Pini Zahavi, usually described in less than glowing terms by the UK football press, most often tagged as agent to the equally unpopular Rio Ferdinand, is all over the papers today as “a friend of Sven Goran Ericksson” with what he claims is the inside dope on the World Cup.
Suddenly, he’s an honest eye-witness to events. I do hope he enjoys it, because what he has to say is colourful and interesting, but doesn’t really stack up.
Here’s Zahavi (again, because you’ll already have read all of this elsewhere):
The problem in the World Cup was that the players gave only 30% of their ability,” said Zahavi. “That was because there was a big problem of jealousy inside the team. It’s something that nobody else has talked about before but the fact is a lot of the players didn’t like the status of David Beckham in the team. They were jealous of Beckham. They haven’t talked about it but this was the thing that failed the team in Germany.
That is probably why Steve McClaren decided to get rid of him from the squad when he took over. A lot of players didn’t like the way Beckham was treated as a superstar. They didn’t like the status he had in the team and they felt he didn’t deserve that status compared to what he could do on the pitch.
If Eriksson would ever tell the whole story, everyone would understand what was going on inside the England dressing room.Today, under McClaren, all the players are equal before the coach and that makes it a much more convenient situation.
He (Steve McClaren) knows if England stumbles in Israel it will be an earthquake in football. If that happens they will drink his blood and finish him.
First of all, which players gave 30%? Crouch? No. Hargreaves? No. Joe Cole? Emphatically not. Rooney? No. Owen? No. Terry? No. Robinson? No. Neville? No, and he’s Beckham’s closest personal friend in any case. Carragher? Ridiculous. Lennon? No. I could go on.
Secondly, what about the injuries? Ericksson’s teams at tournaments have always had the most important players either out or struggling. This time, Owen, Rooney, Gary Neville, Ashley Cole, either injured, injured during the tournament, or fighting for fitness and match sharpness. Fans’ frustration at the absence of these men does not produce adequate replacements in of itself. You can’t sow a field of footballers, and Arthur’s first eleven is not sleeping under a hill waiting for national crisis. We’ve had almost a full season since, and those replacements have failed to make themselves known. It hasn’t been Johnson and Defoe’s season – it’s been Lita’s and Nugent’s. You hadn’t heard of either man in June.
England’s difficulties were in attack, because of injury, and in central midfield, for well-rehearsed reasons. On the subject of the Lampard-Gerrard pairing, has it ever occurred to you that the reason it continues to be selected is because the alternatives are actually worse? Opta stats are more useful in the case of midfield than for other positions. Over this season, they rank Scholes, Lampard, and Gerrard in that order. The drop-off between Lampard and Gerrard is steep, but it’s nothing compared to the subsequent free-fall.
The biggest problem with Zahavi’s analysis is with his idea that things are better under McClaren. The best part of the World Cup for England came in the first half against Sweden, when, if you care to remember, they swept all before them. Joe Cole’s brilliant individual goal came during that magical period. Only Argentina would ever play decisively better than those 45 minutes of England’s, and, to the tournament’s detriment, they made it no further than we did. McClaren’s teams haven’t come close to that. They haven’t come anywhere near it. If Zahavi is right, and things are better in the dressing room, then it doesn’t show on the pitch.
England’s problems at the World Cup were down to injuries and – perhaps – the fatigue and low confidence of the central midfielders. No one let the team down; no one decided to give only 30% in the biggest tournament of their lives because of Beckham.
So why Zahavi’s comments? What does he want from them? Given that he claims only to be repeating what Ericksson has told him, is it Sven giving McClaren a bit of PR assistance in time of need? It seems unlikely. Just an agent shooting his mouth off, throwing the bigots in the British football press a bone he knows they’ll chew? Perhaps. Or did Beckham and Zahavi cross swords, years ago – did Becks refuse his services, closing off what would have been the biggest contract in the agent’s career? A kind of belated revenge?
It’s most likely Zahavi didn’t say anything of the kind, and that all of the above remarks, repeated word for word in the broadsheets, are just one more example of the football press hearing “play it again, Sam.” And humming it back to us..