The Golden Generation
England qualified for the 2010 World Cup with a near-perfect record of 9 wins and 1 defeat, the highest number of goals scored in the whole of the European groups and, in Wayne Rooney, a player who was finally justifying his hype on the international stage after scoring 9 goals during qualifying. With Fabio Capello at the helm, we had the level-headed, disciplinarian coach that was needed after the 'Stevie G, JT, let's-all-be-mates' era of Steve McLaren, and the Italian seemed to have finally battered those preening, prancing, millionaire playboys into something resembling a strong international force.
Last night, England were defeated 4-1 by Germany. Not only did we get beaten by a better side, we were dominated from start to finish, save for a brief period towards the end of the first half. The 'Golden Generation' - a tag which is genuinely laughable now - have surely played their last tournament as a group, and they exited in the least dignified way possible - destroyed by the fucking Germans.
Where did it all go wrong? Let's look at the main suspects in the case.
The Players - Our final 23 players that travelled to South Africa included Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole, John Terry, Rio Ferdinand and Gareth Barry. These are world-class players. That expression gets bandied around too much I know, but they objectively are. Besides Barry, they've all played in Champions League finals, they all play week-in week-out for the best teams in the best league in the world and are extremely vital components of those teams. Starting 11. First on the team sheet. I've read some nonsense about the fact that the Premier League is full of international talent and that it is this talent that is making our very average English players look better than they are. No, that's bollocks. Look at Wayne Rooney's record for United this season. He kept us in the title race on his own, literally on his own most of the time as he was playing as the lone striker for most of the season. He is a fantastic finisher, an incredible passer of the ball and has probably the best football brain of anybody I have ever seen play. Did we see this in the World Cup? No. We didn't see it from any of them. They were all shit.
Last night, we didn't pass the ball well, we defended terribly and we didn't create enough chances. Rooney was resorting to wild shots from outside of the area, Gerrard passed the ball to their keeper on more than one occasion and the support wasn't there to get Jermaine Defoe in behind the defence where he can do the most damage. Honestly though, when we were 4-1 down and a change was finally made, Rooney should have come off for Crouch, not Defoe off for Heskey. Heskey is a fucking donkey who can't score goals. Why is a striker at the World Cup who can't score goals?
Matthew Upson and John Terry were completely at fault for the 1st goal - completely, embarrassingly at fault - and didn't do much better for the rest of the game. Terry seems to have it mixed up in his head that throwing yourself around and not being scared to get the ball in your face translates as being Terry Butcher, but it doesn't. You have to defend. You have to be aware of your position. He was the senior defender in that back 4 and he should have been running the show. He wasn't.
And while we're on the subject of John Terry, I think we should talk a little about team morale or, more specifically, the lack of anything even approaching team morale. John Terry, you may remember from a few months ago, was caught cheating on his wife with the mother of Wayne Bridge's child, Bridge being his former teammate at Chelsea and current England teammate. This led to a divide in the camp, with all except those who sympathise with that kind of behaviour (i.e. Ashley Cole) supporting Bridge. After a short debate and John Terry being stripped of the England captaincy, Bridge decided he would rather deny himself of the chance to play in the World Cup than be stuck in a training camp with John Terry and ruled himself out of contention. Bridge would almost definitely have been in the final 23 had he been available for selection. The fact that he wasn't there and Terry was cannot have gone down well in the camp.
Terry further endeared himself to the players by breaking one of the cardinal rules of being in a football team - what is said in the dressing room stays in the dressing room. Terry needs to watch Band of Brothers. He needs schooling on the code of man. He came out for a press conference, publicly belittled the manager and betrayed the confidences of other senior players by suggesting there was going to be some kind of Terry-led revolt against Capello at a meeting that evening. This, obviously, didn't materialise and Terry was forced to apologise. Another knock to morale.
It's too easy to say that these players were at the World Cup and so should inherently be fighting in the same direction. Of course they all want the same thing, but they have to be moulded into a team. You put 23 grown men into a closed environment away from their friends and families for a month and there are going to be problems. Add to this the fact that these are highly competitive, highly-paid men who act like spoiled brats and are afraid to let their loved ones anywhere near John Terry unless he shags them, and you have a perfect recipe for a fall-out. Something was obviously wrong. We may never find out what, but I think Wayne Rooney had something to do with it.
Why? He is one of the best players in the world when he is enjoying his football and a petulant piece of shit when he isn't. He was scowling, screaming and sulking in every game he played in, even refusing to shake Capello's hand after being (deservedly) subbed during the Slovenia game. Alex Ferguson spoke to him during the group games and said he felt something was wrong. Anyone watching the team could see there was something wrong.
We could point to injuries (particularly Rio Ferdinand and David Beckham) and we could point to the fact that for the first half against Slovenia and the 20 minutes before half time last night we looked slightly dangerous, but at the end of the day the players didn't perform and they have to accept that. Most of the so-called Golden Generation will never play in a World Cup again and they have to accept that they simply didn't use their talent when they were required to.
The Manager - the build-up to this World Cup felt so much different for me than all the others because of Fabio Capello. I was confident in our manager. I thought that if there was anybody able to cope with the difficult task of organising a winning World Cup squad then it would be Capello. He had done perfectly up until the tournament, managing tricky situations like the John Terry affair and David Beckham's role in the squad with dignity and professionalism whilst maintaining the football side of things to a tee. I never thought he could be to blame were we to fail.
But then things started to change. David Beckham injured his Achilles and was ruled out of the tournament, yet Capello said that Beckham would still be travelling with the team. Why? I mean, I love David Beckham more than most, but I don't know why he was there. Morale? I mean, he's not Gazza. He's not the world's most fun person or a huge contributor to team spirit. It stunk of special treatment, and could well have been a source of resentment within the camp.
Then came the farce of the final squad announcement. BBC Sport did their little live text fiasco so we could all spend time staring at computer screens instead of living our lives, and the squad was being leaked player by player. Instead of one announcement naming the 23 players as every other country did, we were finding out which players were excluded from fucking Twitter, mysterious 'sources within the FA' and the tabloid press. That is not the way these things are done. And the teams were getting leaked during the group stages. I was really surprised by that from Capello. I thought he was better than that.
Then came the tournament proper and reports of unrest in the camp. The tabloids were talking about Capello's aloofness, that he would walk by players without saying 'hello', that he was forcing them into their rooms too often. I don't buy into any of that, personally. So what if poor little Wayne Rooney doesn't get a 'hello' off the gaffer? Man up! You're not a baby. He is a 65-year-old man, a legend within the game, and he can do what he likes. And you should be resting up in your room. You're at the World Cup not Butlins!
But, that being said, he made some tactical errors. We waited far too long to see Joe Cole, a player who always does well for England and could add creativity that we were lacking; he chose the wrong keeper for the first game and the fact that Robert Green had no experience at this level showed when he let in that ridiculous goal against the septics; and, as I already mentioned, Rooney should have been taken off last night, not Defoe.
He has 2 years left on his contract and so could be England manager until the end of Euro 2012 but I would be shocked if he is. Pressure will be too strong to lay the blame at his door after this tournament and I think he will leave, with a great big golden handshake from the FA, as they all do. It's a shame. He could have been a great manager for England. I think his reputation is too strong to be tarnished by this, I just think he may have underestimated the pressure of the job. There is no job like it in football.
The Press - When I was young, and even when I was not-so-young, I wanted to be a sports journalist. Not anymore. I think they are complete scum.
At a tournament such as the World Cup, the journalists travel with the squad, are given unprecedented access to the players and the training sessions, and a regular audience with the management in the build-up to the games. They are also responsible, as with all journalists, for setting the tone of the coverage and, in turn, the mood within the country they are representing. The English press seem to have one default setting - set 'em up and knock'em down.
It started more slowly this year. Since Euro '96, probably the last tournament in which we looked like genuine contenders (we certainly had the best song) England have been built up by the press (particularly The Sun) as certain finalists, probable winners, and when that hasn't happened people have been shocked. This year they seemed to cool it. We had failed to qualify for Euro 2008 and it would have been foolish even by their standards to predict we would win this tournament. But that didn't mean they had to be sensible journalists, oh no! Far from it!
They were straight in with the boot after the Algeria game, asking questions of morale and trying to stir up unrest in the camp. There were obvious problems, the whole world could see it, but prodding and probing John Terry into making a fool of himself is helping nobody. In the build-up to the Germany game, the press were bombarding players with questions about penalties. raising issues that don't need to be raised, creating nerves upon the ones that must have already existed. I've watched a lot of the press conferences during this world cup (footytube is a beautiful thing) and I've been embarrassed at some of the questions that have been asked. Asking the England captain about his club future the day before the first game of the World Cup is not helpful. Suggesting to an idiot like John Terry that the manager is making mistakes is not helpful. Blowing minor incidents into front page headlines is not helpful.
Look, I get it okay? I'm not stupid. I know that journalism is an industry and that these guys need to make a living and sell papers. But we're all English aren't we? We all want the same thing. We should be supporting our team, and the press need to accept their role in that support. I love my country and I love the English, but Joe Public is a fucking idiot and he needs to be held by the hand and led in the right direction. If the press created a positive spirit around the England camp, created realistic expectations and held back a little on the vitriolic criticism they spit out on a daily basis, then maybe the players wouldn't be so terrified of playing for their country. Maybe they won't get booed by their own fans who have been brainwashed into thinking that the World Cup victory is some kind of divine right of theirs, and so attack the team when it is not delivered to them.
The Fans - I have touched on this elsewhere so I won't go into it too much again. I just want to share an experience I had recently whilst watching South Korea get knocked out of the World Cup by Uruguay. I spoke to many Koreans in the build-up to the game, and they were all saying much of the same thing - that they hoped Korea went through, but they knew that it would be difficult. They knew they might well lose. They were managing their expectations.
When it came around to game-time, the atmosphere in Seoul was fantastic. We went out and got stuck in with the crowds, eating fried chicken and beer with the locals for hours until kick-off finally arrived at 11pm. By this time there was a carnival atmosphere in Seoul and the fans were ready for a party. And then Uruguay scored. What happened? Did they start throwing their beer cans at the TVs? Did they boo? Did they start screaming at their useless players and calling them overpaid prima donnas? No, of course not. That's just what the English do. Instead, the Koreans rallied around, got some more drinks in and starting singing again. Korea got one back before the game was finished off by Uruguay in the 2nd half, but the fans never once turned on their players. Cries of "괜찮아요!" (it's okay) could be heard all around, and people quickly got back to having a good time. They knew that they'd been knocked out by a good team. They weren't bitter.
Now, I'm not directly comparing the South Korean and England teams. I obviously recognise that there is more individual talent in the England team than the Korean one and so we should be expected to do better. But what evidence do we have to support these expectations? We have not been past the quarter finals since 1990 and we haven't won the thing since 1966. We are not an international powerhouse. We have to accept that. We have to manage our expectations and allow the players to enjoy themselves because this is when they play their best football. I don't buy into the ridiculous notion that you've paid a fortune to get to South Africa and you've not been repaid. So fucking what? Don't go then. If you want guaranteed entertainment, go watch Toy Story 3. If you choose to go and support the national football team, you have to support them, whilst accepting that you are more than likely not going to see them lift the trophy.
What the fans deserve in return for their money is their team to try their hardest, I get that. But I don't think we have been knocked out due to a lack of effort. There was a fear within the team - not nerves, fear - and I think The Greatest Fans in the World™ need to accept that they helped create that atmosphere as they booed the team off the pitch after the Algeria game.
This post has become slightly more convoluted than I wanted it to be. Especially since I am supposed to be planning lessons. I just started typing about an hour ago and I've only just looked up now. I've just been pouring my thoughts out and I'm sorry if it doesn't make any sense. But today I feel like my dog died, I lost my job and my girlfriend broke up with me all at the same time. I am heartbroken. I waited 4 years for this tournament, suffered through the dreadful summer of 2008 watching the Euros pass us by, and I was so sure we were going to do better. I watched it at home last night, away from the bars and the crowds of the city, knowing as I did, deep down, that we were going to get knocked out. But to go out in that style, to play so lifelessly and so heartlessly was truly depressing.
I could go on about the injuries we suffered before the tournament. I could say that Matthew Upson shouldn't be anywhere near an England shirt and wouldn't be if Rio was fit and Ledley King didn't have weird knees. I could go on about the fantastic and perfectly obvious goal that we had disallowed at 2-1 last night and what a difference that could have made to the game if we'd have drawn level before half time. I could go on about the ridiculous system that FIFA have in place, not only denying everyone of the goal-line technology that the game deserves, but also of putting in place inexperienced referees to take charge of a last-16 World Cup match between England and Germany.
I could say all of these things.
But I won't.
Because football, when all the bullshit is swept aside and the fanfare has died down, is a sport which is beautiful in its simplicity. 22 men. 2 nets. 1 Ball. The most goals win.
England did not play well enough at any time in the last 4 games to justify their position in the semi-finals and that is why we did not get through. Germany deserved their win. They played a smart, counter-attacking game and took advantage of what was some absolutely dreadful defending. Fair play to them.
But when it all comes down to it, the thing that hurts the most is that there is only one loser here. As I lay in bed last night with tears in my eyes, unable to sleep until ridiculous o'clock this morning as I played the games over and over in my mind, trying to decide which of these 4 suspects can be blamed for the loss, I couldn't help thinking that it was all of them.
There is something institutionally wrong with our national game and I wish someone could pinpoint exactly what it is. But if one good thing can come from this absolute abomination of a World Cup campaign, then I hope it can be a shift in perceptions away from England as a world-beating team. And an ability to manage future expectations.
This losing England team were many things. But the Golden Generation they, most certainly, were not.
And now, they never will be.
Love, Smithy x
Posted by Smithy at 28.6.10