Latest failure necessitates reform and self-examination by England
In England, the postmortem of the national team's World Cup campaign has started with nothing so neat as a Y-incision; the feeling seems to be that this is a carcass that deserves to be butchered. The nation's overly optimistic outlook ahead of the tournament -- and particularly ahead of Sunday's match against Germany -- has contributed a great deal to the stench of the aftermath, but some fairly grim digging needs to be done nonetheless.
For the 15 minutes of halftime in Sunday's contest, we English could gorge ourselves on the injustice of
It is hard to come up with a word that better describes England's defensive performance than "shambolic" -- perhaps the addition of "utterly" is the only improvement necessary. Positionally, the back four looked suspect from the start, and only got worse.
In the build-up to the second, both center halves were sucked out to their left flank by the ominous effervescence of Müller, leaving
It's not simply catastrophic coincidence that these players all had a bad game; the relationships between them were nonexistent, and the fact that they kept two clean sheets in the group comes down primarily to the fact that England did little else in those games. Here, when it showed attacking intent, Germany's front four voraciously probed the vast spaces that opened up. It shouldn't have come as a surprise that the wandering Özil was such a threat, but
The English use the phrase "more haste, less speed" to point out -- generally to overly excited children -- that the faster you try to do something, the more likely you are to make a mistake and end up taking longer. To think how the team could have done with Capello having picked that up in his English lessons: On the ball -- and England got to halftime having had 56 percent of possession -- Capello's men attempted everything in a rush, hoping that their brains and ball control could keep up with their racing hearts. Their distribution ranged from the telegraphed and unimaginative to woefully overambitious to plain wasteful. Germany's third and fourth goals began with the breakdown of English moves as the likes of Lampard and
In short, while England may have had the ball, it was Germany that played the soccer.
Of course, it helped that the Germans had a man over in midfield, playing a 4-2-3-1 formation against Capello's obstinately stuck-to 4-4-2.
It's easy to forget that England even had a front line to dissect, scoring three goals in four games and only flickering momentarily into life for a brief spell against Slovenia.
So what have we got? Individual mistakes ... check. Lack of cohesion ... check. A World Cup campaign marked by the disappearance of the "big players" ... check. A system that appeared to have been arrived at independently of personnel available ... check. A huge question mark over English soccer as we know it .. check. That might sound a bit nihilistic in reaction to a pounding from a very good Germany team, but this list bears the thumbed corners and coffee rings of too many of England's major tournament campaigns over recent (and some not-so-recent) years.
Germany is in South Africa with a team that will be preserved for 2014 and augmented by young players granted ample opportunity to find their feet in the Bundesliga and within the national setup in the meantime. By contrast, England's mythical golden generation will have disappeared, leaving in its stead barely a handful of players with significant international and domestic experience; little more than a third of the top-flight's players are English, and Englishmen make unpopular exports, too. At the past two European Under-21 championships, England has reached the semifinals (2007) and the final (2009), but from those squads only
In 1953, England, the game's inventor still convinced of its global dominance, was robbed of such delusions in a 6-3 defeat to Hungary that triggered major changes to the way soccer was run here. It's no coincidence that England's only World Cup-winning side was born from the ashes, but the organizational rot has been accelerating since. The Football Association has become a governing body uncertain of its own mandate, hawking its authority to the Premier League in 1992 and failing even to acknowledge, far less confront, the institutional disarray it perpetuates at the heart of English soccer. As was the case 60 years ago, it struggles to countenance the possibility that there may be better ways to be learned from elsewhere.
For England to have a viable shot at this kind of tournament in the future, it needs to abandon any hope of making its mark in 2014, and probably 2018, and embark on major changes to the way national soccer operates -- an Etch-a-Sketch approach to revisions, perhaps, but a necessary one.