Monday, 14 June 2010

Smugonaut watch

Practically everything I complained about is exempified in this piece by Jason Cowley in the Standard today. Lazy, received opinion dressed up as hard-nosed wisdom.
Remember: the reason that England have gone out of the tournaments since 1990 has little to do with their failure to put together long, flowing passing movements and everything to do with their inability to win penalty shoot-outs and/ or their propensity to get key players sent off at crucial times.
And the last time a flamboyant team in the style of the current Spain squad won the World Cup was Brazil in 1970.


  1. Also there is something unbelievably grim and predictable about the pattern: score one goal, then relax, until shockingly the other side puts one away, then cue 50 mins or so of desperate and unconvincing hacking away. There is an element of arrogance which combines very badly with the self-doubt of England teams- its either one or the other...

  2. Not sure if it's arrogance so much as a certain lack of ruthlessness (all the stranger since players like Lampard excel at this at club level). There's a tendency to alternate between a kind of desperate hope and a grim despondency, without passing through assured self-belief or confidence. Eriksson went some way to insilling some belief in the England players, before succumbing to the same old malaise. Capello also taught them to believe in the qualifiers - but there's a danger that he's slipping into the same old morass.

  3. I don't actually think that this time around the England players seem quite so chronically scared as they have been - Capello has definitely improved their confidence. However, I'd argue that it was Eriksson who really ruined it. His squad 4 years ago was, man-for-man, better than the one Capello has taken to South Africa. The way those players performed in 2006 was just atrocious though; I'm not sure any side has gone into the last 8 in quite such a risible vein of form. No cohesion, and no self-belief whatsoever.

  4. I should add that the trend for scoring an early goal, then sitting back, almost willing the opposition into probing for an equaliser, was exemplified at the Euro 2004 tournament. The only trouble was, it wasn't really done out of Italianate poise, but utter terror. The quarter-final against the Portuguese in particular was excruciating to watch: the English defence sat deeper and deeper and gave the ball away as if it was a grenade-minus-pin. The chance to seal the game had long since been missed, and it was only the brilliance of Lampard that heaved the side into the inevitable shoot-out. They certainly didn't deserve to win it. But then 'deserving' to win I guess makes no sense.

  5. Of course history most often shows the way to win is to 'win ugly'. The problem is, that doesn't seem an option for England. Nor can they play entertaining football. Either would give us something to cheer about. I hadn't seen England under Capello so I'm completely mystified as to why he's apparently revered. What was so depressing about the performance is that this was, yes, just like watching England under McLaren, well it might, given many of the same personel (amusing to see Stuart Pearce and Ray Clemence on the bench, and Beckham awkwardly/pathetically pretending to be a 'manager').

    For all that he doesn't have McLaren's palpable psychological flaws, it seems like some have bought into an 'inspirational CEO' myth around Capello. On this evidence...nah

  6. In defence of the 'long flowing passing movements' argument I think everyone is missing a trick.

    It's not about playing aesthetically pleasing football, but, crucially, playing as a team. In Spain, Germany against Australia, Holland etc this take the forms of understanding of each other's movement and therefore a passing, flowing game, but equally Greece when they won the euro's, South Korea in 2002 etc showed it can be every player, no matter how limited, knowing what the role is and working as a cohesive/collective whole.

    So basically, great technical/aesthetic football is one of signs (or end products) for a team playing with understanding, playing as a team rather than disperate individuals.

    England have (once again) failed to show any cohesion or understanding. This is our problem and maybe iti s our culture to be too individualistic and lacking awareness . . .

  7. I really think England play quite differently under Capello than they did to the Eriksson & McClaren sides. Certainly not really in terms of style, but they play with a touch more purpose, and more crucially, they tend to improve as games go on too. Not massively different, but still. There is no way on earth that Eriksson or McClaren would have achieved the comprehensive victories in qualifying that Capello did for example.

    Capello has earned his reputation through managing club sides to great success, particularly with the AC Milan of the early 1990's. The key difference he's made on a personal level has been in terms of discipline, but the problem here is that surely anyone could insist on WAGs not attending, a ban on mobile phones and everyone leaving the dinner table together. "Is that it?" seems to be the big question at present, though you'd have to say that a character like Capello seems far better placed to instill these values than his immediate predecessors, who were quite obviously soft touches in this regard.

  8. PDR5 - Capello is revered generally for having an extraordinary record of success - just skim his wikipedia page. League after league. With England he's revered because after the appalling failures of the qualifying campaign for Euro 2008, he not only turned the team into a highly efficient crushing machine, he beat Croatia home and away (who themselves beat England home and away in the Euro 08 qualifers). He was the first coach to defeat Croatia at their home stadium, and they weren't just wins, they were thrashings: 4-1 and 5-1.

    Re Mark's smugonauts and their gleeful 'realism' about England's lack of quality... The list of things which you can't win major tournaments without is one of my bugbears. eg You can't win without playing free-flowing posession football. Or: you can't win the World Cup 'without a goalscorer'. Unless you're France.

    The point that England shouldn't *need* to dominate possession is absolutely right.

    But in that case, why have they never worked out how to play a pressing game with quick counter-attacking? Two common excuses are the Premier League schedule (toot tiring) and the weather (summer is too hot for the pale-skinned Englishman) -- will try to post in full about these two fallacies.

  9. zeno144 - I wholeheartedly agree with you that free flowing football is usually a sign of good teamwork, and it's the teamwork rather than the passing per se which is crucial. But there are also other ways in which playing as a team can manifest itself, often more effective than an aimless passing game. Look at Mourinho's teams. But I do think that it's important to recognise that you can win without 'playing well' - this happens time and again.

    Zone - yeah, it's that 'you won't win the World Cup without X' formula that really grates on me, especially when, as is often the case, there's massive evidence against the proposition. For instance, it's not only France who won the WC without a goalscorer - what about Italy in 2006?