St George’s flag is still flying – what a difference a red shirt makes!
June 23, 2010

St George’s flag can remain flying over the House of Commons for a little while longer. What a difference a win makes. Yes we were on the edge of our seats, because one goal wasn’t enough, but everything that had been missing from the first two games, was there and we started to look a half decent side.

There was pride in this performance, endeavour and considerable skill, particularly after Jermaine Defoe’s goal had settled early nerves. Every player contributed and it was a real team effort.

Fabio Capello was vindicated. He did not bow to player power (or the media) and stuck with the 4-4-2 formation, with Gerrard playing on the left side of midfield and Joe Cole remaining on the bench.  Defoe, the goal scorer, came in for Heskey but that would have happened anyway. James Milner returned on the right, after missing the Algeria game. His workrate, and the quality of his crossing were outstanding.

Despite the alleged discontent within the training camp, things seem to have been sorted out, the players responded to the coach and everyone  pulled together. That’s why they won’t be flying home early, economy class, like the French (ha ha!)

In fairness John Terry, who led the failed coup against Fabio, was a rock at the back, as were attacking fullbacks Ashley Cole and Glen Johnson. Steven Gerrard put in another disciplined captain’s performance. Matthew Upson, who looked shaky to start with, grew into the game and made a wonderful last-ditch tackle at the death.

Rooney is still below par and desperately seeking a goal. He shot twice when he could have played in Milner and when he did have a one on one with the keeper couldn’t get his shot away cleanly.  A goal can’t be far away now and when it comes it will make such a difference to him and the rest of the team.      

Defoe got the goal and his movement up front was a constant threat. His presence, at the exclusion of Heskey, encourages the team to play to feet, rather than opting for the long high ball which was our downfall against Algeria.     

It’s never easy, watching England, but this performance was much better on the eye and they dominated for long periods. A second goal, that never came, would have sealed it and made the last 10 minutes rather more bearable. But we are in the last 16, the first two games can be forgotten, we can draw confidence from this performance and we are still very much in this tournament, well at least until Sunday!      

Ghana, Germany, or Serbia are all possible last 16 opponents. Funnily enough, of the three, I really quite fancy us against the Germans. I trust Fabio will have those disparaging comments from ‘the Kaiser’ pinned up on the dressing room wall – team talk done!

Oh yes, and another thing, what a difference a shirt makes. Stick with the red – there’s a quite a good precedent!

The ugly face of player power
June 21, 2010

Just when we were sitting back having a chuckle at the antics in the French training camp, former England captain, John Terry, spoiled it all by seizing  the moment to assume the role of team spokesperson and alerting the eagerly waiting media to similar disharmony in the England camp.  

More of that later. First let’s start with our friends from across La Manche who, regardless of their walk of life, are never slow at voicing disapproval by taking strike action. This time it’s not students, teachers or farmers but international football players, high on pay but low on motivation.

There is no doubting, French coach, Raymond Domenech’s eccentricities (see post ‘Look to the Stars’ 12/6/10) and it’s been an open secret from the outset that senior members of the squad were not happy with his team selection and tactics. In effect, the French ‘stars’ were never favourably aligned and he had lost the dressing room before a ball was kicked in anger.

Having said that he is the coach and when Nicholas Anelka, who looked totally disinterested during the game against Mexico, refused to apologise for his foul-mouthed half time rant the French Football Federation had no option other than to back ‘star gazer’ Domenech and recall the player to France.

With their World Cup existence hanging by a thread, the French players then pathetically refused to train yesterday (for one day only)  to protest at the FFF’s handling of the situation, claiming they had not given Anelka a fair chance to explain his actions and because they “ did not at any point try to protect the squad.”

With the lunatics well and truly taking over the asylum and the whole situation, having degenerated into a French farce, the FFF has now issued a statement apologising to the nation for the team’s behaviour.

A state of national emergency has been declared and even President Sarkozy, never one to miss out on a bit of free publicity (seen showing Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger his nifty footwork), is getting involved.

Let’s hope Bafana Bafana, who do play as if they care, can raise their game enough tomorrow to put our Gallic friends out of their misery. I bet the Irish have been enjoying it all, and perhaps it does go to show that cheats never prosper!   

Meanwhile back in Rustenburg, following the debacle against Algeria, John Terry took it upon himself to set up a ‘clear the air’ meeting between the players and Fabio. In itself there is absolutely nothing wrong with that but it should have been kept behind closed doors.

What did he expect to gain from going public? Is it all about revenge for being stripped of the captaincy following his off the field fling with ex Chelsea and England ‘best mate’ Wayne Bridge’s former partner, or was it genuinely intended to make the coach sit up and take note of the squad’s opinions?

Whatever the motivation, thankfully the rest of the squad have now distanced themselves from Terry’s actions. He is considered to have gone too far by publically backing Joe Cole’s inclusion in the starting line up and suggesting a change of formation, many in the media have been clambering for, that would see Gerrard play a more advanced midfield role behind lone striker Wayne Rooney.

Terry ‘coming out’ in this way, showed a total disregard for the team captain, Steven Gerrard. Surely, if anyone should be representing the players’ views to the coach or making public statements it should be him .

Another alternative might have been to enlist the services of  David Beckham who could then have justified his place of favour in the dressing room, apparently some kind of ‘team mascot’, by stepping into any breach between the players and coaching staff and acting as a mediator.   

I must say the FA has also been less than supportive of Capello by suggesting that if England don’t make the last 16, they would expect him to resign. Well they can’t afford to sack him can they!

Capello may be everything he’s accused of:  authoritarian, single-minded, a disciplinarian, inflexible, unwilling to listen and unable to change his ways (which, incidentally, have proved successful for every other team he has worked with), but he was being lauded as some kind of footballing ‘Messiah’ by the FA, the team and the media just a few short weeks ago.

He is a proud individual with a proven track record and quite rightly will not succumb to player power. It is about time this ‘golden generation’ of pampered ‘England stars’ took a long hard look in the mirror and shouldered the responsibility for two under par performances.      

In the matches against the USA and Algeria, the same players that had qualified for the World Cup finals, playing a measured and successful brand of football instilled in them by Capello, looked a team devoid of technique, creativity, and commitment to the cause.

Capello may not be without fault, but neither are the players. In short, whether John Terry likes it or not, the team have bottled it. There is one more chance to put things right, and rather than following the example of ‘Les Bleus’, the England team would do better to draw on the team and work ethic of the lowly New Zealand ‘All Whites’ who yesterday pulled off the result of the tournament, to date, 1-1 against world champions Italy.

Pride, passion, effort and endeavour from a team where all its members are working for one another and the coach, within a well drilled playing system can bring about surprising results.

Slovenia will no doubt have a similar mentality plus added quality but nothing that our players, if they are as good as they think they are, should be worried about. Throw off the shackles, have a go and let’s see proper player power, on the pitch. Let the football do the talking!

Silly Hats, Strawberries & Streakers – The Great British Summer!
June 20, 2010

World Cup Final tournaments are addictive; they should carry a government health warning!

Admittedly the football, in South Africa, has hardly set the pulses racing, largely due to negative tactics and coaches preoccupied with self-preservation. Never the less the atmosphere is vibrant, results have been refreshingly unpredictable and the ongoing debate over the suspect ball and the omnipresent vuvuzela, have all been riveting for the football enthusiast. Not to mention the soap opera which the England team has become! Hopefully the best is yet to come, in the final group matches and knock out stages.          

Meanwhile, in the shadow of the ‘greatest show on earth’ and largely neglected by the national media, the great British sporting summer rolls on. It is of course the traditional season for silly hats, strawberries and streakers!   

This week at Royal Ascot the premier flat race meeting has come and gone with barely a by your leave. But even this traditional preserve of the sport of kings was infiltrated by the World Cup, with a Ladies’ Day vuvuzela hat, paraded on the front page of Friday’s Times newspaper.         

The Wimbledon Championship, at the All England Club, has crept upon us almost un-noticed. As from tomorrow, tennis enthusiasts will be descending on SW19, hoping for that elusive British success but ever ready to drown their sorrows with lashings of Pimms and strawberries. Normally the sports pages would have been hyping up Andy Murray’s chances for the last week or so, but in this World Cup year he has barely rated a mention. Hopefully this might work in his favour?

Similarly the razzmatazz of the county cricket T20 competition is passing us by and the forthcoming one day internationals will probably go unnoticed by many. Not by me though! I’m looking forward to making my debut, at the SWALEC stadium in Cardiff on Thursday, for the day/night England v Australia game. I’m looking forward to seeing Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann (a couple of part-time  Notts players) and, weather permitting, I anticipate it might prove the perfect antidote to England’s football performance against Slovenia on Wednesday!  

Yesterday, on the other side of the world, in Sydney, the England ruby team raised their game, at long last, and ‘hammered’ the Aussies 20-21! It was their first win ‘down under’ since they lifted the World Cup in 2003 (on the same ground) and only their second away win in two years. But this narrowest of victories might prove vital in England’s rehabilitation process, almost certainly keeping Martin Johnson and his coaching team in their positions until after the 2011 Rugby World Cup, and perhaps proving the turning point we’ve been waiting for. Ever the optimist!

I don’t like to upset my Welsh family members by referring to their latest performance against the All Blacks, so I suggest they look away now. They were soundly thrashed 42-9!

Finally a mention for Formula 1 (Scalextric for grown ups!) where two Brits continue to the lead the way in what is becoming a highly competitive championship. It was good to see the oft maligned Lewis Hamilton back at is his best in Montreal and last year’s champion Jenson Button proving he wasn’t a one hit wonder!  Next up his Valencia, in a week’s time and then Silverstone on World Cup Final day!

I wonder what odds I might get on England to win the World Cup, Andy Murray to lift the men’s singles and a Hamilton/Button 1-2 in the British Grand Prix? Dream on!