England’s secret war

Disclaimer: This is personal opinion, so keep that in mind before you go off on a rant.

We know that the English media are a soulless, immoral, self-righteous and hypocritical bunch.

The amount of pressure they put on the players and the management makes it impossible for anything to be seen in a rational light, and this turns the fans against the team for no good reason (World Cup 2006 being a perfect example).

We also know that Steve McClaren doesn’t fit the bill. As an international manager your responsibilities lie exclusively in getting the best out of your players and being able to take hard decisions (such as dropping someone from the squad and making tactical switching mid-game). McClaren has failed on the first account and his only ‘hard decision’ of note has been to drop David Beckham – and considering that you’ve dropped a dead-certain match-winner, it’s a very ridiculous decision.

So what is the real problem?

Player power.

In Germany 2006, I kept wondering why the England players wouldn’t pass the ball to David Beckham. Becks saw very little of the ball, and while it is true that he’s lost pace, isn’t the player he was and that defenders didn’t mind taking him on one on one, that doesn’t mean you isolate your captain like that, especially when he’s open on the right while all your attacks down the middle and on the left are being easily deflected back.

Then came McClaren and Beckham’s axing. Surprisingly, McClaren chose Gerrard as his first-choice right midfielder, Lennon behind as #2 and Shaun Wright-Phillips as #3. McClaren never properly justified Beckham’s exclusion, considering that he had just dropped a match-winner to put a central midfielder in his place and picked a right-winger who hasn’t played well for 2 years in the squad.

England’s Euro 2008 qualification campaign reached its depths against Croatia, yet the team was not changed. McClaren kept picking the best 11 players, although you could easily see that this sort of arrangement works far better on a club level where the players play together almost daily in training as opposed to on an international level.

Then, before Israel, Pini Zahavi pointed to Beckham’s exclusion as a case of jealousy. I don’t put much stock in Zahavi’s statements, but some of it – especially the bit about Becks being an outsider in the squad – seems true from what I’ve seen in the World Cup.

Is it possible that McClaren dropped Beckham because he saw that Becks had lost the team’s support? Yes, it is.

But managers are paid to make tough decisions, and dropping Beckham was the easiest decision McClaren could make. It allowed him to put Lampard and Gerrard in the same starting XI, and it gave him a good PR boost at the start when the idiotic English media was calling for a ‘change’.

But this is not about Beckham. This about the players who are being picked regularly without results.

The hard decision would have been to give Lampard a break after the World Cup and play Gerrard and Hargreaves in the middle, Downing on the left and Lennon on the right.

The hard decision would have been to drop Peter Crouch and give Defoe, a better finisher, an extended run in the squad.

The hard decision would have been to give Lennon an extended run on the right wing, and to keep Becks as a backup.

The hard decision would have been to play Gareth Barry at left-back when Ashley Cole and Wayne Bridge are not in the squad.

The hard decision would have been to play Wes Brown at right-back, considering he’s been with the squad for a long time and is a more natural attacking full-back than Phil Neville.

Sticking with the same team day in and day out is a luxury international managers cannot afford. At club level, you need to show your faith in players. On the international stage, the stakes are much higher and the players themselves need to step up and perform.

I still remember the time when Paul Scholes retired from international football – the party line was that he wanted to concentrate on club football, but the undercurrent was that with Eriksson refusing to drop Gerrard and Lampard, the midfield was woefully imbalanced and England were playing crap as a result.

The hard decisions are never made – the best team is not chosen. Liverpool play Gerrard on the right because Rafa wants to play two defensive midfielders.

If England were playing Carrick and Hargreaves in the middle, with Gerrard on the right and Joe Cole on the left, that’d make more sense.

But if Gerrard keeps cutting in from the right and both him and Lampard become cramped for space, what’s the point?

John Terry and Frank Lampard do not play anywhere near the same level of football for England as they do for Chelsea.

Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney are great friends, exceptional talents and both players have huge egos and hate being benched.

I would hate to think that the Lampard-Terry and Gerrard-Rooney connections were the reason behind England’s problems. These four have become undroppable, just as Beckham and Owen and Gerrard and Lampard were undroppable under Eriksson.

I hate to think of England’s problems being caused by player power – and I hope that it isn’t the case. But it is a possibility, and if it is true, then combined with McClaren’s failings, England fans can expect more of the same for a long, long time.

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