Steve McClaren’s optimism, and the support Stevie G, Michael Owen, Bobby Robson, Sir Bobby Charlton and the FA have shown to the England manager is commendable.
By all means, we should give the manager a chance, nor should we shouldn’t judge a manager too harshly. The relationship between the manager and the players is great, and the England team has moved in the right direction in the last few months (prior to the Russia game, that is).
However, if we are to accept everything that’s being said, then there are only two options available to us:
One – the England squad lack the quality to win Euro 2008. Seeing how Italy have fared, I would disagree with this and instead posit that both teams have come up against resolute opposition AND haven’t played to their maximum potential.
Two – Steve McClaren is the best option we have for England manager. This is a possibility – Big Sam isn’t THAT much better, Martin O’Neill’s pride is wounded, Eriksson is enjoying club football (and we’re not going back) and is perhaps proof that England aren’t that hot, Jose Mourinho is looking to Italy, Mark Hughes is negotiating a new deal, Steve Coppell is a couple of successful years away, Scolari said no before and wouldn’t appreciate the media attention and Hiddink is bound to Russia. Even Gullit has gone to LA Galaxy, leaving the English FA woefully short of potential replacements.
How does one progress in such a situation? We support England, and like I said earlier, this is no time to shit on Macca (we’ve had plenty of it, and we’ll have more time if England don’t qualify). This isn’t fantasy football, this is real life football and we can’t pick our managers.
So we wait for Israel v Russia – tomorrow, and for England v Croatia on Wednesday – a game that England and Macca must win, regardless of what happens in Tel Aviv (play for pride at least).
In the meantime, there’s the small matter of Beckham and co entertaining Austria in a nice little friendly. In case anyone thinks this is going to be a walkover, England drew 2-2 away at Vienna in the 2006 World Cup Qualifiers – same venue, several of the same players and the same assistant manager.
England Squad: Carson; Richards, Campbell, Lescott, Bridge; Beckham, Gerrard, Lampard, J Cole; Owen, Crouch.
The big-man / small-man combo returns up front, and as the Joe Cole experiment continues, England fans will be delighted to hear that Gerrard and Lampard will get a shot at playing central midfield buddies again. Beckham gets his 98th cap – he’ll get his 99th against Croatia if he’s fit and then it’s the small matter of playing a friendly in February for that century. Carson gets a game – good for him but Robinson will play Croatia, no doubt. The defense is pretty much shot considering that Rio is suspended and Terry’s injured – we really need players like Steven Taylor to step up their game and perform consistently.
Being a friendly, Macca’s will chop and change so expect to see players like Bentley and Young get a shot, assuming England are home safely in the second half, that is.
Austria Squad (probable): Macho, Garics, Stranzl, Schiemer, Gercaliu, Aufhauser, Sariyar, Standfest, Ivanschitz, Weissenberger, Kuljic.