Steven Gerrard to the left against Algeria tomorrow.

I want England to win the World Cup – and Gerrard was also outstanding down the middle, so thoughts of moving him to the left now to accommodate Gareth Barry are ridiculous. You might as well play Wayne Rooney at right-back.

Gerrard and Frank Lampard again failed to work as a unit and it might be time for Capello to look at starting with Lamps on the bench.

He’d be a sensational sub for the last half hour, giving Heskey a rest and allowing Gerrard to move forward to play behind Rooney.

I couldn’t understand playing James Milner from the start against the USA and after seeing Shaun Wright-Phillips come on to replace him, Joe Cole must be totally bewildered and thinking he’s third choice. He’ll be down in the dumps. Likewise Matthew Upson.

Rob Green is a very good keeper but England are now playing knockout ¬football and Capello needs to rely on a man with tournament experience. For me, David James has to start in goal.

June 16, 2010

Ronaldo fails to ignite World Cup

Posted by Jo Carter on 16/06/2010

Portugal v Ivory Coast, the opening fixture in the so-called 'Group of Death' was a match that promised to be a scorcher, with stars like Cristiano Ronaldo and Didier Drogba. But an uneventful 0-0 draw was all we got, and Brian Woolnough in The Daily Star believes Ronaldo's ego simply got in the way.

How the World Cup needed a sparkling Cristiano Ronaldo yesterday.

Here, surely, was the player to lift the tired opening of the tournament.

What we got was a moody, morose and quite maddening performance. Ronaldo was utterly frustrating.

He played like someone who believed he was actually bigger than this opening game in the World Cup’s Group of Death.

Portugal and the match deserved so much more from a player who once lit up the Premier League.

We soon got the full mixed bag from the former Manchester United star – dive, row with opponents, booking, complaint and a wonderful 30-yard shot that hit the post.

That all came in the opening 20 minutes. Then absolutely nothing.

For a player with his stunning ability, Ronaldo didn’t give enough. As captain he set a bad example.

Too often he went down when hardly touched instead of taking a game Portugal needed to win by the scruff of the neck.

This was the Ronaldo we experienced at the start of his English football adventure – playing in stops and starts and teasing us.

Had this been a club game you would have been excused if you felt he was playing for a transfer.

This, also, was another bitterly disappointing match. So many talented players and yet so little excitement.

Continue reading "Ronaldo fails to ignite World Cup"

June 15, 2010

Germany illuminate flaws in our game

Posted by Josh Williams on 15/06/2010

There is no question that Germany produced the finest performance of this year's World Cup when they thrashed Australia 4-0 on Sunday. Their showing was enough to strike fear into the heart into even the most optimistic of England fans - Fabio Capello's team are likely to face Germany in the second round if they do not top their group. Henry Winter, writing in the Telegraph, says that the German infrastructure offers their national team far more help than the English model does.

It is a cultural thing. The Germans think more deeply about football, prepare more intelligently and assiduously, and have a player development and league structure that helps Joachim Löw better prepare the national team. The English system works against Fabio Capello. It is obvious.

Continue reading "Germany illuminate flaws in our game"

June 14, 2010

What they're saying about England abroad

Posted by Ben Blackmore on 14/06/2010

Often in England the media are accused of over-reaction towards the national team, of knee-jerk reactions, and of unfounded negativity. So, following Saturday’s 1-1 draw with USA, the Guardian thought it would be good to see what our World Cup rivals made of England’s display...

Argentina: Ole
Green couldn’t stop a little ‘shottie’ and the US rescued a point. England were supposed to be a candidate but they showed little in their opening game. The betting had England down as clear favourites – you could barely win a peso or two on victory. But that wasn’t the case once the ball started to roll. Even the coach said that England had a team to reach the final but when it was time for the steaks, there was no evidence. Capello has a lot of work ahead of him.

Italy: La Repubblica
The great Fabio made a fundamental mistake for which so many managers have paid so dearly: Goalkeepers, they say, cannot handle uncertainty. And above all the great teams are born from great No. 1s. Much better was Tim Howard, the American No. 1. Goalkeepers have caught the eye in these first days much more than goalscorers. After Ribery, so ineffective for France, followed Wayne Rooney.

USA: Sports Illustrated
The US frustrated Rooney to no end. England’s superstar didn’t have many goalscoring chances, a testament to the excellent US team defence spearheaded by centre-backs Oguchi Onyewu and Jay DeMerit. As the second half wore on, Rooney came deeper and deeper into the midfield, desperately trying to get the ball. You could sense how frustrated Rooney became late on when he waved his arms madly at referee Carlos Simon when Rooney thought that a US foul deserved a yellow card. For all the gains Rooney has made in controlling his temper, it was clear he’s not all the way there yet.

Spain: AS
England are fighting against expectation, the doubts that surround their starting XI and their own limitations. This was a day to examine Robert Green, a goalkeeper with little personality who likes to live on his line but who only plays because David James has just had a knee injury. But Capello’s irritation was as much about the collective as the keeper. As soon as Gerrard put them in the lead they lost the ball. Not that it mattered – it was part of the strategy. But they also lost the initiative – and that wasn’t. They were not able to frighten the Americans on the break as they had planned to.

June 13, 2010

Steven Gerrard pays back the confidence of Fabio Capello

Posted by Rob Phillips-Knight on 13/06/2010

While all the headlines will undoubtedly focus on Robert Green and his ugly error, one man emerged from a disappointing evening in Rustenburg with plenty of credit. England captain Steven Gerrard scored his side’s only goal and looked dangerous every time he was in possession and Kevin McCara, writing in the Guardian, believes the Liverpool man’s performance provides plenty of reason for England fans to retain faith in an otherwise misfiring team.

No one likes a know-all. Well, perhaps with the exception of an oracular Fabio Capello. The England manager had announced that Steven Gerrard would prosper at the World Cup despite his hard times at Liverpool. Maybe the Italian foresaw it would be a liberation for the midfielder to be freed from the poor results and unsatisfactory team-mates at his club.

Capello's reputation for clairvoyance was, of course, imperfect and he cannot have anticipated the nerve-ridden state of Robert Green, who had little to do before he ushered Clint Dempsey's attempt into the net for an equaliser, but it was disturbing that a confidence in the new-found durability of Ledley King also turned out to be overstated. The seeming recurrence of James Milner's illness was unhelpful, too.

Amid that confusion in Rustenburg, the roles of Wayne Rooney and Gerrard were all the more significant. The pair embody the spontaneity and explosiveness essential to any prospect England now have of impressing despite this result. The side has counted on Rooney, whose nine goals steered the team towards the World Cup.

Further assets, however, were essential for the steeper challenges in South Africa. Gerrard was being willed towards excellence and Capello's judiciousness fostered helpful circumstances for him. There was never any prospect of hand-wringing over the supposed quandary of a partnership that had to be composed of Gerrard and Frank Lampard while Gareth Barry is absent.

The pair have been regarded as so incompatible a duo it is a wonder that they have never been sent for marriage counselling. Capello, of course, is particularly unlikely to concern himself with anyone's opinions and had his own view of the relationship. Predecessors have fooled themselves into believing Gerrard and Lampard could be left to work out matters in the field, with one sitting when the other gets a notion to attack.

No such woolliness is feasible for Capello and when England were in possession it was Gerrard's task to get close to the attack while Lampard exercised discipline and stayed nearer the centre-halves. The Liverpool player has been a beneficiary of Italian tailoring. Gerrard was so far advanced that he went clear to put England ahead in the fourth minute. Close to the half-hour mark he was still causing havoc as he turned Michael Bradley in a promising area.

Individualists like Gerrard depend on a solid context, but England's organisation crumbled and not only because of King's trouble. Rooney, seeing the confusion, may not so much have been nondescript as intent on distributing passes that would bring about some order. In the 18th minute his judicious ball to the right had Aaron Lennon haring in to spark panic among the opposition.

Continue reading “Steven Gerrard pays back the confidence of Fabio Capello”

June 12, 2010

Gerrard should lead from the front

Posted by Alex Livie on 12/06/2010

The Daily Telegraph has signed up Michael Owen as a columnist, not for his racing tips but his knowledge of football. The striker will be watching his former England team-mates on the box and he feels Steven Gerrard is the right man to lead the team in South Africa, but wants to see him play further forward.

Now that Rio is sadly out, there is nobody better to captain England than Stevie. I know him well. We grew up playing for Liverpool together and I know how much representing his country means to him. This is a massive moment for Stevie, the biggest in his career. He's captained England before but it's different in the World Cup. Stevie will rise to the challenge because he has all the qualities. He has this quiet authority that inspires. Stevie won't let England down against the US on Saturday.

I was at Liverpool when Stevie succeeded Sami Hyypia as captain in 2003. Stevie was an obvious choice because he was the first name on the teamsheet and he was Mr Liverpool along with Jamie Carragher. Carra was more vocal on the pitch. Stevie was always reasonably shy, but he wouldn't hide away and not talk.

His character is similar to mine: Stevie wouldn't be loud unless he was really comfortable in his surroundings. In the dressing room, Carra has more of a leader-type influence, getting everybody going. But with all respect to Carra, Stevie is a world-class player, one of the top six in the world, and he leads by example.

We're fortunate with England that we have a lot of club captains in the squad and a lot of players such as Stevie, John Terry, Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and Wayne Rooney in their prime. They are the backbone of the team. Some of them may make the next World Cup in Brazil but they'll be touching their mid-thirties. Only Wayne will be in his prime. That is why this is a massive competition for them and why I expect them to start strongly today.

Many areas will be important in Rustenburg, but two, in midfield and attack, strike me as key. Stevie's midfield partnership with Frank is something that people have been talking a lot about. I'd find the debate very frustrating if I were one of them. Stevie and Frank are in their prime, are very established in their careers and in their thirties so it's a horrible feeling to be doubted. But it is perfectly reasonable for people to ask: 'How are we going to play in midfield?'

England could play 4-5-1 with a holding midfielder like Michael Carrick deep or they could go 4-4-2. Stevie and Frank are regulars for clubs who play 4-5-1 or 4-3-3, not 4-4-2.

At Chelsea, Frank is given licence to get forward because he knows he has two other lads in midfield with him, one of whom shields the back four. It was Claude Makelele and is now John Obi Mikel, while Michael Ballack also had a spell. That allows Frank to bomb on, knowing he'll not leave the defence exposed. Liverpool have Lucas and Javier Mascherano sitting in midfield, letting Stevie join Fernando Torres.

Stevie and Frank don't have as much defensive responsibility for their clubs. England are different. If they play as a two together, I'm sure they will adapt because they are both intelligent players but 4-4-2 could be a concern.

They can play 4-4-2 but don't do it regularly and I want to see them doing what they do best, getting forward, creating and scoring goals for us.

If we are 4-4-2, it will be interesting to see who takes the lead role and who anchors midfield. Both will instinctively want to attack.

I feel Stevie should be playing further forward, closer to Wayne, but I know Emile Heskey will do a good job if he partners Wayne. I played for many years with Emile for England and Liverpool and know how important he is to the team, how he brings the best out of others.

A renaissance for Carrick
There is other sport going on this week, lots of it in fact, but frankly who cares? It’s all about the World Cup and what team Fabio Capello will send out against USA. The Times’ Oliver Kay feels Michael Carrick might get the nod, which would be a remarkable turnaround for a player who performed so poorly in a recent warm-up.

Fabio Capello will leave it until the very last moment to name his team for England’s opening World Cup match against the United States in group C this evening as he agonises over the identity of his goalkeeper and the balance of his midfield.

The Italian will make a late decision over the fitness of James Milner, who he hopes will have shaken off the effects of a virus to take his place on the left of midfield, before revealing whether he will start the campaign with Robert Green or Joe Hart in goal.

Capello will tell his players the composition of the team only two hours before the kick-off in Rustenburg, with even the squad’s final training session at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium last night leaving them mystified over his exact intentions.

The one certainty is that England will start the match in a 4-4-2 formation because they stayed with that system throughout the 90-minute session and did not experiment with Wayne Rooney as a sole striker in a 4-5-1 formation, as they have done previously.

A second World Cup start for Michael Carrick after his round-of-16 appearance against Ecuador four years ago would represent a remarkable renaissance because he was thought to have missed his chance by performing poorly in England’s friendly international win over Mexico at Wembley Stadium last month and only just made the squad. The Manchester United midfield player’s status as a fringe player is shown by the fact that he started one game during the qualifying campaign, a meaningless match against Ukraine after England had reached the finals, and has won only 22 caps, far fewer than his peers.

June 11, 2010

England are set for the worst experience of their lives

Posted by Ben Blackmore on 11/06/2010

Let’s be honest, there are three things in life that England – traditionally – are undeniably better at than USA: Football, cricket and queuing. Yet the possibility exists that Steven Gerrard and Co. might just struggle to put their American counterparts away when the World Cup kicks off this weekend. If that is the case, England flanker Joe Worsley provides a very good insight in the Daily Mail into the major reason why Fabio Capello’s men might flatter to deceive. He calls on an old experience when he played for the British Lions in a 37-25 victory over a Highveld XV in Rustenburg...

When we played at altitude in Rustenburg last summer, it was my first game in a Lions shirt — and one of the worst experiences of my life.

After about 20 minutes my lungs were just shot to bits and my legs were heavy. It affected everyone to slightly different degrees, but to a man the players said it was one of the worst experiences they had ever had on a pitch.

Analysis after that game showed that the mistakes we made were worse and players were less explosive. Skill levels dropped and all of it happened as a consequence of people being fatigued.

The ball can also fly further and faster in the thin air at altitude, but how noticeable that will be in football I’m not sure. Maybe goalkeepers will struggle more with well-hit shots. It is a lack of oxygen in your system which has numerous consequences. Your lungs are working overtime to get more oxygen in and there is a lactate build-up in your legs because you can’t get as much fuel to them, so you feel sluggish.

Mentally you are affected as well — you slow down because of a lack of oxygen reaching the brain. We are talking tiny margins, but when it comes to elite sport it makes a difference.

Continue reading "England are set for the worst experience of their lives"

June 10, 2010

The icy stare of Mr Capello

Posted by Ben Blackmore on 10/06/2010

Very rarely do you get an insight into the mind of an England manager, least of all Fabio Capello, but the Sun’s Steven Howard does his best by recalling old tales involving Antonio Cassano and the not-so-slim Ronaldo...

We all thought it was going to be Mt Wazza that blew first. Instead, it was Fabio Capello who finally exploded. An unsuspecting photographer got it in the neck (on Wednesday) as he attempted to take pictures of Michael Dawson having a massage in the training-ground medical room.

The altercation was short, not-so-sweet and to the point.

And no one was surprised. The great volcanic eruption had been coming for some time. The message was not lost on his players because this is exactly how he not only keeps them in check but drives them on.

There is a story of how the Italian hardman, not happy with the fitness of his squad in his first spell at Real Madrid, got them training twice a day. As the exhausted players were finally allowed off for a shower, one of his new Spanish coaches asked why he was flogging them so hard.

Capello gave him an icy stare and said: "Because to win a player's respect you have to put a razor blade up against his arse."

Continue reading "The icy stare of Mr Capello"

June 9, 2010

Heskey is the man to partner Rooney

Posted by Jo Carter on 09/06/2010

Emile Heskey may not be the most prolific goalscorer, but he has quietly earned the right to start England's opening game against the USA, writes Martin Samuel in The Daily Mail.

Rene Higuita was Colombia's goalkeeper for 12 years and in that time made 68 appearances. He scored eight goals.

Jose Luis Chilavert was Paraguay's goalkeeper from 1989 to 2003, making 74 appearances. He scored eight times, too.

Emile Heskey has been England's centre forward for 11 years. He has played under the last four full-time England managers, in a World Cup and two European Championships, a total of 58 appearances. You know what's coming, don't you?
Seven goals.

Instinct fights against it. Instinct suggests Heskey would be the last player to lead the attack at a World Cup. He doesn't do goals, he doesn't do pressure. When the 2001 League Cup final between Liverpool and Birmingham City went to six penalties, Heskey did not volunteer. Robbie Fowler, Nick Barmby, a centre half (Jamie Carragher), a full back (Christian Ziege) and two deep midfield players (Gary McAllister and Didi Hamann) took the heat for Liverpool that day while their £11million striker looked on.

Continue reading "Heskey is the man to partner Rooney"

June 8, 2010

Roy can end embarrassing statistic

Posted by Josh Williams on 08/06/2010

Ian Wright, writing in the Sun, this morning blasts the "embarrassing" statistic that none of England's Big Four sides have been managed by an English boss since Roy Evans was in charge at Liverpool in 1998. Former England striker Wright belives that Roy Hodgson, currently in charge at Fulham, would bring the stability to Liverpool that they "desperately need" - in the process severing their 12-year run without an Englishman at the helm.

THE last Englishman to manage Liverpool was a bloke named Roy. In fact, Roy Evans, who left Anfield in 1998, was the last Englishman to manage any one of the Big Four.

It's an embarrassing statistic and I thought it would be many more years before we saw someone from this country in the hotseat at Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal or Manchester United.

Continue reading "Roy can end embarrassing statistic"

June 7, 2010

Try not to care

Posted by Jo Carter on 07/06/2010

With the World Cup upon us, and Wimbledon fast approaching, we have a feast of sport in the coming weeks, but Simon Barnes in The Times reminds us that defeat is only just around the corner.

Let us take a breath. For we are just about to launch ourselves into a frenzied few weeks that will encompass one of the deepest and most important experiences in sport. Losing.

On Saturday, the England football team will be setting off on their World Cup via dolorosa that traditionally ends with the penalty shoot-out. Ever since the triumphant qualification period ended, England’s hopes have been on the slide, and we have reached a comfortable level of inspissated gloom mixed with half a shot of insane optimism.

And a fortnight today, Andy Murray begins his latest assault on Wimbledon, and since he reached the final of the Australian Open, he, too, has been in a bit of a slump. Put it this way: he is not the one player everyone will be desperate to avoid. The likelihood is that England and Scotland will both get knocked out, perhaps on the same day, to unite us all in sporting grief.

The logical thing, then, is not to care. Not to build up any unrealistic notions of what might happen. To set up every possible guard against disappointment, leaving just a small window so that one might be pleasantly, if mildly, surprised if there is a success.

Continue reading "Try not to care"

June 6, 2010

The midfield dilemma

Posted by Jo Carter on 06/06/2010

Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard are considered to be two of the greatest midfielders in the world, but time and time again they fail to reproduce the form they show at club level on the international stage. But Fabio Capello should be capable of getting the best out of the pair, says Harry Redknapp in the Sunday Mirror.

Harry Redknapp is convinced that England will never have a better chance of winning the World Cup.

Fabio Capello’s 23-man squad arrived on South ­African turf last week with the expectations of a nation on their shoulders.

But Redknapp believes 44 years of under-achievement could come to an end if the squad Capello has assembled reaches its full potential.

“I genuinely believe we have a great chance of ­meeting with success in South Africa,” Redknapp told ­Sunday Mirror Sport.

“If you look at the strength and depth of our squad, we shouldn’t be going there with any fear.”

He added: “I accept there is strong competition from the likes of Spain, Brazil and ­Argentina – but let me tell you, they will be worrying about England, that’s for sure.

“Aside from one defeat we qualified with ease and the players will take all that ­confidence into the ­tournament. So we will be arriving in the best shape possible.”

Redknapp will be an expert for the BBC during the World Cup and his forthright ­opinions are bound to make for compelling viewing.

And while he has clashed with Capello in the past, it doesn’t detract from the fact that he thinks the Italian is the right man to be leading ­England.

Redknapp added: “If I have an opinion about something I’m not frightened to air it, but it doesn’t detract from the fact that I have a great deal of ­respect for Capello and what he has achieved.

“His record in management is very impressive, and when you combine that with the players he has at his disposal with England, people should be optimistic.

“Naturally I’m very patriotic, but if I didn’t genuinely feel we had a chance of success I would say it.

“If I thought the manager and the players weren’t good enough I would be the first to say.”

Continue reading "The midfield dilemma"

June 5, 2010

Rio loss a huge blow, but not unexpected

Posted by Josh Williams on 05/06/2010

England's captain Rio Ferdinand has been ruled out of the World Cup, prompting Fabio Capello to lament the "curse of the captain". Many of England's recent campaigns at major tournaments have been blighted by injuries to key players, as Kevin McCarra acknowledges in today's Guardian. Although Capello may have anticipated Ferdinand's loss and put a contingency plan in place, the loss is no less keenly felt, McCarra says:

The only solace for the loss of Rio Ferdinand is the abundant practice England have had of playing without their ideal defence. He and John Terry started only four of the 10 qualifiers. The side are accustomed to doing without a member of that pairing but sustained fitness always looked as critical as it was precarious where the team's World Cup prospects are concerned.

Continue reading "Rio loss a huge blow, but not unexpected"

June 4, 2010

Politics led to Benitez's downfall

Posted by Alex Livie on 04/06/2010

Rafael Benitez exited stage left from Anfield on Thursday and the talk is now switching to who will take the reins. But whoever is ushered in at Liverpool could be in for a bumpy ride, as the Guardian’s Andy Hunter feels boardroom politics led to Benitez’s downfall.

Were it simply a football decision, a detached analysis of where Liverpool should be in the midst of a debt-ridden power vacuum, then Rafael Benítez, for the many faults, facts and suspect full-backs, would not be leaving Anfield with a lucrative pay-off. But it is not simply football that has done for Benítez.

It is the politicking that is as much a feature of the Spaniard's managerial career as European expertise and the misfortune to fall into the employ of Tom Hicks and George Gillett. The leverage buy-out experts promised a spade in the ground for a new stadium within 60 days of their arrival in February 2007 but have only dug the hole into which Benítez has now fallen. He moved closer to the exit with every refinancing deal the Americans secured while his reputation inevitably suffered with every transfer window without additional funds. Not that Benítez walks away blameless.

In announcing the end of the manager's six-year reign Martin Broughton, the chairman parachuted into Liverpool from British Airways to lend gravitas to the sale of the club, and who could not attend the final home game of last season due to his Chelsea allegiances, stresses that football was behind the departure. No one would dispute Broughton's analysis of the "disappointing season" just gone but this was one dreadful campaign following five seasons of steady progress. The man who delivered Liverpool's fifth European Cup in such miraculous style in 2005 and the FA Cup a year later had enough goodwill left on the Kop to be allowed a shot at redemption. Circumstances inside the club, many Benítez-created, however, ensured that could never happen.

And the man to succeed Rafa is...

So who will succeed Benitez? Roy Hodgson has been linked, as has Guus Hiddink, but the Times’ Tony Evans is convinced Kenny Dalglish is the man in the right place at the right time.

Great players have the knack of being in the right place at the right time. Kenny Dalglish had that uncanny ability. Now, with Liverpool in turmoil, he is in the perfect place.

Dalglish is the only man who can unite a club in danger of imploding.

Twice before the man they call “King Kenny” has provided leadership off the pitch in times of crisis. Twenty-five years ago, after Heysel, he stepped into the manager’s role vacated by Joe Fagan. With the club’s image at an all-time low, his calm leadership won back friends and produced a Double in his first season.

Four years later the Scot’s reputation on Merseyside was enhanced further. In the wake of Hillsborough, Dalglish brought comfort to the families of the dead and injured at great personal emotional cost.

When he left Anfield in 1991, his career as a manager unhinged by tragedy, he remained — alongside Bill Shankly — the towering figure in the club’s history.

Now he finds himself charged with finding the next Liverpool manager after the departure of Rafael Benítez — a massive task for anyone. Dalglish rejoined the club last summer in a wide-ranging position. He was encouraged to return by Christian Purslow, the managing director and a long-time friend. Purslow has had plenty of criticism in recent months but his role in taking Dalglish back to Anfield may prove to be a masterstroke.

June 3, 2010

A crossroads for Liverpool

Posted by Alex Livie on 03/06/2010

Rafael Benitez seems to be in the final hours of his tenure as manager of Liverpool, with a severance payment believed to be in the process of being thrashed out. Reports suggest player power, as well as a breakdown in his relationship with the club’s board, led to his downfall. The departure will allow the Reds to plan for the future and the Times’ Tony Barrett claims Liverpool are approaching a crossroads in their history.

The beginning of what appears to be the end for Rafael Benítez also marks the start of a summer that threatens to be one of the most painful — and will undoubtedly be the most pivotal — in the modern history of Britain’s most successful football club.

All that stands between an avalanche of obituaries on Benítez’s Liverpool career is the outcome of negotiations that will determine whether the club can muster the necessary financial muscle to convince the Spaniard to walk out of the Shankly Gates for one last time.

For once, their monetary weakness may prove their strength. Having had his purse strings tightened in the past three transfer windows, Benítez knows better than most just how scarce ready cash is at Anfield and he will have to pitch his expectations accordingly.

He also knows that support within the boardroom for his regime has evaporated and that there are those in the dressing room who have been so underwhelmed by his performance over the past year that they would not shed any tears if he departed.

All that remains is for agreement to be reached on the terms of his departure and he will be free to take up a post at another club, with Inter Milan seeming the most likely destination.

It says everything about Liverpool’s present predicament, though, that even a change of manager will prompt more questions about a club who have lost direction and are in danger of losing their self-respect under the ownership regime of Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr.

The first conundrum is: who in their right mind would take the Liverpool job? It used to be one of the greatest positions in English football, but now a manager would have to be prepared to take on the running of a club riddled with debt, that are for sale, that have no significant transfer budget, a squad in need of an overhaul, and where the only certainty is endemic uncertainty.

Then there is the playing staff. It has long been mooted that the only way to guarantee that the likes of Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard will remain at the club would be if Benítez goes. The coming weeks and months will prove or disprove such theories. But one thing is certain — should Benítez’s replacement not live up to the kind of exacting standards laid down by the world’s best players, they will find a club that does boast such a manager. And, with José Mourinho’s Real Madrid pursuing Gerrard and Carlo Ancelotti’s Chelsea keen on Torres, Liverpool will have a big job on their hands convincing their crown jewels to stick around regardless of who is eventually appointed.

The ideal scenario would be for a benevolent billionaire who grew up with pictures of Kevin Keegan and Kenny Dalglish adorning the walls of his Middle Eastern home to pop up and take the club off the hands of Hicks and Gillett, before paying off their £351 million debt and starting work on the new stadium in Stanley Park.

Unfortunately, it has been some time since Liverpool last inhabited an ideal world, so all their fans can do is limp on with anything but hope in their hearts. It would be an exaggeration to suggest that this is a nadir for a club who have been involved in two of the worst disasters in the history of the game, but, equally, it would be underplaying the situation if it is not described as one of the most painfully testing periods Liverpool have endured.

Finn is the real deal
Steve Finn did his chances of securing a seat on the plane to Australia for the Ashes no harm with a five for at Lord’s and the Guardian’s Mike Selvey claims the giant seamer is the real deal.

All too often the reality doesn't match the hype. Anticipation is followed by disappointment. But then occasionally the opposite occurs, when expectation is exceeded. Instances, at random, for me include a first sight of the Taj Mahal, watching Jimi Hendrix for the one and only time, and, as a moderately enthusiastic but fairly pedestrian runner, witnessing the incredible pace at which Steve Jones ran a marathon.

In cricket, I recall the strange noise at Queen's Park Oval as a young Ian Bishop, of whom I had heard but never seen, delivered his first ball of a one-day series to, I think, Wayne Larkins, which I realised was the crowd en masse hissing disbelievingly the word "shit". That recalled Graham Gooch's party-piece snatch of a Tony Cozier commentary: "Patterson in to Gooch, bouncer, Gooch hooks … through to Dujon, no run …"

This summer I have seen how James Taylor moves silkily into the ball, and witnessed the remarkable, much-heralded hitting power of Craig Kieswetter. Now I'm looking forward to watching Ben Stokes, Alex Hales and Jos Buttler, whom I saw briefly on the television on Tuesday evening. None of these, though, has, or will, stir me quite as much as seeing Steven Finn in the first Test. It's probably a bowler thing. Once Andrew Strauss came to his senses and had him striding in from the Pavilion End at Lord's, I was watching something special in its raw formative state.

England bowlers come, promise and, all too regularly, they are gone. Actions are flawed, bodies not up to it, injuries prove terminal. But for five days, in which he took nine wickets, Finn looked the absolute business. If there are sceptics saying that it was "only Bangladesh", then have a look at how the other seamers fared when the pitch flattened out under the sun.

Us former bowlers, we pick up on actions easily. We can spot flaws and idiosyncrasies, see what works and what doesn't. We understand that not every paceman has an action like Fred Trueman (although Bob Willis was convinced he did until he saw footage of himself), but that often it is the quirks that elevate a bowler to the top echelon. Without it we might never have seen Jeff Thomson, or Mike Procter, Shoaib Akhtar or Lasith Malinga.

But Finn is pure

June 2, 2010

Manager sees wisdom in making a virtue of age

Posted by Rob Phillips-Knight on 02/06/2010

Fabio Capello’s 23-man England squad for the World Cup contains a blend of old and young players and Kevin McCarra, writing in the Guardian, believes the Italian recognised the value of experience in making the final judgments between players.

Fabio Capello is counting on the power of desperation. His squad is the oldest England have ever assembled for the World Cup finals and several of the players are therefore being granted their last chance in the tournament. As with so much that the Italian does, the initial surprise is soon followed by appreciation of an underlying logic. In general the tier of younger contenders is of limited merit and the emphasis is being put on that combination of knowhow and appetite.

The policy is not all that unconventional. His own country still look to Fabio Cannavaro, who turns 37 in September, regardless of the fact that he is in need of a new club now that Juventus have decided not to give him another contract. Capello's stance rests on bleak conclusions. He continues to be inscrutable and only now is it recognised that consecutive starts for Theo Walcott against Mexico and Japan were a demand that the 21-year-old prove himself anew.

Capello will have recalled the hat-trick in Zagreb, which are the player's only goals for England, even as he was weighing up the unsatisfactory campaign with Arsenal for an injury-bedevilled Walcott. Underachievement is more recent and it made the deeper impression. There is no wider perspective for this manager, who is more problem-solver than visionary.

For Capello the future is restricted to the days immediately before him and that was underlined when he declined to state categorically that he was committed to seeing out a contract that runs until 2012. There is comfort in the pragmatism since the England manager is obsessed with the task in hand and never tries to set out some expansive vision. Nobody lamented any focus on the short-term so long as it included two poundings of Croatia.

The principal question to be asked is whether the approach he took in drawing up the World Cup squad will be vindicated. He is entitled to point out that it is experience rather than youthful verve that has been the secret to taking the trophy for other countries, including the holders Italy. All the same, speed has its worth.

Continue reading "Manager sees wisdom in making a virtue of age"

June 1, 2010

Capello right to consider his options

Posted by Josh Williams on 01/06/2010

Later today Fabio Capello will name the 23-man England squad that he will aim to World Cup glory. Speculation abounds not just about the make-up of that party, however, as there are question marks appearing over the manager’s future as national coach. Richard Williams, writing in the Guardian, says that Capello could not be blamed if he is considering becoming Inter Milan coach after the World Cup.

All would be made clear, Fabio Capello announced, as soon as he had talked to a man whose name he couldn't remember. No surprise there. There probably aren't three people in the world who can summon up with any certainty the name of the current chairman of the Football Association.

Continue reading "Capello right to consider his options"