World Cup: what have we learnt so far?


Football and opinions are inseparable, as this piece will show. Some observers will probably feel it a little early to be belting out a muscular song questioning Fabio Capello’s managership of England. But Jeremy Robson – a man of many strong opinions – is not singing from their hymn sheet, and he’s certainly not singing a Capello …

Fabio Capello is a very experienced and highly regarded football manager.

Well, he was to most observers, at least until last Saturday. Great, or even just good club managers often find it difficult to make an effective transition to international management. None of the above apply to Capello’s predecessor, Steve MacLaren, who was a moderately capable manager elevated to a position that completely transcended his abilities or judgement.

Capello has spent his entire career managing clubs. Excellent clubs with a pretty admirable record, it has to be said. He arrived in international management the wrong side of his 60th birthday.

There are a lot of other older guys coaching at the World Cup, but most of them had gained some experience on the international stage well ahead of touching distance of their bus pass. I’ll make no bones about this: Capello seems to be struggling and struggling badly.

Leave the second top English goalscorer behind has become a focal point of criticism levelled at Capello, poor selection of goalkeepers and apparent indecision about who will be the number 1 is another.

Selecting injured players or recovering players such as Barry, King, Ferdinand etc is one more. Let’s take each of these in turn.

Darren Bent was scarcely given the opportunity to shine. Limited time on the pitch with just enough time to fail and insufficient time to succeed. The arguments about Heskey’s inclusion have been talked to death, but his presence is simply a microcosm of Capello’s narrowness of thinking.

Despite a successful qualifying campaign which featured some high quality performances and excellent results, Capello has approached the World Cup finals like a rabbit caught in the headlights of an approaching truck. He creates the impression of being driven by panic.

The players that got England to South Africa had been good enough to qualify in some style, but then panic set in. He was denied an ageing Beckham through injury, though some observers might consider his absence a godsend as he looked past his sell by date four years ago. So Capello reached out to the likes of Carragher and Scholes asking them to reconsider their retirement from international football.

You would think that Capello had been asked to select a squad for the 2006 World Cup in Germany or even for the previous tournament in South Korea/Japan. I wouldn’t be surprised if we hear later that David Seaman had received a call from Capello to ask if he’d booked his summer holiday yet.

The most bizarre inclusion is arguably that of Ledley King who was thrust into the firing line against the USA after Rio Ferdinand’s latest injury set back. Even further reliance on yesterday’s men. Are we so desperately short of decent centre halves that we need to rely of a man with a pair of crippled knees, who hasn’t been able to train since Peters and Chivers retired?

Capello was clearly worrying increasingly as the tournament approached. In his panic, he resorted to what he felt was a policy that reduced risk. This has shown to be his greatest error of judgment so far.

Deprived of first choice players in the middle of the park, Bobby Robson discovered his best XI by accident during the 1986 World Cup. By trying to opt for a safety first approach, Capello has unwittingly taken the greatest risk of his career.

I very much doubt if Fabio Capello is reading this, but my advice would have been to be bold from here on in. Sadly for him, he has denied himself the opportunity to be bold through his squad selections.

There isn’t what you might call an “impact player” in the squad who could be called up to shake things up when you most desperately need it. Darren Bent might have had that effect, Gabriel Agbonlahor, or Carlton Cole if fit. Joe Cole comes the closest to fitting that particular bill, but he was left on the bench as Lennon and the lamentable Wright-Phillips pointlessly tore down the flanks with a delivery that troubled only the ball boys.

International management requires the coach to work with the best that you’ve got. Capello hasn’t even worked out what his best is. The rigour, logistics and restrictions of international tournaments seem to be taking their toll on Capello. His selection of both Milner (ill all week) and the permanently creaking King for the game with the USA was a catastrophic error of judgement which limited his options to invoke Plan B if required.

It’s not clear whether he has put players at his disposal who could sufficiently alter a game when it is drifing away from him. Most importantly he doesn’t seem to have considered all scenarios. He couldn’t sadly consult Sir Bobby Robson for his counsel on how to prepare an England team, Graham Taylor isn’t worth asking and Steve MacLaren`s best advice would probably have been to pack an umbrella.

There’s not a lot for Fabio to fall back on, just like his squad.

14 thoughts on “World Cup: what have we learnt so far?”

  1. I felt the same as you did Bill about N Korea. I can’t remember ever seeing such a disciplined defensive performance that didn’t include persistent fouling. They barely conceded a free kick. There was a cameo in the second half when a shot came in from outside the box it scuffed off the top of a defender’s head. The lad had his hands entwined protecting his nether regions and was happy to put his head or face in front of the ball for his country.

    Quick two footed players who worked tirelessly as a team. There was something very genuine and refreshing about the way they went about their work. Their goal was some reward for their hard work. Frustrating the Brazilans like that is some achievement. N Korea made them struggle for a long time before they broke the resistance. I’m looking forward to seeing them again.

  2. Agreed. Brazil’s second was class, too.

    As for a prize, no need. Happy to contribute in any small way. My musical tastes are very eclectic and certainly include folk/indie but the postage to Texas would probably bankrupt this excellent website and I wouldn’t want that.

  3. Class will out and Brazil’s first goal was superb. But the North Koreans were by no means disgraced, really made the Brazilians work and well deserved their consolation goal. It’ll be interesting to see them against Portugal and Cote d’Ivoire.

  4. Half time and you’ve gotta love North Korea. They taking Brazil on and giving them a game. I like the look of Jong Tae-Se, the so-called “Asian Rooney,” rather more than the real thing.

  5. Nice one Mark.

    I’d missed that comment earlier. LOL. 🙂

    No, Colin I can promise you that I wouldn’t be smurking. I’m still cringeing after Saturday.

  6. “I just hope it’s not Jeremy who is left smurking”

    I thought Jeremy packed the tabs in years ago.

  7. Portugal must’ve learned a lesson today, too — that their advancement is by no means cut and dried. The Cote d’Ivoire gave them a helluva game. Nice to see Drogba on the field and making his presence felt. And once again, apart from one or two flashes of talent, another superstar was effectively shut down.

  8. My concerns about Capello weren’t triggered by the USA game specifically. Most of my comments relate to his preparation and the inadequacy of it, the would be inclusion of Beckham had he not been injured, selecting crocks such as King, and dragging Carragher out of the rest home for retired gentle folk. I could go on, but don’t want to bore everyone or repeat myself, but I’m not saying anything here that I wasn’t saying immediately after the squad was announced, including the need for a Darren Bent when we need a goal with 20 minutes left. The shambles against the USA is simply the crystalisation of all Capello’s flaws and lack of judgement. Winning the next two games will raise the spirits for a lot of people, but it will not hide the deficienies and narrowness of Capello’s thinking.

    I disagree with the comments about the goalkeepers. Being “world class” isn’t the issue. Simple competence is. There are two goalkeepers in Robinson and Harper who for my money are a lot better than Green. Certainly Harper isn’t experienced at international level, but you don’t get experience without getting picked. If Capello thinks/thought that Green was the best of the three that he’s taken then he’s very sadly mistaken. Maybe he realises that now. Most of us have recognised that fact for some time.

  9. I trust Fabio more than any other England manager I have watched at our helm previously.

    Whether that speaks volumes about Fabio’s ability, or whether it highlights our previous track record, I’ll inform you of that one shortly.

    I’m convinced there’s enough about us to see off Algeria and Slovenia convincingly, and to beat any other team in this tournament. Albeit some would be a big struggle.

  10. Harsh but fair. It’s seldom too soon to call a spade a spade (or, in this case, a bloody shovel). And it’s not as if this was their first game with Capello at the helm. His deficiencies have been obvious for quite some time.

    England had nothing much to offer against the U.S., no flair, no ideas. Even if they beat Algeria and Slovenia (which they should, handily, but it’s by no means guaranteed) that’s nothing to put a spring in their step.

    Just as much of the blame for France’s shortcomings lies with Domenech, Capello has a lot to answer for. Zinedine Zidane said yesterday of Domenech: “He’s not a coach. There is no teamwork.” No one is saying Zidane spoke too harshly or too soon. Jeremy is quite justified in his opinions and the timing of them.

  11. Yes, I think Jeremy – with whom I agree more often than i disagree – was too harsh, too soon. It was an awful display against the USA – 1-1, with a greatest of respect to Americans, our new friends at Sam’s Army included, was akin to Sunderland 1 Barrow 1 in the cup last season, instead of the 3-0 that transpired.

    But two wins in the next games, which should be within us, would put an entirely different spin on England’s group stage, and also put a spring in our step for the knockout phase.. I just hope it’s not Jeremy who is left smurking, not because he wanted it but because he’d have been proved right, after Algeria and Slovenia.

  12. Harsh on Capello.

    England have played one game, and the press, bloggers and fans are already on his back.

    The GK criticism is uncalled for. It is not his fault that there are no good english GKs – good = natural skill and the necessary experience: James has the experience but no longer the natural skill due to age, and both Hart and Green lack the experience.

    The central defence is another one that can hardly be blamed on him. Who else could of Capello called up? So yes we are desperately lacking decent (international class) CBs.

    His team selection on the day (Milner) was a mistake, but one I am sure he wont make again.

    The only major issue I have with Capello is the fact he didnt stick to picking players based on form.

    Heskey is hopeless, and cant get a game for Villa. Bent played all games this season, scoring 25 and doesnt get picked.
    SWP is behind Johnson in the Man C pecking order, but gets called up ahead of him.

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