If 44 years of national hurt are to finally come to an end, then Capello will need to become the most “fabiolous” manager in the world!!

June 10, 2010

When it comes to the England football team’s performances in tournaments, it has been a catalogue of disappointment and false dawns. Whether that has been down to bad luck, poor management or lack of technique is a moot point. The fact of the matter is that England have underachieved in the majority of tournaments since 1966, and had we not had the advantage of playing at home in a decade of unbridled British confidence, that single World Cup victory would almost certainly not have come to pass.

In my opinion, only twice prior to 2010, have the right mix of manager and  pool of players come to together to afford England a chance of realistically winning the World Cup – Alf Ramsey’s 1970 squad was stronger than the team that had lifted the trophy four years earlier, and Bobby Robson’s 1990 squad were very talented, but ultimately unlucky.

In 1970, England led by Bobby Moore capitulated in the Quarter Finals through a combination of high altitude and heat in Mexico, throwing away a 2-0 lead against West Germany; eventually losing 3-2 courtesy of a Gerd Muller hat trick. Peter Bonetti, deputising for the incomparable Gordon Banks who had food poisoning, was culpable for at least two of the goals. Although the eventual winners, Brazil, spearheaded by Pele and Jarzhinio,  had a brilliant team, England had held their own against them in the Group stages, and it is quite possible that they would have beaten them in the final. In the event Brazil comprehensively beat Italy 4-1.

In 1990 Robson’s team, after riding their luck against Belgium and Cameroon, outplayed West Germany in the Semi Final before losing in a penalty shoot out (a feat that was repeated at the Semi Final stage at Euro 96 ). Germany were lucky on this occasion, with a deflected Paul Parker own goal and Chris Waddle hitting the post and bar in extra time (similarly Darren Anderton hit a post in extra time in 1996 ). Had England had access to a fit Bryan Robson to partner Paul Gascoine in midfield in 1990, I have no doubts England would have prevailed against our old enemy and gone on to beat a less than impressive Diego Maradonna and Argentina in the final, avenging the “Hand of God” Quarter Final defeat four years earlier.

The reality is that England in the 1970 and 1990 were led by tactically astute, inspirational managers, who were able to mould a group of very talented players into the right system.  The same could be said for Terry Venables’ Euro 96 team. But the harsh truth is that since then, England managers and players have not been good enough. Managers, players, the media and public alike have all hidden behind the misfortune of lost penalty shoot outs in Quarter Finals against Argentina in World Cup 1998 ( when a 10 man team, minus the dismissed David Beckham, played valiantly ), and Portugal in 2004 and 2006. As with the World Cup Quarter Final defeat to Brazil in 2002, when England came up against technically good and gifted players, we were found wanting!! The perception for too long is that we have been unlucky in penalty shoot outs. We should stop hiding behind this self deception. You could make an exception for the Argentina match, but in the last decade, had England been good enough, we would have won in open play and normal time.

The good news however is that England have a clean slate and an opportunity to put the past behind them, and bury all the hurt and underachievement once and for all!! We have the right players, with the right manager, at the right time. Players and manager alike are conversant with winning the Champions League, the closest experience to the World Cup. We no longer have the inferiority complex that we possessed in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Most importantly, in Fabio Capello, we have a manager that is the closest thing to Sir Alf Ramsey. Capello, like Ramsey, is a defiant, dour dictator and disciplinarian  ( no apologies for the alliteration! ).  The players will fear him more than any team they will go out and play in World Cup 2010. That was the never the case with Glenn Hoddle, Kevin Keegan, Sven Goran Ericksson and Steve Mclaren: they were all too “pally” and close to the players.

Provided Fabio Capello comes up with the right system, and the spine of the team ie John Terry, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney play to their full potential, then England have a good enough support cast to go all the way!! Of course we need a little luck along the way, avoiding anymore injuries to key players in particular, but the Class of 2010 are more than capable of finally burying the ghost and spectre of 1966 and prevailing as World Champions!!

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