Charles gets to the heart of English national jouissance - the way that we take pleasure (albeit a mean, miserable, grumbling sort of pleasure) in pain. We're back exactly where we want to be, with our backs against the wall, with just enough hope to make the pain exquisite. (I must confess to a certain measure of disappointment when England qualified from the group stage with ease in 2006 - where was the jouissance in that? Never mind - we still had the indifferent performances to moan at.) It's a classic case of finding satisfaction in the ostensible blocking of a desire. So far, the England team - like the policeman in The Wicker Man - have played their parts in this national carnival of defeatism perfectly, if, necessarily, unwittingly. The test now is whether they can disappoint us by starting to play well.
I'm pleased to hear that John Terry's challenge to Capello's authority has reputedly gone down badly with the rest of the England squad. The Times argued that Terry isn't as popular in the squad as he'd like to think he is - which says something for the rest of the players' judgement. Terry is tabloid thinking incarnate, and it's heartening that his attempt to curry populist favour didn't come off. The assertion of player power under Sven had predictably poor results; and I for one have more faith in Capello's tactical intelligence than that of England players who were consistently under-achieving at international level while Capello was winning championships with some of Europe's top clubs. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has enjoyed seeing the swaggering egos of England's players reined in by Don Fabio's disciplinarian regime.
The growing discontent with Capello - led by Andy Townsend on television - has taken a predictably xenophobic turn, although the thinking seems particularly confused, even by the standards of xenophobia. As ever, the xenophobic complaint seem to revolve around the issue of "passion". Now, it was easy for the pundits to complain about of lack of passion from Sven because this fitted the stereotypical image the English have of Swedes. But it's a problem trying to make such complaints marry with the stereotypical image of Italians, not to mention Capello's animation on the touchline. So now the complaint seems to be that only an Englishman can muster the requisite passion to manage the national side. As Townsend disgracefully remarked on ITV the other day, "Capello will be in Lake Garda in a few months, what does he care?" (Did being born in Maidstone, Kent and never living in Ireland prevent Townsend from being sufficiently passionate when he played for the Republic, I wonder?) And anyone who thinks that "passion" will cure England's malady need only remember the pathetic sight of Kevin Keegan making those puff-up-your-chest gestures on the touchline as a shambolic England were easily beaten by Germany at Wembley.
As Giovanni pointed out in the comments, England's problem is not a deficiency of passion or effort, much as it looks that way. There's an uncanny quality about England performances like the one against Algeria. The team have an underwater lethargy, almost as if they are subject to a higher gravity than the opposition, prematurely exhausting them. While the opponents skip about, easily finding passes, England lumber, the ball bobbling awkwardly off their feet, the options for the player with the ball narrowing every second until even a simple square pass becomes impossible. (For those who say England play to their level at the World Cup - can they remember a time when Lampard, Gerrard or Rooney played remotely as badly for their club?) A curious attitude of desperate hope and fatalistic despair takes hold of the team. The blustering attacks that the odd player manages to muster seem destined to fail, as if they run up against an invisible forcefield. You know that they won't score, but you can't stop hoping that they will. Other international teams play badly, but there's a particular quality about England's bad performances. England have put in performances like that under every manager for as long as I can remember. As I've remarked before, why this is the case poses all sort of interesting questions - about the nature of a psychology that is not only collective, but that repeats itself over time with completely different personnel. But it's confidence, not passion, that breaks England out of this fugue - will they be able to muster that confidence tomorrow? A quick goal, and we could see a repeat of England's demolition of Poland in the third game in 1986, but the longer the game goes on without a breakthrough, the greater the chance that The Fear will creep back in . . .