If David Stubbs had made it up, you’d have never believed him. Well, actually, if you’d ever seen England play in major competition before you’d have known exactly what was coming on Saturday night. The Wing Commander’s match reports are of course parodies of the English attitude towards the game – the events described and embellished upon really did happen. And if you’d grounded your expectations in some kind of reality ahead of the USA match, the outcome doesn’t look that bad.
But then it seems almost impossible to balance our deep-seated psychological terror surrounding football with the most basic pragmatism, as Mark says. Like him I’d considered this at the very start of Capello’s tenure, as it seemed a Latin temperament might be best suited to a correct definition and deployment of passion as something other than tears and wayward tackles. This has shown itself however as a source of confusion for the press over the past week: reading an effusive objection to intrusive photographers as mounting tension, and placing inordinate consequence on performances in preparatory friendlies. There’s really not much to see here. That the fragile mental resolve of the English should reveal itself so quickly and outside the realm of the doomed shoot-out was still something of a surprise, and shows that Capello still has much to do.
The BBC’s pundits made much of Robert Green’s apparent trance-like state in the Royal Bafokeng Stadium tunnel, citing this, somewhat obliquely, as an obvious sign of nerves. Looked pretty focussed to me if I’m honest. He could have been lobotomised by the CIA though. Nah. He’s just, you know, not that good. The media have of course duly diverted their scrutiny to his buttery palms, sparing the wider team’s utter failure to convert several golden chances over the 50 or so minutes that elapsed after the USA’s gift of a goal.
And oddly enough, it appeared that it was Capello’s decision-making that was as culpable for the dropped points – for that is what the result amounted to – as Green’s aberration. James Milner’s night was hardly any better than the goalkeeper’s, lasting as it did barely half an hour. Is he not fit, or not good enough? Ledley King on the other hand picked up an injury. Not the greatest of surprises. In view of the Spurs defender’s long-standing infirmity and the recall for the retired and frankly dawdling Jamie Carragher, perhaps Dean Ashton might feel a touch hard done by.
Otherwise, the Americans were pretty average, and ultimately fortunate. England looked positive and (just about) creative enough to win, but sadly for them their best chances fell to Emile Heskey and Shaun Wright-Phillips. Heskey was all set to make a mockery of his doubters before reminding us of just why we doubted him, then Wright-Phillips, the middling member of England’s aimless triumvirate of undersized wingmen, showed that not only can he not cross the ball, he can’t shoot either. Again, Capello should shoulder part of the blame here – if only he’d have included Joe Cole in his squad. Oh hang on....
So yes, England lost their nerve, and Mark called it about right. We have however been here before, and endured worse. If we’re seeking a measured understanding of why we seem to crumble on these big occasions though, we could start by looking at how our one true footballing legend eked out his career after retiring. Bobby Moore, a man of class and integrity both on the field and off, ended up plugging nonsense like that seen in the clip below not too long after actually winning the World Cup. And such was his apparent naiveté over business matters, I can’t help imagining he got paid about a tenner for it. Are we not, at some level, a touch ashamed?