England 0 v Macedonia 0 – Review

I must confess that my first reaction was anger. Quite justified anger. After all, everyone had got what they wanted, hadn’t they? An English manager who understood the importance of passion and commitment – Terry Venables back on board – an old-fashioned vocal captain in John Terry – Beckham dropped – Gerrard and Lampard no longer sharing the centre – the Rooney/Crouch front line that would have made all the difference against Portugal – Sean Wright-Phillips and Jermaine Defoe given their opportunities.

Let me throw back at you the same damn fool question that gets aimed at psychologists and psychotherapists the world over. Did it “work?”

Suffice it to say for now that this was precisely the kind of performance, and precisely the kind of result, that was meant to have gone with Erickson. I’m afraid I have to tell you that this is what you are in for for at the very least the next two years while England gets all of this traditional-values schtick out of its system.

On to specifics. It is rather unfair to cast Macedonia in the role of total minnows. Given their 2-2 draw in their last competitive match in England, they deserved better. Today, they played 3 men up front – away from home! and were very unlucky not to win the game by some distance. Their pattern of play – using wide men up front who would cut inside rather than go for the by-line, is precisely that favoured down the years by the likes of Chapman, Busby, Paisley and co., and England held them rather than being held themselves.

From the England team, I felt Crouch did what he could with atrocious service from the midfield. Carrick’s first half had good moments, but he was forever being cut out of play by Lampard and Gerrard – in the second half, his vision deserted him. Gerrard played without intelligence, and, after his booking, resorted to the same kind of gloryhunting attitude, looking to be England’s spectacular last-minute saviour, that he’d adopted against Portugal. Had his shot gone in under the bar, it would have been a travesty, concealing an essentially selfish performance. Other people will be having open season on Lampard, so I won’t bother.

Rooney, unlike Gerrard, avoided provocation but is clearly short on match practice. So, for different reasons, is Jermaine Defoe, whose role as the substitute Owen is now under serious threat from Andrew Johnson. I worry about Rooney in an England shirt, not because of his behaviour, but because of how he is being used. For the sake of his own career, the sooner Owen returns to resume their partnership the better. Likewise Crouch, who seems to me to be being set up as some kind of fall guy, the next to follow Beckham out of the squad. Far too much was asked of him today – far too little given.

That was the other spark of my anger. Rooney and Crouch’s international careers, both of which have started well, must not be, but are being, bungled by people who do not know what they are doing. That’s not entirely a thrust at McClaren. McClaren is having to adapt to a renewed surge of superstition and stupidity in English football – these aren’t the considered days that followed Erickson’s appointment, but flight back to some kind of fantasy island where passion and commitment win out over skill and tactical thinking. He has to cope with the same thing that we now know confronted Erickson after Scholes’ retirement – the complete inability of this set of players to adapt to even one other system.

Poor Ledley King looks an altogether lesser player since the start of the season – and something seems to be happening to Ashley Cole too. Terry had a bad night, but I wouldn’t put it any more strongly than that. Gary Neville was no better, and the expression on his face was that of a man who, for all his talk about wanting to be in a successful England side, perhaps realises that the moment has passed.

My gut feelings for this game, and for the matches against Greece and Albania, held good.My gut feeling for the immediate England future is – an acceptable result against Croatia, and then the lights going out Graham Taylor style.

The most depressing moment of the night for me was when the Radio 5 commentator, on courtesy of the red digi-button, praised McClaren for gesticulating from the sidelines – “we didn’t see enough of that from Erickson. Waving his team forward.” Wrong thing, too little, too late. For all Rio Ferdinand’s praise of some straight-talking that’s allegedly been going on behind the scenes, England, after the first ten minutes, looked scared and leaderless, unaware of each other and, Crouch aside, unwilling to take risks.

Gentlemen of the press, you thought you knew why this was happening. You’ve had all you wanted, everything you asked for. Tomorrow morning, you’ll present your diagnosis and prescription for all the world as if you were denied it all. If only the management would listen to you… but they did, they did, and it’s going to take years to undo your bad work of a few short months.

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4 responses to “England 0 v Macedonia 0 – Review

  1. Ledley King was excellent 95% of the time.

  2. It’s a team game. The two best passes that England produced were by Carrick and Crouch, neither of whom were long-term members of Sven’s All-Stars. Perhaps the new management will have to start looking for players who can demonstrate the intelligence and flexibility to play as part of a team where the manager cannot depend on bringing in foreign players to the key creative positions. For me the low point was when Gerrard collided with Rooney and possession was lost in a good attacking position. Not running into each other is even more basic than passing to the men in the same colour of shirt.

  3. Well, I share the anger at the press. The sniping at Sven has continued now that he has gone and has if anything grown worse. He was stupid, he was emotionless, blah, blah.

    He got England to a number of quarter finals, of course. We will see whether MacLaren does the same.

    I agree that Gerrard had a very poor game, in fact quite a terrible game. Lampard was OK, so was Rooney in the first half. Sometimes, it happens, teams just play badly. Sometimes it is because the other team plays well. I can’t abide the line that everything revolves around one team (ours) and that the opposition have nothing to do with it. Macedonia did play well, extremely well, and kept Neville and Cole in check by leaving players forward.

    Absolutely nothing has been proved one way or the other about post-Beckham England, except that there is now a lack of a brilliant passer of the ball. Carrick might develop into that, he might not. I am sorry Rooney was taken off as it is good to have some faith shown in you when you are low. Is that not the case, James? And Defoe did nothing.

    Wright-Phillips was good. He is another that needs to be persevered with. He and Lennon, and perhaps Walcott. I do think Chelsea ruin young players by paying fortunes for them then not playing them.

    And, whatever the plan, it is disorientating for a defence to have a skilful unpredictable forward running at them. It messes up the plan for them.

  4. Wright-Phillips I WANT to do well: his loss of confidence against Holland was absolutely heart-breaking to watch. He’s been sounding a little happier at Chelsea of late.
    Personally I can’t imagine the circumstances in which I’d take Rooney off: I’d feel I was robbing myself of something potentially wonderful and extraordinary. I’d just as happily substitute Best or Beckham. Rooney needs time and a little love – people are apt to downplay just how nasty things have been for him recently. How do they think he feels about being sent off in that quarter-final – in his view and mine unjustly – and then in the summer friendly, again unjustly, and then being suspended by the FA against all advice.. I’d be despondent on half of that.