Sunday, 27 June 2010

Negative alchemy

Perhaps the key fact about England's dreadful capitulation to Germany today was the : Podolski and Klose can't score for their clubs, but are deadly for Germany. The exact reverse is the case for England's "golden generation" who came nowhere close - not even remotely close - to capturing their premiership form in this tournament. (Well, that's not quite true: Gerrard matched his dreadful premiership form this year, with his standard retinue of ludicrously ambitous possession-losing passes, no-hope shots from distance and positional indiscipline. As @Liverpool_FC noted on twitter, "Let's not mince words - Gerrard's been as poor for ENG as he has been for LFC this season. Real shame to see.") I know some commenters have argued here that the failure of England's top players to reproduce their premiership form is because they are hiding behind better-quality foreign imports at club level, but this doesn't stand up to much scrutiny. Rooney and Lampard are at the heart of the United and Chelsea sides; they aren't peripheral fellow-travellers. Terry, I think, is the one England player whose weaknesses at club level are hidden by superior players around him. He's manifestly too slow, both physically and in his thinking, to be a top quality defender.
I can't remember an England defeat like this - its comprehensive manner removed all tension, depriving England supporters of even the accustomed rush of jouissance that comes from losing heroically. (There was nothing heroic today, and Lampard's disallowed goal is an irrelevance - no team that defended as amateurishly as England did today could expect to progress in the World Cup finals.) In fact, the three first-half goals - and the sense that there were more to goals to come, with Germany's defence scarcely any more watertight than England's - dissipated much of the tension early in the game. And the third and fourth goals killed off all remaining tension long before the final whistle. By then, it was a question of embarrassment, not tension.
I've stuck with Capello throughout but his decisions today were frankly bizarre. The problem was clearly the massive gaps in- and in front of - England's defence, but Don Fabio did nothing to rectify this. Then the mystifying substitutions. Cole was poor when he came on against Slovenia, while Milner still looked like his crosses could pose some threat. If there was ever a time to send on Heskey, it wasn't when England needed three goals to get back in the game. Shaun Wright-Phillips? Words fail me. You have to wonder what Crouch has done to offend the Don (score goals, perhaps: apart from Defoe, he's the only England striker to have hit the back of the net for some time). Perhaps even Capello was subject to the same negative alchemy that afflicted his players. Congratulations to Germany, for sure, but it's still not clear how good they are. What's certain is that they will not come up against a defence that inept again - not only in this World Cup finals, but in international football.


  1. I'm not sure you can claim the goal-that-was-not was insignificant. 2-2 at half time after being 2-0 down would have been astonishing, really.

    (At the start I predicted 5-0 Germany... served me right, that, after saying that. I, we, enjoy the pain too much.)

    But everything else is spot on. Terry is *appalling* and the best thing that can come of this is that, next time at least, that generation will be too old. I just wish I could see the talent coming through to replace them.

    & Fabio's substitutions were just baffling. Gerard, in his defence, at least looked awake. Unlike Rooney, who has played the whole tournament looking like he's carrying a virus. Fatigue, I imagine.

    In any case, I hope this blog continues for future tournaments. It's been one of the best things about this WC!

    fred hale.

  2. Hi, found your site via Sit Down Man - grasping for some sense after not really feeling that disappointed by this result - I think you've nailed it - comprehensiveness of defeat made it difficult to see England as heroic - 'the accustomed rush of jouissance that comes from losing heroically' - yes. And I think you're right it still isn't clear that Germany are very good!

    Whether or not England's self-regard (seeming to think they deserve to play well) has been their downfall, it has certainly worked a kind of 'negative alchemy' on me; I feel a certain amount of relief, I think - I can now enjoy watching teams, I'm particularly thinking of the remaining South/ Central Americans, who play with humility, they work for each other, they come into matches not expecting just to win, they are disciplined - these things as the bedrock for sparkling moves, for ravishing football. Somehow far healthier, far more sane, than this group of footballers in white, who we now get to wave goodbye to.

  3. Nodding emphatically at Thomas's comment re: being able to enjoy the tournament now. I no longer feel sick! And I did love the Euros of two years ago. Wonder why...

  4. Absolutely agreed on the defence, just shocking (tho at least Ashley Cole suggested energy and spark). Perhaps next time some sense of realistic expectations might finally be in evidence, though the shock expressed to me by many English fans that an Irish person would refuse to support his closest neighbours seems to indicate that colonial amnesia (which modulates so seamlessly into collective delusional reverie) continues to entrench the English mindset.

    On the plus side, does this mean you'll be busier on the k-punk side of things!? (Sorry, just being cheeky).

  5. Just a quick note to Robots ... should be more k-punk posts soon, I promise!

  6. Both this and the US loss to Ghana show how weak Group C was. Neither England of US being able to drill Slovenia and Algeria should have made me listen to the warning bells in my head.

    And both are old, with not much good youth in the pipelines.

  7. Commiserations, guys. I think this means all of the Minus the Shooting bloggers have now had their team knocked out... We really must do better next time.

  8. England is suffering from the last-breath-syndrome from a quasi-golden generation . Too olde to compete, too young to be dismissed by the general audience. Germany was at the very same crossroads at 2004 for example, and they did what they had to do: get younger, smarter and most of all, get their mojo back( à la Austin Powers). By getting the vets a one way ticket back to permanent club football.

  9. By getting the vets a one way ticket back to permanent club football.

    Yet I can't help but notice they had Klose and Podolski up front, who are hardly young bolters. I think everyone goes with the best talent they feel that they have, injecting as much youth as they feel comfortable with in an experienced core. Italy won two world cups, in 82 and 06, with teams that were considered old going into the tournament. The young team that went into the 78 world cup played very exciting football but failed to beat the Netherlands in the semi due to two lapses caused essentially by inexperience.

    So, were Terry and Cannavaro too old for this world cup? Apparently. But it's easy to say now.

  10. Terry was too bad for this World Cup, and indeed any World Cup. Age doesn't come into it lol

  11. What's certain is that they will not come up against a defence that inept again - not only in this World Cup finals, but in international football.

    Just watch out for the next game...

  12. Fernando - the Argentina defence isn't great, but it couldn't possibly be as naive, slow and inept as England's was today.

  13. I was reminded of Germany beating Saudi Arabia 8-0 in 2002. The Saudi defence had a nightmare and barely looked like professional footballers - Germany were going through rehearsed training ground moves and scoring almost every time.

    That's how I felt last night - Klose and Podolski were going through these straightforward practice-pitch exchanges and somehow England's five defenders (plus Barry, who spent half the game helping out at the back) were wrongfooted every time. You wonder what the hell Terry and Upson have been doing in training over the last week.

    Lampard's non-goal seemed a fitting end to the WC career of a man who has been a non-player far too often.

    I agree with Giovanni that blaming the team's age is an easy thing to do with hindsight. If you play old players and they win, you wisely put your trust in experienced heads. If you play old players and they lose, you stupidly sent out a bunch of creaking geriatric liabilities etc...

    With the exception of Terry, the players' performances had nothing to do with age. They were just poor.

  14. As for the substitutions, I'm half-convinced that Capello has only been sending on Joe Cole as a patient demonstration to his critics that, no, Cole isn't the player whose mere presence can transform England.

  15. Rooney is surely a worry for Man United fans. If the (presumably) injury doesnt clear up you can imagine him having a fitful season until when in about November Ferguson bites the bullet and puts him out for 6 months to fix it once and for all.

    If he wasnt injured his 'character' is just as worrying. There's no need to be *that* stroppy, we get it, James Milner is a fairly limited footballer and not up to your standard. Move on.

  16. @ Geovanni Podolski is 25 so hardly old, he's just been involved in the German set up for a long time. (similarly Schweinsteiger is 25 and has 80-ish caps!)- only really Klose is an old head in that team - but I think the youth argument is a red herring, this isn't about the age of the England squad.

    I wanted to take up this point "England's top players to reproduce their premiership form is because they are hiding behind better-quality foreign imports at club level, but this doesn't stand up to much scrutiny. Rooney and Lampard are at the heart of the United and Chelsea sides; they aren't peripheral fellow-travellers"

    I disagree slightly. They are certainly not passengers, but they play in systems built to offset their flaws, and lack of tactical and sometimes technical nous. So Benitez built a system in which Gerrard was essentially in a free role because he couldn't hold a position (with the potentially world class Mascherano and Alonso acting as metronome for the team on a defensive and offensive front). Lampard essentially plays in a 5 man midfield built to allow him to dessert his position as he sees fit and absolving him of much of the defensive duties(which also negated the impact of the tactically more disciplined Ballack), Rooney's propensity to fall deep to attempt to pick up the ball, simultaneously affecting the shape, is offset but a Man Utd. capable of retaining and regaining possession and placing at the apex.

    England seemingly don't have the players to offset these flaws when combined, in fact they collectively combined to expose our only consistent performer in Ashley Cole. We are unable to waver from a largely defunct 4-4-2 system which is surely down to their inability (or inflexibility) as a group to adapt. I really think the Germany game was about an intelligent and fluid side (with its own defensive problems)teaching the english a need for cultural change.

    Mark has posted about the fallacy of the 'possession football' argument before, but I think yesterday was interesting on that front as well. Germany seemed to let England have as much of the ball as we wanted, knowing we will frequently and easily give up possession with just a little pressure on the ball. I think that the retention of possession argument is valid in terms of not the flat statistic (i.e. England 55% Germany 45%), but in retaining the ball in areas where you releave pressure and ensure you are less vulnerable. Germany and Argentina have very weak defences, but are able to keep the ball higher up the pitch, and provide adequate cover to the defence. This is partly down to 'possession football' in the sense of confidence in their own posession, their technique on the ball (see also Mexico, Spain etc). They were counter attacking because they knew we would lose possession, they didn't care about the overall statistic.

    All that said, I felt really sorry for Upson, an honest but limited player, humiliated and exposed by Terry abandoning his position, chasing the ball, and aimlessly wandering in one of the worst performances I have seen in a world cup.

    Capello made many blunders, his substitutions were bizarre, but after 3 (or 4 depending how you look at it) managers for the FA dubbed 'golden generation', maybe its time to say it is the players and the culture producing them (and not an individual manager) that is the underlying problem. These guys collectively just don't possess the intelligence required for this sort of tournament.

  17. Zeno, I've just addressed some of these points in my latest post...