In this writer’s opinion, this is how Capello (or any manager) could fix the English national team. It is also a brief analysis of the English game as a whole.
Step 1: Pick a Good Captain.
The choice here is simple: Steven Gerrard. When he wants to win, he will do everything it takes. He is reliable and committed and knows what it’s like to lead by example, as he has done at Liverpool in iconic fashion for years. Now that Liverpool is struggling, you can see the added emphasis Gerrard puts into his performances wearing the 3 Lions crest. He has been one of the most inspired England players on the pitch over the last year and seems like one of the few players who is capable of galvanizing the team.
Step 2: Reaffirm The Team’s Identity.
Gerrard represents what is direly missing from the national team – an outright willingness to win. The English game has always been about hard work, tough tackling, getting stuck in, and battling with the indomitable spirit of the Lion. Footballing nations have cultures, and you MUST play a game that fits your country’s culture. This identity is absolutely necessary if your team will succeed.
This is why players like John Terry have to be benched or cut outright. I simply do not see the passion or the appreciation of the National kit on him, or many other English players. England is full of superstars, and many of these players are the admiration of their domestic club. Too many wear the England kit over their club kit, instead of their club kit over their England kit. To play for the national team, the England badge must be closest to your heart; only that will bring the passion that is a cornerstone of the English identity, and only then will you bring back the ethic and determination required to win.
Step 3: Base Selection on Performance, Not Reputation
Players are continually picked based on their reputation, and although that is true for many countries, England has a particularly frequent recurrence of this. Yes, Wayne Rooney was an amazing goal scorer and a tireless worker… last season. Right now, he is shit, to put it bluntly. The fact that he is “capable” of being a talismanic player should not warrant him an opportunity to play for the national team in a significant Qualifying game.
Instead, pick those uncapped or younger players who are constantly giving it everything and getting results from it. It should not be “shocking” when Capello picks a guy like Kevin Davies on the back of some strong recent performances – it should be expected! And how about Jack Wilshere? This kid just won Arsenal’s (internal) player of the month, yet he’s benched behind a guy like Barry, who for my money has been very middling in his performances this season.
This is not a critique of Capello, but instead of all England’s managers who seem unable or unwilling to make a headline by picking a player who doesn’t have a “reputation”. Instead of breeding Oezil’s and Khedira’s, England continues to embarrass themselves with the same handful of players that constantly fail in the white, red, blue, grey, and other colors the England’s kit is at the time.
Step 4: Protect Your Local Talent Pool
The English Premier League is one of the most physically demanding football leagues in the world, if not THE most demanding. It is very fast, and can be very rough; no one is denying that, nor calling for reforms to make it play like La Liga or Serie A. However, too often English officials – backed by the English FA – are willing to allow brutal tackles and dangerous play because it’s “part of the English game”. Yes, the English game is one for big boys and tough men, but that should not include (or protect) thuggery from individuals like Shawcross, Henry and De Jong.
It has not hurt England dramatically in the past. Arsenal alone have their own three examples in the last 5 or so years, each time a violent incident coming closer to England. Eduardo (Croatia), Diaby (France), then next door to Ramsey (Wales). Each time the FA was unwilling to reprimand the offending club or player beyond what is tantamount to a slap on the wrist. The FA also allowed several managers to play the “its part of the game” card, further adding danger to the English league as that precedent continues to “justify” reckless behavior. All is well right?
Well it finally cost England and the FA can have no complaints. Bobby Zamora’s broken leg on September 11 2010 was not the direct result of the challenge by Henry, but was certainly a side-effect of the league allowing players like him to feel comfortable and confident going into situations where another player could get hurt. Now that may sound silly, as I realize that you cannot not-challenge for a ball because you might hurt the other player, but it is true that in England there is a willingness to take that risk because you are protected by the common law ruling “its part of the game”.
Bobby Zamora was easily England’s best striker since the opening of the EPL season, and unless the FA does more to curb dangerous play, more promising solutions to England’s disastrous national team are going to be unavailable for use due to unnecessary injuries. This also trickles down to the youth levels; talented young players growing up should not be taught that “dangerous = English” by seeing those sorts of tackles going unpunished in the big leagues. I would hate to hear of a teenage starlet struck down in a similar situation.
Step 5: Win
Next time England takes the pitch, they need to play 90 minutes. They need to remember who they are, and feel that burning pride of the English kit. They need to know how Englishmen play, and do all they can to fulfill that legacy. And when they do, their thoughts should focus on their country, not on their club. Forget the media and the public’s lost faith in the team. To the English players, I say this:
Go play YOUR game, because it is YOUR game. Roar like a Lion until Wembley roars with you. It’s time for you to regain your place among the world’s elite teams.
My best wishes that you can do so.