When Fabio Capello announced his provisional 30-man squad on 11th May, I wrote at length about Joe Cole's image of a 'ghosting' footballer (the Italian's present toying with him is no surprise - he seems doomed to such treatment). ZoneStyx then ran with it, picking up my hint by actively describing this 'hauntological' player. In the ITV studio last night, Gareth Southgate adjudged the team 'haunted', and in today's Independent, James Lawton further illustrated the England team's unique state:
The house built by Fabio Capello, which at times has looked so sturdy, was haunted....the demon was the 44 years of failure he had promised to put right, and the bitter truth for so much of a desperate night was that his team looked more in need of an exorcist than a manager.
There is not too much one can say regarding the game, and indeed quite how any broadcaster contrived their respective highlights packages is a mystery. I think fans in the main can accept bad performances or poor results, or even a lack of ability. The sheer extent however of England's lack of impetus, drive, or even the faintest recognition of this being the World Cup, the very pinnacle of the game that we all love, is pretty unforgivable. There are millions of us who in absence of any technique would at least give it everything, would guarantee an aspiration to the stout desire that has become the myth of our game. Can those actually detailed to the task truly claim that they committed as much? Exertion to the point of sickness or collapse we know won't win us anything, but is it a confusion between this and outright accomplishment that so troubles the players? What precisely do they strive, if anything, for?
And luck? Well, we've just endured two utterly risible performances yet have still emerged unbeaten, Algeria and the USA being particularly poor sides. Never mind the coruscating skill of the Argentinians, or the power and flair of the German team: the basic application of the North Koreans would have steamrollered England.
The lack of industry could at least be compensated for by Capello (on whom Mark so succinctly says "the size of the task is starting to dawn") by exhausting every option. That means Cole on the pitch for something, anything more than the cursory 5 or 10 minutes that he's so used to. If only to prove us all wrong. There isn't really sufficient evidence to hand that this should change everything - the problems clearly run too deep - but:
a) he is capable of changing a game in a way that no other England player can
b) he is a proven big game international, unlike several others
c) he has always made it clear - both verbally and in performance - that he simply loves to play
This last point seems kind of daft: don't they all really want to play? Well, it didn't look so clear cut last night. Where were the qualities that many have so conspicuously ascribed to Cole, of the pure joy and unfettered enthusiasm of playing?
All that would then remain would be the question of how Capello might fit him into the team: where would he play? How would the current system accommodate him? The answers are simple - 1) fucking anywhere, and 2) bollocks to the system. The myth that a midfielder cannot operate at all when stationed 2 or 3 yards from his normal position is a joke (and incidentally, aren't the same people who were decrying Capello for playing Gerrard in the middle now saying that he's crazy for moving him to the left? Why the hell should it matter so much?). As for the tactics, well, in all honesty, what is there left to protect here? Is it working sufficiently well to keep Cole out of the side?
That Cole should prove a talisman might not have seemed so unrealistic all those years ago, when he was feted as the possible saviour of English football: that he does so as the emblem of this current side by simply not being there now seems somehow apposite. And whilst Rooney last night appeared to want so vehemently to avoid any responsibility, Capello, dumbfounded as he is, might at the very least claim something back for himself by making what for him would perhaps be a bold deviation from the great plan.
But it's not the money or the Premier League's congested fixture list that so bedevils England: every other nation would be toiling through the same ruinous fog if this were the case. What hurts us is somehow purely English, a parochial zombified grief for long lost pride. At what point do we reign in our investment?