This was England's darkest hour
By David Miller
Last Updated: 1:59am GMT 23/11/2007
Bemoaning the inadequacies of Steve McClaren is an empty exercise: a second grade coach without credentials, he should never have been appointed. The anxiety of Wednesday evening was the poverty of the players.
Of the six darkest seasons for the English side since the Second World War, this was the worst. We knew that the standard of English players was declining, and now a Croatia team of relatively unheralded talents exposed the true extent.
Forget the false bravado of an alleged 'golden age', believed by some players and some of the media. Steven Gerrard and company were seen as no more than pewter when judged alongside mercurial Luka Modric and his colleagues.
The previous five moments of despair, recognised as turning points and all but one in the World Cup, carried an identifiable, reassuring silver lining: England might have been rubbed out, but players were there who, optimistically, might paint a brighter picture another day.
Those bleak occasions had been: United States 1-0, World Cup finals 1950; Hungary 6-3 and 7-1, 1953-54; Poland 1-1, World Cup qualifier, 1973; Italy 2-0, World Cup qualifier 1976; Holland 2-0, World Cup qualifier 1993.
In all of these it was possible to put forward an explanation, if not an acceptable excuse. Rank bad luck in 1950. Tactical naivety, plus technically superior opposition in 1953-54. Freak opposing goalkeeper's performance in 1973. Grossly ill-judged selection in 1976. Confusion in tactics and selection in 1993.
These last errors were also a severe denunciation of McClaren on Wednesday, but the humiliation was that the manager's lack of wisdom - sentencing an inexperienced goalkeeper to a nightmare Wembley baptism - was compounded by the shortcomings of all the players.
Consider the past. When Walter Winterbottom took a squad to Brazil devoid of serious preparation, and they squandered 20 chances when losing to a scratch American team on a cows' meadow, England had many wizards, such as Tom Finney, Stanley Matthews, Stan Mortensen and Wilf Mannion, yearning for organisation in the future.
There was still an absence of serious team cohesion when England met Olympic champions Hungary twice in eight months three years later.
England had sufficient naturally gifted players to give tolerable, if less than spectacular performances under Winterbottom in the World Cups of 1954, '58 and '62, twice reaching the quarter-finals before going out to glittering opposition from Uruguay and Brazil.
Enter Alf Ramsey. England's first professional manager realised the essential elements of, firstly, consistent tactics/selection, and, secondly, the crucial ingredient of reliability, personified by Roger Hunt, of Liverpool, as foraging striker.
The quality of organisation, as much as the inspiration from Bobby Moore and Bobby Charlton, lifted the trophy in 1966. By the time England were required to qualify for 1974, Ramsey had turned further away from instinctive talent, still present within the England game, towards physical resilience.
Even so, England's elimination by Poland in a 1-1 draw owed as much to exceptional goalkeeping as to Ramsey's poor use of substitutions, and there was still talent available in the likes of Colin Bell, Martin Peters and Allan Clarke.
When Don Revie took charge, skills to match central Europeans and South Americans were there in players such as Kevin Keegan, and Trevor Francis. Yet blundering, incessant changes in selection and tactics by Revie never really gave England the chance to find continuity.
If Graham Taylor's comparable fluctuation in the Nineties was an echo of Revie, the raw material was in decline, notwithstanding the presence of Paul Gascoigne and Alan Shearer. The regime of McClaren has brought descent to its ultimate: no cohesion, endlessly altered tactical systems - 4-5-1 against Croatia for heaven's sake - and the realisation that Gerrard, Frank Lampard and the rest are internationally second division.
The fact is that England has been playing the same style of football for as long as I can remember. England has never been able or has never had any quality players to be able to keep possesion. England still can not play a ball out of defence. These are simple tatics of our game & where as all European nations have been able to adapt & change England has not & refuses to. England realy has to pull there heads up & admit that there kick & run football is finished. Only then they may change.
Rob Ostlere, 3:53pm, dream on. The list of
I find Mr Miller's arguement that England don't have any "world class" players bizarre. What is his, or anybodys definition of world class. The phrase is used so often but I think very few people could say what it means - does it mean a player who would make a world 11 (if so there are very few world-class players),a world squad of 22 (surely still too small a figure and far too subjective to produce a definitive list) or a player who has been exceptional at both international and club level (again very rare). Everyone has their own definition, but if the arguement is about whether England have enough talented players, and enough talented players for the future then the answer is surely yes. Gerrard, Lampard, Rooney, Ashley Cole, Joe Cole, Ferdinand, Terry, Gary Neville, and Hargreaves regularly face Brazil's, Italy's, Spain's, Argentina's etc finest players in the champions league and come out on top, often as the driving force behind their club teams success. This list of course doesn't include Micheal Owen, a man with a proven goal scoring record at international level. Surely that is enough evidence to suggest that there is nothing wrong with these player's abilities. Even the less regular players such as Bent, Dafoe, Crouch, Bridge, Barry etc have produced evidence a club level of their abilities.
I am always surprised at comments on the radio/TV that puzzle over why England fails to produce world class players (the occasional Charltons and Gascoignes excepted). The answer is simply that England does not value the player of high individual skill. Watch school football and Sunday leagues football. What do you see? A lot of shouting and aggression ("English passion"?), calls of 'get rid of it', 'boot it', the ball ricocheting all over the place and a general muddy level of incompetence. Those who attempt to hone individual exciting skills like going round players evoke either jealousy or contempt. They are showing off, not being "team players". This sums up English football, and the attitude is carried silently into the professional domain.
I don't remember David Miller's debut for the Telegraph so I can't say whether he should never have been appointed in the first place, but he's certainly in McClaren territory these days. To begin with, he manages to get such a short and definitive list incorrect; the loss to Italy in '76, whilst probably avoidable had Revie not put his players on a selection carousel, was a loss away from home to an elite side and should be replaced with the England team of 1981 managed by Bobby Robson that lost 2-1 to Norway in a far more humiliating defeat. Secondly, he must be the only human being on earth to confuse Kevin Keegan's obvious talents with south american skill. Finally to suggest that no players of international first division class exist within England's ranks neglects that with nothing more than competant guidance they achieved the quarter finals of three tournaments in succession, so it doesn't take much imagination, even in these dark days, to believe that an inspirational coach could take them to the next level.
This should be a must-read memo for every member of the FA.
Yes, Mr. Miller, and a complete lack of any sort of track record at international level over the years - the culmination of what you are driving at.
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