Monday, March 26, 2007

Israel v England: Comment

Unlike many people, I was rather inspired by the England performance I saw on Saturday night. It was refreshing, free-flowing and attacking football which understandably gave our opponents something of a problem to deal with from start to finish.

Sadly the game I was watching was a repeat of England's 1-1 draw with Switzerland in Euro 96. I'd already suffered the hour-and-a-half of tedium that was England's Euro 2008 qualifier against Israel earlier in the evening, but as luck would have it something altogether more entertaining came along shortly afterwards on ESPN Classic to lift my spirits.

The difference between the way England played in the two games was instantly noticeable. During the 0-0 draw in Tel Aviv, Steve McLaren's men appeared to spend most of the time playing the ball from side to side, left to right, not really knowing what to do with it next.

At Wembley during the opening game of Euro 96, Terry Venables men had only one thing in mind when they were in possession of the ball - forward movement. It really was a joy to watch, and although they didn't succeed with every attack, the sheer fact that they were constantly and purposefully driving at the Swiss was inspiration enough.

Unfortunately the current England side have plunged into some kind of mental fog. Barely anyone seems to know how to penetrate the opposition's defence, and anyone who is lucid enough to detect the problem hasn't the physical skill to do anything about it.

Work your way through Venables' squad list eleven years ago and skill was rife throughout. In front of David Seaman in goal was the gritty, no-nonsense Stuart Pearce and Tony Adams in defence. The midfield had the sublime mixture Paul Ince's aggression, the gifted Paul Gascoigne and the talented David Platt and Darren Anderton. Up front, who could ask for more than Alan Shearer and Teddy Sheringham - two strikers you could practically bet your house on scoring if given half a chance.

If the ball ever dared reach the front men on Saturday, who did England have to instil hope of an imminent goal? Andy Johnson - replaced by Jermaine Defoe, neither of which have been prolific of late - and Wayne Rooney whose form has been, well... let's just say 'inconsistent' in recent times.

But we all know that the current side does have some talented individuals in it. One only needs mention Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, John Terry and Rio Ferdinand to be reminded of that. So where does all the underachievement stem from - the way the players are playing, or the instructions the players are trying to interpret?

The feedback coming from one or two of the players is that it's their own incapability which is letting the side down, not the manager's, but what if that was caused by a distinct lack of confidence in him? That surely makes McLaren just as accountable to England's current demise?

If that were true, the answer would naturally be to replace him with someone else, but I for one get the impression that the FA want to get their money's worth out of McLaren before showing him the door, even if it does mean a failure to qualify for Euro 2008.

But hey - look on the bright side: if McLaren does get the sack, the FA might promote his right-hand man to take over the job. I've heard he's got a bit of experience where this kind of thing's concerned...

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