Why have the FA backed Steve McClaren when the former assistant manager has almost failed his objective of qualifying for Euro 2008 (and must rely on Israel to beat Russia on 17 November)?
The players’ quality is not in question – Steven Gerrard and Gareth Barry have given excellent service to Liverpool and Aston Villa and are deserving captains of their respective clubs. Wayne Rooney, Joe Cole, Stewart Downing, Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand, Michael Owen – all are fantastic players capable of winning the game for their teams on any given day.
If Rafa Benitez can pull an Istanbul out of his hat with Steven Gerrard as the catalyst, if Jose Mourinho can coax Lampard to play brilliantly for 3 seasons straight, if Wayne Rooney can score 23 goals for his club in a ‘bad’ season, these players are good enough to go to Euro 2008.
The question then arises – is the manager good enough?
I’m certain that Steve McClaren is hard-working, a good tactician and knows what to say to his players – he wouldn’t have been assistant manager and manager for so long if he didn’t have that knowledge.
But time and time again, he has made errors in judgment. Granted that the momentum in the Russia game was shifted by the ref’s mistake, but England came to this game after drawing away from home against Macedonia – 2 points dropped which would then have meant that England controlled their own fate needing 3 points against Croatia.
England also drew against Israel, a game where the lack of width on the pitch combined with the lack of forward momentum left the team clueless and second-rate.
Here’s a team that, until recently, played attacking central midfielders on it’s right and left flanks, and Macca still favors Joe Cole on the left despite the Chelsea man’s failure to learn that he has a wide corridor on the left to use to his team’s advantage. JC is a good player, but he has been persisted with for too long. His best role at this point is an impact player, coming on when the opposition players are tiring and then force them to make mistakes or get past them using his pace.
Instead, we were offered Stewart Downing as a super-sub – a good winger but a player who would have been more useful at the start of the game, allowing England to pull the Russian defence wide and create space for Rooney, Owen and Gerrard to make runs in.
How can throwing on Lampard, an unfit midfielder, on a pitch that already has Steven Gerrard playing in his favourite position (and Rooney dropping back to crowd up the place) help England? Lampard is another workhorse, a player who wins battles throughout the game but cannot be counted on to win games off the bench.
If you go to an away game looking to defend, get lucky by scoring on the break and then soaking the pressure, you need the right personnel. England didn’t have the right players to play the defensive game. Time after time players have been asked to play unfamiliar roles, and it hasn’t worked out for England.
I expect England to win all their games, no matter what the opposition – however if we’re beaten by a better team, you have to stand up and admit it. Russia were good, but England were beaten by a better manager. And that stings, because the FA will stick by Macca for now.
The way I see it, if England don’t qualify, Macca is out. On the other hand, if England do qualify, Macca goes out as well because he is not the manager to help England win in Euro 2008. At this point, it would make more sense to find a replacement immediately than to wait till November 17.
I doubt that any manager would want to be part of the England setup if they don’t qualify though, so the FA are just waiting to know before they can fire Macca. As things stand, Macca is out regardless, but the quality of manager we get next will largely depend on whether Israel beat Russia or not.
In case you are thinking I’m wiser after the event, take time out to read everything I’ve written about England and Steve McClaren for the last year, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
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