Strangers in the Night!
June 19, 2010

On Friday, ‘ol blue eyes’ and ‘Strangers in the Night’ came to mind! England played like a scratch pub team, who had met up for the first time five minutes before the kick-off, as pass after pass went astray. Then there was the episode of the phantom intruder who waltzed into the England dressing room intent on giving our bereft team the benefit of his opinion.

Given that the anonymous interloper had made such short work of the FIFA security my curiosity was roused. Was it an undercover visit from Franz ‘the Kaiser’ Beckenbauer, popping in to reaffirm his earlier claim that, “What I saw from the English had very little to do with football.”  After last night’s sorry performance I think a few more might be with him on that one now!   

It was a huge disappointment for ‘birthday boy’ Fabio, not the sort of celebratory performance he had in mind, I’m sure. He seemed genuinely at a loss that the England players we see playing like world beaters, week in  week out, for their clubs and strutting their stuff on the training ground didn’t turn up for such a big game.

To be honest the rest of us could have tipped him the wink:  “Everyone seems to know the score, they’ve seen it all before, they just know, they’re so sure that England’s  gonna throw it away, gonna blow it away” etc.  (Badiel & Skinner) 

Of course, no team sets out to play badly, get booed off the pitch and castigated in the national press. They’re not the first team to disappoint at this year’s tournament but what made last night so unpalatable was the apparent lack of pride and passion. Too many players seemed weighed down by the occasion, the ball was like a hot potato and nobody appeared to want to take responsibility. This was Algeria after all, a 3rd world nation in football terms!

The honeymoon period with the media is clearly over for Fabio but I don’t go along with the criticism currently being levelled at him.  It’s little use turning on the coach and questioning his methods at this late stage. Let’s be honest, under Sven Goran-Ericksson, we qualified with some style for the 2006 World Cup but once at the finals the players under performed and we stuttered and spluttered our way to a quarter-final exit. We were told it was down to Sven not showing enough passion on the touch-line, being too loyal to certain favoured players, allowing an overly free and easy attitude in the training camp, and of course he never had a plan B when things weren’t going well.    

This time around, Fabio Capello undoubtedly shows passion from the dug out. He’s not been afraid to leave out players with big reputations, has a more austere and remote persona with the team, clearly runs a tight ship and has experimented with different formations, but seems to prefer 4-4-2 . Once again the team have under performed (so far at least) and now it’s being suggested that this is  because Capello’s style  inhibits the team and they are afraid of expressing themselves for fear of making mistakes.  

The media can’t play it both ways. We have seen two distinctly different approaches from two very different coaches but, both in 2006 and currently in 2010, our ‘top players’ have frozen on the big stage. Is it a mental attitude born of an unrealistic national expectation after years of  under achievement, or do we merely over-estimate their abilities? Are our England stars as good as we think or do they just look good at club level where they are in teams along side genuine world-class players who have the technique and creativity to provide them with the extra time and space they don’t get when playing with the national side?

Fabio isn’t one to panic or to pander to calls from the media.  I think he’ll get the team up for the do or die game against Slovenia and we will squeeze through. We might even, depending on the opposition, briefly flatter to deceive by winning our quarter-final and fleetingly raise national hopes once more before the inevitable anti-climax in the semis, probably going out on penalties; “Everyone seems to know the score ” etc!  I guess that would be judged a relative success.  

However it turns out there’s one sure thing, ‘ol blue eyes’ will spring to mind again with visions of Capello singing, “I did it my way!”

The Kaiser, the Jabulani and the Vuvuzela!
June 15, 2010

The football on display must be pretty poor if the column inches are taken up with complaints about the match ball, the decibel levels achieved by the Zulu horn and the snide ramblings of Franz Beckenbauer!

Given that a reliable ball, which the players feel comfortable with, is fairly fundamental to a decent game, why oh why do we have these ‘quality’ issues at every international tournament?  

When Adidas launched the Jabulani ball, back in February, we were told its new technology would “enhance the thrill and excitement of the game.” Well there is no sign of that so far and in fact it might be argued that the players are so distrustful of it that they are playing with extra caution, therefore detracting from the game as spectacle. Yesterday, one match commentator rather disparagingly likened the Jabulani to, “those plastic balls you get free with petrol!”   

Arguably, the Germans are the only team, to date, to play with any degree of confidence and flair and they have been using this ball in their domestic Bundesliga for the last four months. The English Premier League is contractually bound to Nike and the England team to Umbro, so our boys haven’t been able to use it until four weeks ago.  Questions about competing on an even playing field spring to mind!

It’s marvellous what one good result has done to restore German confidence. The German coach, and fashion guru, Joachim Loew had come under considerable pressure back home, following his squad selection,  and we were told it was the weakest in years. Four goals later, all be it against the Aussies, and football supremo Franz Beckenbauer feels confident enough to pop his, not unsubstantial,  head above the parapet and have a pop at Capello and England’s style of play: “What I saw from the English had very little to do with football.”

Frankly, Beckenbauer, ‘the Kaiser’, an iconic figure of German football has never got over 1966 and never passes up an opportunity to criticise the old enemy. If I were Capello, I’d thank him for providing a ready-made team talk for when the two countries, almost inevitably, meet later in the tournament.

I’d also be having a quiet word with Jamie Carragher, who is whingeing a tad too much and was quoted today as saying the Jubulani ball is giving the Germans an unfair advantage. That’s exactly the sort of ‘fear’ they thrive on. It’s rather disconcerting that we already appear to be stock-piling excuses!

Finally, the controversial droning vuvuzelas continue to split public opinion.  If it is such an import aspect of South African football culture, which it appears to be, then clearly it has to be accepted and should not be banned at this late stage.

Anyway it’s not just Africans who are using them. They have caught on with supporters of every country. For FIFA to ban them would be the equivalent of banning chanting in England or the Mexican wave in South America!  Surely, professional players are trained to focus and are able shut out much of the noise and as for TV viewers; I’d be surprised if  technicians aren’t able to reduce the background noise level, which I’m sure will happen as the tournament progresses.