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What Now For England?



It has gone all horribly, horribly wrong. What was supposed to be a new and better era has turned out to be a farce and worse than its predecessor; what was expected to be the turnaround of fortune has translated into a deepening wound; what ought to have been the start of an Empire has eventually been proved a mirage.

So the England players are going to spend the 2008 summer in either big money moves from one club to another or laze around in exotic beaches in sunny Spain; or do both. So the England supporters wouldn’t be packing their bags and harpoons for another riot in a foreign nation. So an England coach won’t be throwing excuses for his weird team selection or for his team’s quarter-final jinx in a major international competition. So there won’t be any over-the-top hype on England and how this could yet be their year, once again.

Only that there will be more hype, more outburst of emotions and every single time you pick up anything in print that is even remotely scripted in English you would find the word “England” written in large, bold letters. True, England won’t be observed anywhere near Austria and Switzerland in the summer and neither would the WAGs (whatever is meant by that) but their presence would be felt from a distance, like you felt the presence of Caesar in Julius Caesar all the time even when he made his appearance on the stage for only a handful of times.

At the heart of this overblown regret and rue would be the notion, and a rightful one too, that England are much, much better than they have been in the last one and a half years. Yes, England are one of the better footballing nations in the world and should have been playing in Euro 2008. But that they are not, does it make them an inferior footballing side to the 16 teams who are playing in the competition? Are they a lesser side than say, Poland?

A rhetorical question, for sure. Yet it would be hard to ignore the need for a change, rather a string of changes. The most obvious change has been wrung: Steve not-to-be-fit-enough-for-the-England-job McClaren has been ousted from his office (and the man is shamelessly being linked with a Premiership management job even before the tears have been wiped away). But perhaps more importantly, the English FA personnel need to change both their attitude and approach or throw themselves out of the office altogether.

It was this strange and defective FA network that was responsible for the appointment of McClaren, who was never their first choice anyway—Portugal coach Luiz Felipe Scolari was but he got turned off by the English media hounds. It was this same faulty FA that failed to put enough pressure on McClaren to change his team selection and strategy when required.

Now the same FA has sacked the former Middlesbrough manager and is hunting for a man brave enough to take on the “most difficult job in football” , a man who could be the Messiah for England and not only guide them to the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa but win the competition as well. Jose Mourinho and Fabio Capello’s names have been thrown into the hat (or in other words, they themselves have thrown their names into the hat) and since the FA is scratching its head on whether to import another Johnny Foreigner into the unit or stay put with English blood, a few other figures could well bid for the job in the coming days.

But as much as McClaren’s Mickey Mouse-esque errors contributed to the downfall of England, the team’s failure to book their tickets to Austria and Switzerland owes much to the players’ inability to fulfill their potential too. Except beanpole striker Peter Crouch and maybe defender Sol Campbell, neither of whom are readymade first choice for this talented but somewhat overrated England team, none of the players have been consistent or have performed to the best of their ability in the failed Euro 2008 qualifying conquest. Steven Gerrard has blown hot and blown cold and Frank Lampard has been exceptionally quiet; Paul Robinson and Scott Carson both have been guilty of goalkeeping howlers (read suicides); and the injuries to Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney meant that at crucial times in the qualifying roller-coaster, McClaren had been without a top class striker.

The winged chariot of time has caught up with England and the national team is in need of change. The entire unit needs to comprehend that the defect is in the inside and only a thorough investigation would help. When David Beckham resigned his captainship in the wake of yet another World Cup failure in 2006 and was subsequently dropped from the side by McClaren, there was a suspicion that England were moving forward and were at long last breaking from an autocratic and often bewildering past saddled with favoritism.

But Becks was recalled not so much as for his decent form for Real Madrid as for McClaren attempting desperate measures to stay the sinking ship and England were again shoved into the past. This is no moving forward and it wouldn’t do much harm should the former Manchester United and Real Madrid player, whom Real President Ramon Calderon once described as “half an actor” and who is playing for a nondescriptive club in a nondescriptive league in an equally nondescriptive nation (well, football-wise at least), be let go. But Becksie is just one game away from the century mark and surely the ever-serving FA are not going to disappoint!

Shaun Wright-Phillips has been notching up some games for Chelsea in recent months and that could only help both the player and England. The 26-year old Wright-Phillips has pace, dribbling quality and is a decent crosser of the ball which makes him a better and more reliable player than the 33-year one-trick pony (okay, make that two-trick pony) David Beckham and the new England coach, whoever he is, ought to keep this fact in mind. Aaron Lennon is fast cropping up the charts for a stiff competition with Wright-Philips on the right side of England midfield and is one player who needs to be exposed more to big occasions to allow him to develop.

That Gerrard and Lampard cannot play together for England in the midfield has attained the status of Gospel Truth. Instead, as was demonstrated in the concluding England matches in the Euro qualifiers, Gareth Barry is a better and more complimentary player to Gerrard than Lampard is. He has the most lethal left foot among all the England players (and that includes Joe Cole who needs to find pastures other than Stamford Bridge to regain his West Ham United form) and with a gifted versatility, Barry is an asset that McClaren employed only when the situation was dire and almost out of control and only after a gap of almost a historical period: Barry made his debut for England when Kevin Keegan was in charge (now when was that?) and had been living in queer international exile ever since.

The quarter-final exits in the 2002 World Cup, the Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup weren’t disasters but mere inability to get past tougher and stronger opposition; this is a disaster. A hell lot of lessons must be learnt from England’s failure to notch one of the 16 crazy seats in the flight to Austria and Switzerland; and the most important lesson is that England are not the best footballing side in the world and are in need of fresh changes.