It can’t be blamed on the manager, it can’t be blamed on the goalkeeper this time, and despite best attempts, it can’t blamed on Wayne Rooney, the diamond in the manure infested national side. Fabio Capello has indicated he will consider a system change to boost England’s chances of progression, but to get the best out of this group of 23 he will have to make a switch in personnel.
It’s a cliché that’s almost as tired as Jamie Carragher seemed to be after 5 minutes yesterday but like all clichés it originated because it is an occurrence of defying frequency – the question over Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard that remains unanswered after six thoroughly unsatisfying years can no longer, with a truly world class manager who has a rich history of success, be put down to the inability of a coach or the inflexibility of a tactic.
Worse, it’s the medias insistence of asking the question when surely the answer was given emphatically in Euro 2004, that influences a nationwide myopic view of the side and inevitably looks for the scapegoat elsewhere. Criminally so, too. Trying to shoehorn two players of limited ability into a team, disregarding their club form or form for the national side, for 6 years has resulted in casualties – Paul Scholes, shunted left to accommodate them, grew frustrated and this was obviously a contributing factor to his retirement. With Fabio’s public last minute plea to Scholes on the eve of the World Cup there can be no doubt that between 2004 and now Paul Scholes has underlined his status as the best English midfielder both on form and technical ability.
For sure, too, Frank Lampard fully deserves his spot on the team after what seems like a million seasons hitting 20 goals every year, even if those statistics are somewhat misleading when factoring the system Chelsea play to accommodate him. Still, it’s that system really that England really need to be considering now and it’s a system that has no place for Steven Gerrard.
Gerrard’s inclusion in the team is baffling; his form last season was as questionable as his character (that he is captain of our team is an altogether separate disgrace), he is the lingering embodiment of the very public immature rift that exists from Liverpool players to Manchester United players in the England camp, a fundamental refusal to pass to fully utilise and embrace the superior talents of his compatriots from down the motorway. Faced with a choice of an unlikely shot from 30 yards and a defence splitting pass to Rooney, there is no question that Gerrard will always choose the former – this was something I touched on in my blogs prior to the World Cup on World Cup Statistics, and is a strong reason why I find it so difficult to support the national side. This immature, selfish attitude is not something that should exist in an international side. I could get accused of going easy on Lampard because he too has a shoot on site policy; this much is true, but his also exists at club level, while we know from evidence of our eyes that Gerrard is perfectly capable of playing in tandem with a frontman to the huge goalscoring benefit of his partner.
The answer can’t be that Rooney somehow isn’t as good as United fans make him out to be; he is every bit that proclaimed quality. The heartbeat of a European Cup winning side, the hunger of 3 consecutive league titles, and the ability to seamlessly switch from deep lying magician and predatorial frontman are not imagined qualities so it stands to reason that given the service he will produce something at international level. Failure to do so is not Rooney’s failure, just as it wasn’t Scholes’ back in 2004, even though he was the one who ultimately paid the price when his frustration got too much. Failure to translate his club form to the national stage is as much the responsibility of the major players around him, even more so. It’s so clear to see when Rooney drops back to the halfway line to spread the ball about that he is doing it just to get involved, he shouldn’t have to be doing that just to get a kick of the ball. This is the highest level of the game and is watched worldwide; any doubt over childish club allegiance should either be sorted out or left back home.
England’s loss was United’s gain as Scholes’ domestic career as clearly benefitted from the rest but after the abject display against Algeria even as a United>England fan, it gives me no real pleasure to say that. Scholes can still count his peers on the world stage on one hand and most of them wear the red of Spain as he enters the last stages of a career that has seen most of those peers that have been and gone describe him as the most talented English midfielder of his generation; perhaps ever.
Think of that; the most talented midfielder of his generation still effectively being denied to the country to satisfy the ego of an out of form and over hyped square peg in a round hole. And not content with that; Gerrard for the short term at least looks like he will do everything he can to sabotage the most talented player in the country in his contribution to the England team.
Naysayers will say that Gerrard and Lampard are the best we have at our disposal so we should play them; one only needs to look at the list of players that some nations felt capable of leaving behind to realise that the team needs to be greater than the individuals. To be fair it’s a point that also falls down when considering form.
The sad thing was that I predicted this is what would happen even if I couldn’t predict just how costly it would be. One embarrassment from the red side of Liverpool has already thankfully been ruled out of the final group game through suspension; if Fabio is true to his post match musings and has the courage of his conviction, he will take the bold move of axing Gerrard, too. For the good of the team.