Fabio Capello picked the wrong England team .
That’s why we drew 2-2 with Switzerland on Saturday.
Capello, always remote and rigid, is disconnected now, going through the motions, a man who doesn’t care any more.
As soon as I saw who was in his 4-3-3 line-up, I knew England would stutter.
Joe Hart; Johnson, Ferdinand, Terry, Cole ; Lampard, Parker, Wilshere ; Walcott , Bent, Milner.
There was no balance. You don’t play James Milner as a front-winger in a 4-3-3. Milner is not that animal. He’s a journeymen midfielder with a little bit of flair who can play central or wide.
Without Rooney, Capello had to start Ashley Young.
Because Darren Bent needs a ball-holding forward near him. And Bent plays with Ashley Young at Aston Villa. Since the England team is woefully short of effective partnerships, why ignore the obvious?
Last season I was thinking : Ashley Young is the new Paul Merson : a dribbler who can pass and flick and shoot from distance. Like Merson, Young can hit a ball and cross a ball and improvise fairly well. You need to improvise in international football, as your opponents are mentally sharper, able to anticipate the obvious.
Paul Merson never let England down. That’s how I remember Merse’s 21 games in seven years between 1991 and 1998. Only three goals. My impression, looking back, is that Merson never let England down. He was never their worst player. He played as a sub in the 1998 World Cup against Argentina, scoring in the penalty shoot-out.
Clearly, Fabio Capello doesn’t have much talent available. We all know that. very few of his England team perform at a level that demands their inclusion.
But since the World Cup, the Italian is a lame duck. The press have hounded him ever since South Africa, slaughtered him month after month, as I predicted here.
Mainly because his decisions in South Africa made England look worse than we really were.
So England ended last season by losing 4-1 to Germany in the World Cup, our heaviest defeat in a major tournament.
We ended this season by picking the wrong team and conceding two soft goals to Barnetta, a Swiss midfielder who had not scored in his previous 33 internationals.
Barnetta’s first free-kick, an inswinger, just went over the head of Rio Ferdinand and bounced into the net. I think Rio was pushed or tripped by striker Derdiyok but the replays are inconclusive. Have England ever conceded that goal before?
Second goal : Milner inexplicably moved out of a two-man wall with Walcott, exposing the near post and allowing Barnetta’s shot to fly into the net off Joe Hart’s foot.
Memo to Milner : watch Barnetta, watch his run-up, watch his foot, watch the ball, react accordingly, you numbskull.
Score after 35 minutes : England 0 Switzerland 2.
The Swiss protected the ball and used it carefully, making Engerland look like mugs and making Capello look like a bigger mug than any England manager since Keegan. Ashley Young’s shot squirted back off the keeper and Bent fired the rebound over the bar. He has no left foot. And his body shape was wrong.
England’s first goal was a Lampard penalty in 37, after Djourou brought down Jack Wilshere in the box.
Wilshere is a relatively rare animal : a skirmisher with vision, a player who can win the ball and protect the ball and use it. Since international football is about keeping the ball, Jack Wilshere is valuable.
He did OK. He’s a keep-ball player who made two good passes. One split the Swiss defence but the keeper blocked Bent’s shot with his left thigh.
The equaliser came in 51 : Wilshere started an attack but Djourou cleared for a throw which Milner aimed at Ashley Young and got back. Then Milner saw Leighton Baines’s bright run into the box and curled the ball towards him. The Everton left back managed to chest the ball neatly back to Ashley Young. who fired a careful half-volley. He could have blasted that ball but decided to hit it just hard enough and the ball went just inside the post for 2-2.
Jack’s other pass found Bent marked by Senderos, Bent played the ball short to Young, who came inside Djourou towards the D and fired a low shot which rebounded to the unmarked goalpoacher.
A great chance to win the game. Not a sitter, but very good chance. But Bent hunched up and hit the ball over the bar. No left foot.
So it was two points dropped in a home qualifier. But no matter. A victory for England would have been undeserved.
Lots of talk about England being tired, about not playing for Capello, about not being up for it, a game too far at the end of a long season.
Wasn’t really up for it myself because it was the third event of Saturday for us. Jan’s birthday once again fell on Derby Day and it was a very warm day and the four of us had lunch on the patio.
Caroline cooked an Ottolenghi paella recipe, then we had raspberries, strawberries, blueberries and cream, then Jan opened the rest of her gifts and cards, then we had walnut coffee cake, then we went indoors.
Jan had backed Pour Moi in the Derby and the French horse won in dramatic style with a rocket-powered spurt with the jockey standing up before the finishing line. I had backed Tony’s tip, Sevilla, which is still running. Jan laughed and said, “I don\’t need Tony !”
By the time the football started, I had drunk too much prosecco. Booze and football do not go together, I find.
When I saw the front three of Milner-Bent-Walcott, I knew Engerland would struggle. Even sozzled, I knew that.
Bottom line : Ashley Young should have started to give England a link between Wilshere and Bent. There was no link, no passing, no possession, no partnership.
Still, England and Montenegro are both on 11 points in Group 5.
Next game is in Bulgaria on September 2.
Frankly, Darren Bent is a typical English player of the last 30 years. One-dimensional. I like what Bent does but he can only do what he does, nothing else.
As someone who watched every England game from the Wembley press box between 1982 and 2002, I can see that the problem now is exactly the same it was in the Eighties : we run away from the ball, rather than towards the ball.
Venables addressed that problem by having Sheringham, Anderton, Ince, Gazza and McManaman in midfield. With only Shearer up front.
Tel’s England was a constipated possession style, not penetrating enough to win Euro 96.
Hoddle addressed the problem by having Nick Barmby as a half-striker in a 3-5-2.
Before that, Bobby Robson made a conceptual leap in 1986 in Mexico, where he had to admit that Lineker and Mark Hateley were too similar.
Peter Beardsley, coming in for Hateley, improved England hugely. Peter Reid became the short ball man and Hoddle came in from the right wing to take the Ray Wilkins role. Suddenly, England had a team that made sense, a team that functioned.
Then they were cheated out of the tournament by Maradona’s cheating. Dirty Diego practiced that, practiced punching balls into the net. He did it all the time in training.
Every time Maradona punched the ball into the net in practice matches, one of the team’s defenders, I forget his name, always shouted, in Spanish, “Son of a bitch!”