The knives will be out in days to come. Having been resoundingly beaten by arch-rivals Germany and slumping to the worst defeat in their competitive history, England are heading for a national hiding. The ever-fickle tabloid media have already rounded on the side almost as quickly as they rallied behind them after the Slovenia game, and the vast majority of fans are feeling deeply disappointed, disillusioned and even disgusted.
But when the initial anger fades, serious questions will arise. Yes, England were denied an equalizer in scandalous fashion. Yes, Sepp Blatter is a stubborn old luddite. Who knows; maybe going into half-time at 2-2 would’ve made for a different game, especially considering Germany scored their second-half goals on the break. But the truth is that – bar a brief ten-minute period – England were comprehensively outplayed by their opponents. They never looked comfortable on the ball, and Germany looked like scoring virtually every time they went forward. Despite having one of the most successful and decorated managers of the modern era, England looked like the same weary, toothless side that has limped out of (or failed to qualify) for every major tournament in the last decade.
And herein lies the real problem. People will call for Fabio Capello’s head – and to a certain extent the manager is always culpable – but the fact is that this set of players were poor under Sven Goran Eriksson; they were poor under Steve McClaren; and now they have been poor under a coach who has succeeded in every single other post he has ever taken. There is a common denominator here, and it isn’t the manager. Whoever has been coaching them, the so-called “Golden Generation” – who have really never achieved anything to earn such an overblown title – have never lived up to their collective potential. The only logical conclusion is that England’s consistent underperformance on the international stage has nothing to do with the coaching staff, and everything to do with the playing staff.
Is it a technical deficiency? Many would have you believe that England’s players simply lack the ball-playing skills of other teams; that they are, as Franz Beckenbauer has said, essentially still a kick-and-rush side. Indeed, there are voices within the Football Association that criticize a dated and inadequate national coaching ethos that places too much stress on physicality and not enough on technicality. Others blame England’s abject displays on a case of burn-out after a long and hard season, or an inability to be away from home for so long without getting ‘bored’.
Whatever the reason, it seems there is a rot at the heart of England’s current international crop that has nothing to do with who manages them. Capello may have made mistakes – most damagingly, seemingly totally reversing his pick-players-on-form policy – but there is no getting away from the fact that, yet again, every single one of England’s players underperformed in every single game. The main portion of the blame simply cannot fall on Capello’s shoulders, because it has to be clear now that this group of players have been poor for a long time, regardless of who has coached them. Perhaps a full-scale clearout really is in order, because after another dismal World Cup showing, there lingers the worrying idea that these players either aren’t that bothered about playing for England, or simply aren’t as good as everyone thought they were.