On the 12th June 2010 England started their World Cup campaign, their team littered with some of the best players that world football has to offer. The likes of Ashley Cole, Stephen Gerrard and Wayne Rooney are but three names within the star-studded squad that look to both excite the Rainbow nation and bring the expectations of a country to reality.
Nine days later, and England have picked up one goal and two points in their first two games, presented below average performances and raised alarm concerning England’s world cup ambitions.
So why is it that this team of talent has failed to excite, exceed or even just attain a basic quality of football? The whole is certainly not a sum of its parts. Many possible reasons have come under scrutiny; the fact that the ball is too round, Capello’s decision to announce the squad just before the game, and the pressure of one of the greatest stages in world football.
As for the ball itself, it may well be the ‘roundest ball ever’, but the Germans have managed to put away four so far, the Argentines have done one better, and even the Slovenians have scored three. Granted all of the players are struggling to control the ball regarding long range shots and free kicks, but the basic components of build up play should not be affected by the excessively spherical Jabulani ball.
Capello’s decision to announce his team just a few hours before any game may however, account for some of the questionable and uncharacteristic lack of basic skills, shown in the slightly off passing and dribbling from the likes of Frank Lampard and Aaron Lennon. Whether it’s a restless night’s sleep, or a lack of motivation in training for those that assume they are in the team and a frantic desperation for those that think they may not be, the gaffers decision to put them at ease so close to the start of the game may well be affecting their performances.
As for the supposed pressure that many of the pundits were talking about after the game against Algeria, of the fourteen players who took part, nine have played at the pinnacle of European football within the Champions League on a regular basis at some point in their careers. Pressure should not be a new obstacle that the players need to account for.
The performances of Frank Lampard and Stephen Gerrard, who both looked to release the ball before they had accumulated more than three touches, can also be placed in contrast to their usual performances in which they control and manipulate any midfield, week in week out. The same can be said for Wayne Rooney who neglected to show up on the day, his usual determination that we see for the red half of Manchester nowhere to be seen.
Whether the Jabulani, Capello or a distinct element of fear is the reason for the below par performances, the team that we saw within the qualification appears to be gone, though granted they came up against an off-form Croatia at best. Whilst there is much speculation surrounding the future of England’s world cup only one thing is certain; Capello, Gerrard and Co. Must up their game in order to proceed in this competition, whilst a draw against Slovenia may lead to England proceeding to the last 16, any kind of performance similar to that which we have seen, against a team with any kind of attacking potency will lead to another early exit for the three lions.