Having spent most of my adult life whinging and cursing at England teams with all the cohesion and familiarity of a park-up team on a Sunday morning, it’s unsettling to watch a squad that plays consistent winning football. And just as I get comfortable, it could all be flushed down the pan.
Last time I went up to Blackheath with my mate John Browning, I was first pick, on the basis that this newcomer must be a hidden talent because I was wearing clean socks. Frankly that had more logic to it than the selection policies of certain England managers over the years.
It’s all down to Capello. He understands the importance of retaining English virtues of high intensity and tempo, rather than aping the so-called more restricted style that pundits will mistakenly tell you suits international football. At the same time, the players understand him. Remain disciplined and keep possession. He’s accomplished a feat hitherto regarded as impossible in England circles; the players pass to each other. And the squad are obviously scared witless of him, which I like.
However, in recent months the majority have been injured, off-form, or both. Knackered isn’t on the list only because so many have been relaxing on the treatment tables of Europe. Forced to renege on worthy assurances of not taking injured or untried players, key men like Ferdinand and Barry have not only been included, they are covered by other rehabilitees like King and Joe Cole, while Capello has barely been introduced to several other squad members. Carragher long ago forfeited his right to a part of this, yet back he comes. The weather’s turned for the better but the thought of Rooney’s absence still brings me out in a cold sweat.
Although I’m genuinely looking forward to the World Cup I can’t get into much of a lather about England, or at least not the frantic anxious delirium with which I approach most Spurs games. I’ve written about this before: https://tottenhamonmymind.wordpress.com/2009/09/08/england-v-croatia/
I invest so much into supporting Spurs, England is a bit of light relief. I want them to win and will therefore feel involved and committed, but the feeling will disappear at the sound of the final whistle, rather than permeate my emotions and behaviour for however long it takes for the next match to kick off.
Maybe that’s a better way to be about football. It will certainly increase my enjoyment of the World Cup itself. I’m looking forward to catching as much as possible and taking pleasure in the game of football itself, rather than being consumed by the desperate desire to win. I’d prefer a great tournament to an England win, but both would be nice.
Tottenham players could have a major influence on England’s fortunes. Our defensive record will be decisive if we are to make significant progress because against better teams goals will be precious and rare. And who better than Ledley King to take his rightful place in world football. His awareness, timing of his interceptions (you can’t really call them tackles) and his pace over ten yards equip him to excel at the highest level, where he deserves to be. Criticised after the Mexico friendly, few people mentioned the almost total absence of Ferdinand who spent most of that match wandering vacantly and left Led isolated. King will partner not Ferdinand, as most assume, but Terry, who will dodge the pitchforks and burning torches of the baying mob and rise to the challenge, at least until we get knocked out ingloriously in the quarter finals, on penalties, and the tabloids unleash the rest of the scandals that allegedly await a disinterested public.
As the nation waits in hushed expectation of the next medical bulletin, let us join hands with our neighbours and friends and implore our gods and spirits to focus on just one single tiny piece of cartilage. That’s the spirit of the World Cup right there: Ledley’s knee brings unity, peace and harmony to the world.
If there’s any spare mystical healing energy around, let it have a go at Barry’s ankle and Rooney’s foot. Both in their different ways are key to England’s chances. Barry is the glue to bind the team together, to ensure that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. His movement is good, his anticipation better, and he can not only break up opposition offensives, his excellent passing, short or long, enable us to move swiftly from defence into attack. Rooney is simply world class, whether on his own or up alongside a partner, our only player who opponents will fear.
So there goes another rule of blogging – I’ve praised players of other teams. Regular readers will need no convincing of my wholehearted devotion to Spurs but sometimes, sitting low on the Shelf, close to the pitch, a few greats stride through matches in a style that creates magnificent envy. In the last couple of years, Barry and Gerrard have performed so well, but it was a privilege to watch Rooney at first hand this season. His was a good rather than great performance but his running, power and dedication was revealed in ways that TV cannot ever emulate. I’m sick to death of the cheap shots in the media or by comics grasping at a mistake he made whilst a teenager in the company of family members who should have looked after him better. Or that impressionist Culshaw, the one whose voices all sound the same, in the Saturday night programme that no one watched. Rooney is not Colleen’s lapdog, he’s his own man.
And while I’m about it, let’s get it over with. Ashley – mate – those things I shouted at the Lane last season, those things I wrote, let’s put all that behind us. I’m sure that you’re a decent bloke, if I got to know you…you’re bang in form and could win it for us.
Rooney cannot win every game single-handedly, although that won’t stop him trying. Which brings me to possibly shatter another blog staple: if I’m critical of the England strike-force, I have to criticise Spurs players. Defoe’s link-up play is much improved but he’s not bright enough to outwit top-class defences and injury has dulled early season sharpness. Crouch will always provide a percentage return but this diminishes in proportion to the defenders’ ability. Anyway, a nudge in the back will put him off and his mere presence encourages the unnecessary use of the long ball. Who would have thought I would be wistful for a fit Heskey? Anyone ever suggest that he start by losing a few pounds?
Oh dear, I feel dirty somehow. Let’s end on a more optimistic note. The one thing that will make England different is pace. No single defender can cope with Lennon in full flight, and if there are two men on him, there’s space in other areas, which Gerrard and a couple of Coles, coming from deep, could exploit. He’s fit and raring to go. Just let him off his leash, Fabio, sorry, yes I know, it’s Mr Capello to the likes of me, just him have a go.