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Rest in pieces

In affectionate remembrance
of
ENGLISH FOOTBALL
which died at Wembley
on
21st November, 2007
Deeply lamented by a large stadium of booing spectators
R.I.P.
N.B. A waxwork effigy of Steve McClaren will be cremated and the ashes taken to Austria and Switzerland


R.I.P. Steve McClaren

Steve McClaren‘s sacking this morning brought to an end the shortest reign (18 months) of any England manager. While there have been mitigating circumstances surrounding a dismal Euro 2008 qualifying campaign, most notably an injury list as long as your arm, there is little doubt that McClaren has been consistently unable to change events through a combination of tactical acumen and strong man-management.

To watch him last night standing/sitting in stony silence on the touchline, contributing nothing in terms of direction or encouragement, during a first half where it was obvious to all and sundry what changes needed to be made – get men closer in support of the isolated Peter Crouch, press harder in midfield to disrupt Croatia’s neat passing – said it all about a coach who had simply run out of ideas.

Having gone against his conservative nature in making some bold choices for this crucial match, he reverted to type once England had clawed back their two-goal deficit and allowed the team to fatally sit back and invite Croatia onto them. The rest, as they say, is history. So too is McClaren, the so-called first choice of FA chief executive Brian Barwick.

He wasn’t solely to blame for the qualifying campaign, but given that the FA could sack neither the players nor themselves, he was always going to carry the can.

R.I.P. Scott Carson

Perhaps unfair for a goalkeeper making his first competitive start in this most pressurised of matches, but the 22-year old will inevitably shoulder the blame for the basic and catastrophic error which gifted Croatia the opening goal. While even the best goalkeepers can be forgiven the occasional calamity, this was not the first time Carson has committed a terrible mistake in a pressure situation, having made a near-identical error in a Champions League match for Liverpool. And although he made one superb reflex save later on, it did not disguise a performance which was generally shaky and lacking in confidence, notwithstanding the slippery conditions.

Carson’s international career may well be over before it has even begun; it is certainly on hiatus.

The question now is: if not Carson, if not the beleaguered Paul Robinson, then who? Chris Kirkland is injury-prone, David James an ageing, short-term solution, Ben Foster talented but inexperienced, and Robert Green not entirely convincing. There is no easy answer, as McClaren discovered to his cost last night.

R.I.P. David Beckham

Last night’s second-half appearance will almost certainly be the last of his international career: he seems destined to be stranded on 99 caps. Next season, he will be able to concentrate fully on enjoying his semi-retirement at LA Galaxy. It was an indication of the paucity of quality on display from the home side that his sole contribution of any significance – an exquisite, chipped cross for Crouch’s equalising goal – marked him out as one of England’s better performers on the night, and underlined the failure of both Shaun Wright-Phillips and Joe Cole to deliver telling crosses.

Beckham’s effort and heart were unquestionable last night, but the energy and consistent quality of his heyday are long gone. The worrying thing is that there is no obvious heir apparent.

R.I.P. the so-called ‘Golden Generation’

It seems this most unfitting of monikers will always be prefaced as such. A highly praised and even more highly paid collection of players – supposedly as good as any England has ever had – who have repeatedly failed to deliver anywhere near their potential, other than one glorious night in Germany six years ago. Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard: world-beaters at club level, passably good (frequently less) for England. Rio Ferdinand: concentration really not a strong suit. Wayne Rooney: young, but still a long way from the finished article and not a patch on the sublime – and younger – Lionel Messi). Paul Robinson: yes, well. Even David Beckham, for all his ability on crosses and free-kicks, has never been close to being the complete player his publicists would like to portray.

It’s been a good team – occasionally even a great team – but not one which has ever been capable of producing the consistent excellence needed to dominate on the grand stage.

‘Never quite good enough when it really mattered.’ Write that on the tombstone of English football.

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

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