Where to begin? This was horrible stuff from the first minute to last. England can still qualify with a win over Slovenia and may yet top the group, but that is not the point. The point is why, after the two abject performances this England side has produced in South Africa, any of us should bother watching.
England were wretched from front to back, only David James emerging with any sort of credit by virtue of not making a mess of what little he had to do. Capello made just one change to the team that played in the turgid 1-1 draw with the USA, Gareth Barry coming in for James Milner. Unfortunately Barry, clearly lacking match fitness, gave the ball away an awful lot. So did his team-mates.
The staggeringly inability of these English players to pass a football amongst themselves is inexplicable. Do we blame the ball? Much has been said and written about the Jabulani’s movement throught the air, of course, but that surely cannot have been the problem. While it may move differently when fiercely struck at goal from distance, surely you can kick it in a straight line for 10 yards with the inside of your foot? Surely you can bring it under control? It is a different ball but you’ve been working with it every day for four weeks. How different can it be? It’s a ball.
Do we blame Capello? Can we really point the finger at one of the most successful and respected managers of the modern era? The papers have, and he certainly got some decisions wrong last night. The like-for-like exchange of Shaun Wright Phillips for Aaron Lennon was perplexing when England lacked width and needed to force the issue. He was also surely the only person watching last night who didn’t start pining for Joe Cole after fifty minutes or so. The game was begging for a man of his particular talents and he is the only player of his kind in the squad. Either Capello did not see it or does not like what he sees in training.
Can we blame the players when every single one of them was guilty of the same faults? Probably. Steven Gerrard hardly led by example, constantly out of position and at one point berating Frank Lampard for not psychically predicting a misplaced cutback from a good position. Rooney was appalling, spurning the opportunity to show the world that he is one of its best players, and failing to recognise that the crowd were booing a team they had just spent thousands of pounds travelling around the world to see only because they were so disappointed. He had the gall to leave the pitch muttering “for fuck’s sake”; he should have tried watching it.
Capello spoke afterwards of pressure but what pressure is there? No-one at home expects England to win the World Cup. We do expect England to beat Algeria but that’s not pressure. It’s entirely logical. We have better players and a better manager and a better league. If they are feeling undue pressure they are putting it on themselves.
So it is all in their heads; they are not mentally prepared for this tournament, are unable to motivate themselves, would rather be somewhere else. How can this possibly happen? There is only one substantial difference between the England side we saw in qualifying and the England side we see now and that is its captain, and I don’t think any of us want to live in a world where John Terry can possibly make that much difference to anything.
The important thing now is to fix it. Capello has only a few days to sort out a whole raft of problems and the next few days will be a true test of his skill. We all have our own thoughts on what went wrong and what needs changing, and I’d encourage readers to have their own say in the comments below. Thankfully there’s plenty of good football on in the meantime that doesn’t feature England, and the tournament’s really come alive in the last few days. Come Wednesday evening that may be all we have left.