Football: Ince to be brought to book?

Andrew Longmore reads a new chapter in England's sorry story

AFTER THE vanity, publish the horror fiction. The Terrible Night England Began to Believe Their Own Publicity. It is still too early to write the epilogue to England's chances of qualifying for the European Championship in the summer of 2000 - one down, seven episodes to go - but the next few chapters need to be a lot racier than this one if the ending is to be suitably romantic.

The pre-match billboards advertised the battle of the strikers, Shearer v Owen. But the images conjured from a sunlit evening in Stockholm reflected not the golden goal of St Etienne, but the Swedes and Turnips of Graham Taylor's vegetable past. An equaliser deflected into the net via Tony Adams's left arm and David Seaman's prostrate stomach, the winner, a bobble off the knee of Paul Scholes; England reversed the trend by turning from kings to cabbages. The one thread stretching between St Etienne and Stockholm was mathematical. England ended both games with 10 men. For David Beckham read Paul Ince. Rightly expelled for two yellow cards, the Liverpool midfielder is becoming an increasing liability for his country.

That Scholes should be found so deep in retreat said much for the speed with which England, supposedly the wiser side after the experiences of France, hit the panic button. Rather than reading the next instalment of the coach's World Cup Diary or their centre-half's compelling life story, the England side should confine their bedside reading to the FA Book of Defending; 4-4-2 or 3-5-2, formations are irrelevant in the midst of rampant incompetence.

Not far away, the strike force designated by the assembled script writers to settle their personal issue must have wondered whether they had wandered into an episode of the X Files. The speculation centred as much on Alan Shearer's reaction to the rise of his partner as the extraordinary unconditional adulation accorded Michael Owen from the normally unassuming Swedes. Presumably, we will have to wait for the book to discover the innermost thoughts of Shearer. His demeanour in a spiky press conference earlier last week as question after question was directed at the little boy beside him suggested a man consigned to unwanted shadows. What was it Oscar Wilde said about publicity? The only thing worse than having it was not having it. The truth of that aphorism slowly dawned on the England captain last week.

It is a measure of Owen's instant celebrity that the sleep of the Swedish defenders had been disturbed not by the physical presence of Shearer but the elusiveness of England's Peter Pan. Shearer had wisely kept his counsel, trusting his eloquence to his boots. Yet anonymity, relative though it may be, is a priceless asset for a striker too. Shearer, desperately short of goals for club and country, knew he could profit from the defenders' divided attentions. In less time than it took to read the front cover, Shearer had opened his European Championship account. And if there was a touch of good fortune about his free-kick - not least that he profited from the absence of the usual dead-ball specialist, Beckham - then the celebrations had the question "who's the No 1 striker now?" written all over them.

For the first half, there was only one striker in the game and he was not christened Michael. The first imprint Owen left was on the ankles of the Swedish left-back, a tackle which would have brought him an immediate red card had it been committed on French soil a month and a half earlier. This is the other side of Owen, not so much Michaelmania as manic Michael, a scythe not dissimilar to the tackle on Ronny Johnsen which brought a red card and the people's vote as the second worst crime in the Premier League last season. The one glimpse of his more notable talent came with a delicate chip over the goalkeeper, exquisitely struck from an acute angle, but from an offside position.

Not until the second half did he get the time and space to run at the Swedish defence. The slamming of the door will become a familiar sound to him, now that defenders have satellite-beamed proof of the dangers of youth. Sweden worked on the lines of supply and kept Owen with his back to goal as often as possible. Inexperience, and a worrying injury to Darren Anderton, did the rest. Owen and Shearer are still a fledgling pairing. Too much of their time was spent outside hailing distance. The understanding will emerge; the future of England and, quite possibly, their coach rests on it. But, for the moment, no one will want to buy the paperback rights.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?
Season's finale brings the end of an era for top coaches and players across the continent

The end of an era across the continent

It's time to say farewell to Klopp, Clement, Casillas and Xavi this weekend as they move on to pastures new, reports Pete Jenson
Bin Laden documents released: Papers reveal his obsession with attacking the US and how his failure to keep up with modern jihad led to Isis

'Focus on killing American people'

Released Bin Laden documents reveal obsession with attacking United States
Life hacks: The innovations of volunteers and medical workers are helping Medécins Sans Frontières save people around the world

Medécins Sans Frontières's life hacks

The innovations of volunteers and medical workers around the world are helping the charity save people
Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?

Same-sex marriage

As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?
The underworld is going freelance: Why The Godfather's Mafia model is no longer viable

The Mafia is going freelance

Why the underworld model depicted in The Godfather is no longer viable