There’s a lot of debate going on about what England and McClaren should do to turn things around.
England have not become ‘bad’ all of a sudden. This was a stale team that was rejuvenated in 1998 and 2000 by Michael Owen, carried in 2002 by David Beckham, rejuvenated again in 2004 by Rooney and Lampard, carried in 2006 by Gerrard and Beckham.
In short, this bunch of ‘super-talented’ players have always relied on a handful of stars to bail them out of trouble when the going gets tough. That’s the key bit – when it gets tough. Against Andorra and Greece and Jamaica England were happy to put in 15 goals, but when it came to scoring against Macedonia we managed just 1 in 2 games.
Something is drastically wrong, and not with the playing staff.
A few ideas on what’s gone wrong:
A miscommunicating back four
At Chelsea Terry is used to captaining a well-drilled team where the keeper and the guys alongside him know their jobs. With England, Robinson is not a good commander of his goal area which causes a lot of confusion between him and the defence. Neville and Ferdinand know this and are naturally better captains, they could have dealt with this better. With Terry as captain (and thus leading the back four), England will be in trouble unless their manager and their team is as tactically astute as Mourinho.
With Gerrard suspended, Cole and Lennon injured, the only ‘impact’ player England had in Croatia was Wayne Rooney, and he was being denied proper service by a second-choice England midfield. Owen is injured. Beckham is out of the squad. There’s no Shearer-type character to pull out a goal through sheer willpower.
England need matchwinners, not just talented players like Lampard and Crouch. When the going is tough, England’s core usually melts away.
If you want to change things, you don’t appoint the assitant coach as the next manager. Macca brings in the same unconvincing results and tries to gloss them over with cute PR, but without Eriksson’s cautious nature we’re looking at more defeats like the one against Croatia. McClaren needs to revamp his game and become a radically better manager when England play Israel in March, or we’re fucked.
No David Beckham
A lot has been said for and against David Beckham before, during and after the 2006 World Cup. McClaren’s decision to drop him from the squad was expected to herald changes in England’s fortunes, but it turned out to be nothing more than a PR exercise and England turned into cautious, stumbling winners into stale, hapless losers in the spate of a couple of tough games against Macedonia and Croatia.
Yes, he’s old and shouldn’t play in Euro 2008. Yes, he’s holding back talent such as Aaron Lennon and SWP.
But he’s the only player who can land pinpoint crosses at Rooney’s feet and score goals from free kicks.
You might not like it, but go back and check England’s World Cup 2006 stats – England won 3 games, 2 of them single-handedly won by Becks and in the 3rd his assist led to the first goal. When Becks wasn’t firing, England couldn’t win.
He was Eriksson’s trump card, and whatever reason McClaren found to dump him, there’s no replacement available for a player of Beckham’s talents in England.
It’s a tough choice – you can lose Beckham’s dead-ball ability or you are forced to keep an ageing and slow player. Beckham is committed in defence and doesn’t give the ball away, but in England his teammates refused to give him the ball in an almost petulant fashion.
McClaren could be right for dropping Beckham, but you can’t leave out a player of his ability and then keep Gary Neville (an year older) on the excuse that there’s no backup. There’s no backup for Becks either. Unless England can transform their midfield and make the transition into complete pace (and bring in a decent crosser in the side), they will keep missing David Beckham.