Sunday, June 27, 2010

World Cup 2010: England Mediocrity Explained

The Internet will presently be deluged with innumerable narratives explaining or rationalizing England's destruction by Germany in their 2010 World Cup knockout tie.

There are a few that should remain more salient than the countless others, for posterity's sake, before history is revisited, revisioned, and rewritten over and over under the bias of regret and disappointment.


Capello left Adam Johnson at home, meaning England had no natural left-winger—the same issue which plagued their attack in the last two, or even three World Cups.

The Italian manager opted for a midfield of James Milner, Frank Lampard, Gareth Barry, and Steven Gerrard across in England's last two games, essentially employing four central-midfielders across.

The result was a total disability to counterattack or play any meaningful attacking football. If Capello wanted to have a defensive midfield setup, he should have played 4-5-1, with Rooney alone up top, three central midfielders, and two natural wingers. At least then their attack could be released with true attacking, wide players.

Instead, he used a narrower 4-4-2 without any wingers, therefore without any width, and therefore without any flowing or attacking promise.


Perhaps Capello's first mistake was assigning Rio Ferdinand captain of the squad despite alarming injury concerns. Ferdinand featured only briefly for his club side this year with an omnipresent back issue dating back several seasons. He withdrew from the tournament just weeks before it started.

On form, Ferdinand is arguably England's best defender. And like him, off-form, John Terry is horrible. He was slow, detached, and thoughtless against Germany and was shaky throughout the tournament.

It's hard to begrudge Capello for choosing him and Matthew Upson, but unfortunately for everyone involved neither were good enough— individually or together—at all Sunday. Nor did anyone in England's backline, besides Glen Johnson, inspire confidence at any time in the tournament.


Terry, Upson, Barry, Lampard, Gerrard, and Wayne Rooney, especially, were plodding against Germany and throughout the tournament. England, as a whole, without Shaun Wright-Phillips and Aaron Lennon, relied almost completely on fullbacks Johnson and Ashley Cole to provide overlapping width and speed.
The English were neither particularly strong or fast. Germany's Miroslav Klose out-muscled and outran virtually every member of England's defense Sunday.

It's one thing to be a quick side that counterattacks through the wings and runs in behind defenses. It's another to be a physical side, winning headers, sticking in and controlling matches. England were neither and did none.

Cultivated arrogance

The attention England garners from the media, domestically and abroad, is significant. However, it's no different—in magnitude, at least—to that found in rabid South American countries, or France or Italy.
The stark difference in the attention and pressure applied by both media and fandom is in the receiver, not the sender.

England's players are largely overpaid by their clubs, the result of surfeit only now rearing its head back upon the owners, as debt piles throughout many Premier League  outfits. As a result, the individual egos of the British are more sensitive and more predisposed to being affected by it, being generally coddled and overly revered from without, and overly complacent, self-indulgent, and vain within.

Their lack of chemistry compounded an evident dearth in skill and athleticism, exposing them as a second-rate national side once again.

Reliance upon an overrated Wayne Rooney

Being one of the most marketed players in the world, it's not totally Rooney's fault that he's one of the most overrated. Each time he touches the ball, casual fans around the globe bate their breath, expecting anything. But there was nothing in his replies in an England shirt in June.

Rooney, on any team, will retrieve the ball on the left side, but doesn't have either the skill or confidence to dribble in that direction. Instead he opts to cut back with his right foot almost invariably.

Without the ability to sell movement to the byline, or the balance to switch the ball between his feet naturally, his offense is completely predictable. His only meaningful moments against Germany were a few fouls that he was gifted with as he ran into German defenders standing in his premeditated path.

Rooney has a low center of gravity and above-average vision, passing skill, and shooting power. But he is not strong enough to out-muscle large central defenders, nor fast enough to (or having the inclination to) make darting runs in behind them.

Therefore he often finds the defender between him and the goal. But what can he do to get past them? He is a very unambitious dribbler. He doesn't even try to create for himself with the ball, opting instead to usually turn back (to his right) to play square or across.

It's disappointing to realize how little trickery the Englishman picked up from a former clubmate—ironically also one of few players vaunted as a world soccer superstar, Cristiano Ronaldo; although the Portuguese striker actually deserves it, and lives up to it.

At club level this year, Rooney scored 26 goals, the majority of which completed United counterattacks through close range headers or tap-ins.

Unfortunately, though, it's hard for a player to push himself to improve when he is constantly being trumpeted as already one of the worlds' best, which Rooney, in reality, is not.

He remains a good striker on a great team at Manchester United, and an average player on a mediocre team in England. In the 2010 World Cup, Rooney played like a grumpy ghost, visible but immaterial, haunting England's dreams instead of opposing backlines.

Epitaph 2010

For posterity, let it be known that Barry, Terry, and Rooney were England's worst players in the tournament. Barry's dribbling, passing, and forward play was wholly regrettable. Terry's frazzle, lack of composure and speed, and insecurity marred his declining reputation. Rooney didn't get sent off, but may as well have been, by the lack of effort and effect he had on any of England's matches again, still scoreless across two World Cups.

Capello was supposed to be the difference to take England to the 2010 World Cup finals. In the end, he was one of the many reasons they crashed out prematurely.

His tactical reversion to vertical attacking play, without natural width (especially on the left) hearkened back to 2006 and 2002.  His inclusion of Heskey instead of Crouch was nostalgic at best.

Employing Gerrard on the left side was an egregious repeating of the same mistake of manager's past, despite it being well-documented and lamented then, and surely again now. Lampard and Barry consistently left huge gaps in front of their defense as they over-committed forward, and not just against Germany.

Without a doubt, Capello's dogmatic and conventional formations, selections, and use of substitutions—in other words, his managing of his side—detracted more than it added for England throughout the World Cup this year.

But he remained, as the last few English managers were, at the mercy of his personnel, a crutch the next manager won't share, as England's current generation will mostly be mercifully cycled out and replenished by 2014, after failing abjectly so far this millennium.

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