I’m glad I don’t snack on pretzels or else I might have done a George W. Bush and choked on them yesterday afternoon while watching England versus Germany. I was prepared for the possibility that England might lose. I was prepared for a draw or a penalty shoot-out. But I never imagined that the legendary English team would not only be thrashed but humiliated by four goals to one.
The much hyped-up match went from hopeful to woeful after Germany’s second goal that was followed-up by an England goal that the Uruguayan referee failed to register. England returned from half-time with more of a fighting spirit that was soon dampened by a series of failures to get the ball in the net. As Germany gained confidence, England lost theirs.
It was a fiasco that will go down in football history as England’s worst World Cup defeat ever. The sight of rows of stunned English fans with painted faces looking like sad clowns at a funeral will stay with me as will the memory of Beckham’s strained expression and Fabio Capello’s despairing body language.
I knew from previous England matches during this World Cup that the team was far from the best. They only managed a goalless draw against Algeria which ought to have been a walkover as the Algerian team has only qualified three times for the World Cup. They drew 1-1 with the USA that is ranked 11th in the world but isn’t considered in England’s league and just scraped into the next round with a one goal lead against Slovenia.
England gave a lacklustre performance in all three games but I decided to give the team the benefit of the doubt and fully expected that they would pull a rabbit out of a hat against Germany. After all, there’s history between the rivals, following the World Cup penalty shootout in 1990 that saw England cruelly knocked out. I was certain that Capello’s squad would be reinvigorated by the thought of getting its own back.
Like all England fans everywhere, I couldn’t have been more wrong. There were no superstars in this England side; no one of the calibre of Michael Owen whose hopes of playing in this tournament were quashed by a hamstring injury, or of David Beckham, forced to watch from the bench in visible agony by a ruptured Achilles tendon. Where were the iconic players like Bobby Moore, Gordon Banks, Gary Lineker and Paul Gascoigne? And, in all honesty, Capello is no match for such managers as Bobby Robson or Kevin Keegan, who knew how to inspire.
Wayne Rooney was physically present but is unrecognisable from the young striker who wowed the world as the youngest player ever to score an England goal. He’s been off-form throughout and bad-tempered too. When English players were booed by their own supporters following the team’s draw with Algeria, Rooney turned to the television cameras to say, “Nice to see your home fans boo you. That’s loyal supporters!” Loyalty is one thing, but people who have travelled so far to wave the flag were more than disappointed to discover their players were devoid of passion and energy. Why was that? Everyone in England is conducting their own post-mortem as to what went wrong and as someone who looks upon England as a second home I’m no exception.
First of all, I believe Capello was the wrong person for the job. By all accounts he runs his squad as though they are in the military, which some of the players resent after being pampered by their respective clubs. Stories have emerged about communication problems with team members due to Capello’s deficient English-language skills. If players can’t relate to their manager on a cultural and social level, they are unlikely to be sufficiently to give their all.
Secondly, this was an older squad which has little left to prove. The players think of themselves as glamorous celebrities rather than athletes. They are paid fortunes by their respective clubs and mint more money from sponsorships. They’re not interested in risking being injured for their country with a new football season approaching. They are more concerned with their image than national glory. That’s why half the time they were toying with the ball rather than literally throwing themselves on the ground and into the game.
Lastly, today’s football stars are spoilt. Instead of manning-up and working hard to make their fans proud, some of them have been whining that they weren’t allowed to see their wives and were locked in their training camp bedrooms. They demanded that Capello stop treating them like children and so, he capitulated by taking them out for a social get-together before taking on Slovenia.
What’s sure is England needs to re-think its World Cup strategy. My advice is: roll out the millionaire celebrities and roll in the new, young talent; lads who are hungry to succeed and make their country proud.
For now it’s bye-bye England…Let’s hope we’ll soon be saying ciao to Capello too.