England inquest: Where did it all go wrong?

The obvious post-mortem findings are that England's players were dull – mentally and physically. The game needs a winter break but don't expect one soon.
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The Independent Football

One of the catchphrases employed by Ron Greenwood, the former West Ham and England manager recently named by Harry Redknapp as the best English coach of the past 50 years, was "lively minds".

It echoed down through the years in Rustenburg last week as Fabio Capello's post-mortem on the nation's latest failure in a major tournament centred on how dull his players had been both mentally and physically after nine unbroken months of high-pressure football.

David Davies, who has worked with most England managers since Greenwood, either as broadcaster, public relations adviser or Football Association executive, was hardly surprised at the diagnosis. It is a familiar theme, he pointed out, one of three that recur constantly throughout the recent history of the national team – the others being inferior technical ability to many if not most opponents, and the lack of priority given to what has suddenly been christened "Club England".

In Davies' experience, all three are bound up together. "I was lucky to work with a succession of England managers and the issues they raised were invariably the same ones," he told The Independent on Sunday. "If you go back to 2002 in Japan and Korea, Sven Goran Eriksson and his staff assessed the fitness levels of all 23 players and they were not what you would have wanted. The fittest was the one player who didn't play in England: Owen Hargreaves, who played in the Bundesliga."

As England's first foreign coach, Eriksson, for all his weak points, was in a unique position to observe what was wrong with English football. His conclusion was that a winter break would be a huge improvement and at one point, Davies believes, it might have come about: "Sven and myself got 19 out of 20 Premier League clubs to sign up to a winter break and it was ultimately kyboshed because of the Premier League's television deal.

"Part of the deal involves non-stop football during the season. That's clearly in their interests but is it in the interest of English football? That's exactly the point I'm making. We're the only major football country in western Europe without a winter break. And research has been done which shows that players who don't have a break are more likely to sustain injuries in the latter part of the season.

"So there's the issue of our season, what it takes out of our players and the levels of fitness going into major tournaments. All the managers raise that. And before anybody says, for instance, that Tevez and Mascherano seem pretty sparky in this tournament, well, ask the Spanish about Torres, who doesn't, and ask South Africans about Steven Pienaar, who looked absolutely exhausted.

"Then there's the technical ability of too many of our players not being high enough, which they all raise. And there's the whole issue of the priority, or lack of it, of the international team within English football. There are priorities for the Premier League, for the Football League and the FA, but our generation failed to agree principles over and above sectional interest."

Davies believes that until all these points are resolved, any coach in the world would struggle to bring the best out of the England team. "The identity of the coach is important but it's not the fundamental issue." Like the Professional Footballers' Association's chief executive, Gordon Taylor, he believes that the review being undertaken by the Football Association needs to be much more wide-ranging and to have input from all parties.

In theory, the fact that Sir Dave Richards is both chairman of the Premier League and vice-chairman of the FA ought to bring the bodies closer together, but this does not seem to happen. The point has been made here before that the former body was originally constituted as the FA Premier League, one of its stated intentions being to assist the national team. Yet the "FA" prefix was quietly dropped some years ago and now club chairmen like Wigan's Dave Whelan suggest in all seriousness that the League should take over the running of the England team. If a TV deal really stands in the way of a winter break, then the only other solution to over-played, injury-prone international players is a reduction of the top flight to 18 clubs, as was always the intention. Self-interest has regularly ruled that out.

As for technical development, Sir Trevor Brooking is doing what he can at the FA for the longer term, in conjunction with an extensive programme designed to recruit larger numbers of better qualified coaches, especially for the youngest age groups. Slowly, the National Football Centre backed by successive England managers is taking shape. It will house research and medical facilities, as well as providing a base for the various age group England teams.

Results for those sides are gradually improving. The Under-17s won the European Championship recently which, staggeringly, was England's first success at any major competition since 1993 and the second in approximately 100 attempts at all levels. Germany, meanwhile, won three in one year, more than England had managed in a quarter of a century.

One of the German successes, as Capello's assistant Stuart Pearce will remember particularly well, was at last summer's Under-21 European Championship in Sweden, when they demolished Pearce's side 4-0 in the final. Only James Milner of that England squad played in South Africa 12 months later, while the Germans promoted four straight into the senior XI.

Brooking, having watched the final and noted one player in particular who would come back to haunt England, observed: "There are certain positions we need to develop. The creative 'Ozil' role is one we have to try to produce more of." Do not say you weren't warned. But English football is not short of warnings. The problem is finding the will and the way to do something about them.

The manager: 'If players are tired, you can forget the Euros too'

Fabio Capello has claimed that England will have no chance of winning the 2012 European Championship if the players are as weary as they were in South Africa. As he sees little practical prospect of improving their fitness at the end of a long domestic season – assuming they survive the qualifying campaign which begins in September – it is a startling and depressing admission. Asked before flying home about the prospect of winning a first trophy since 1966, he replied: "I think if we arrive fresh, yes. If we arrive tired, no."

Traditionally England begin a new season with good results in September and October, when playing qualifying games at their freshest. In eight games under Capello in those months, they have won seven and lost only away to Ukraine. By the time a summer tournament comes round, however, soon after the climax of a Premier League campaign, the Champions' League and FA Cup, niggling injuries and fatigue kick in. The only solution Capello could advance was: "I think after the end of the Premier League or the finals, the players need more time free, on holiday. I remember when Denmark won the Euros in Sweden [in 1992], they arrived off the beach. There was no pressure – not like it was with England."

This year the squad met two days after the FA Cup final and five days before the Champions' League final – in which no English clubs were involved – and spent four weeks together before their opening game. Capello may now accept that it was too long a period, even though they had to acclimatise to altitude. Coming back to play Mexico at Wembley in the middle of a fortnight's altitude training in Austria always seemed an odd thing to do and he admitted: "Maybe, probably, yes, we regret that." The weariness, he believes, was mental as much as physical: "Not only the body [is] tired, also the mind, this is the problem. Too many games."

Other themes in his final World Cup debriefing were familiar. One was the lack of English players available to him: "There are only 38 per cent English players in the Premier League. This is the big problem because other countries are 68, 69, 70 per cent."

Asked to compare England's team with the German one that humiliated them last weekend, he did not dwell on technical ability but offered the undignified assertion that Germany fielded "four foreign players". He named Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira and Jerome Boateng, all of whom were in fact born in Germany, plus Lukas Podolski, who, like Miroslav Klose, was born in Poland.

More dignified was an admission that his personal reputation had been harmed by the past three weeks; and an apology to England supporters. "I am really disappointed for them. They spent a lot of money to come to South Africa. The expectation was really big and the performance was not good, Sorry." It was an appropriate last word.

The former player: Capello chemistry all wrong, says Keown

Martin Keown knows a good manager when he sees one. He knows a decent team ethic as well. And as hard as he tries to sugar the pill, he is clear in his views that Fabio Capello's methods failed miserably with England, and were largely to blame for their dismal showing at the World Cup, writes Matt Butler.

Keown, in keeping with his new career as a pundit, does his best to give an impartial summary of England's desperately disappointing tournament, insisting: "I am trying to be balanced." But the ex-England and Arsenal defender cannot stop using words like "uncertainty", "belligerent stubbornness" and "wrong" when giving his view on Capello's managerial style or inflexibility with tactics.

Keown is in a good position to discuss what works and what doesn't, having worked under Arsène Wenger and the much-maligned Sven Goran Eriksson at the 2002 World Cup. And he believes there was "something very wrong with the chemistry" between players and staff in South Africa.

"Capello is such a disciplinarian, which is OK if you're only meeting people for two or three days," he says. "But in those moments when you are away from your support network and you're away with the team, you really need your manager to be supportive, to give more of himself to the group and not be so closed off.

"The story I hear is that the manager didn't communicate well to his players. But football is an insecure world. Players are wandering around, they are thinking: 'did I do well?', 'was he happy with my second-half performance?', 'why did he take me off?', 'will I start the next match?'

"You can't create such uncertainty that the players feel kind of unloved.

I watched the manager from Paraguay, their coach was cuddling the players, laughing and joking. You didn't see Capello do anything like that."

While Keown isn't advocating a return to the touchy-feely Eriksson style, he does point out the benefits enjoyed under the Swede; namely that England got to quarter-finals.

"Capello doesn't think he has done that much wrong, which is a worry," Keown says. "He sees that all he needs to do is get better at the next tournament. But they do need to come together as a group, become mates again. People say that Sven Goran Eriksson's style of management was too close and too soft. But then he got better results, because we got to the quarter-finals in Japan and Germany. Somewhere in between is the answer. That's why Jose Mourinho and Arsène Wenger are successful."

Apart from Capello's failings in his relations with the squad, Keown says: "There were problems tactically, where the manager's style seems to be to belligerently pick a team and play in one particular way. And even though there were people telling him, or asking him, to make changes, he stubbornly stuck to 4-4-2. You are just not able to play top-level football with that system. The manager has to take responsibility for that, but it is a collective responsibility. There is no 'us and them'. It is the management and players."

So where do England go from here? Keown adds: "The financial situation at the FA is that they are not stuck with him as such, because Capello is still an outstanding manager, but they have got him until the next tournament.

"The thing is that we know he is a great club manager, we now he was great in qualifying, but has he got a problem with tournaments? And if he has and he doesn't learn from this and improve for the next one, then he may as well go now. It is very disappointing and we've all lost a lot of confidence in him after the World Cup."

Martin Keown is an ambassador for BT Vision's launch of Sky Sports 1 and 2. Visit www.bt.com/sport.

Technology: Beware the monster you let loose

It's just as well for Sepp Blatter's Fifa administration that Thomas Müller's second-half brace at Bloemfontein served primarily to focus condemnation on Fabio Capello's men, writes Nick Townsend. The nuclear blasts of indignation would have been sufficient to solve this nation's energy crisis for years. Forty-four years would be appropriate.

Many will argue that while it was perfectly reasonable that Geoff Hurst's third, and crucial, goal in the black and white TV world of 1966 was allowed to stand (possibly wrongly), there is no reason why, all these years on, Frank Lampard's possibly crucial effort did not (definitely wrongly).

Still, it will be stressed, the England midfielder has at least prodded the man who is habitually not-for-turning into something approaching a volte face. That remains to be seen. If nothing else, the Fifa president is the consummate politician, and appreciates the value of time. So, yes, "the file will be reopened", though no vote can be taken until the governing body's next full meeting, in March 2011, by which time the temperature will be reduced.

Nevertheless, it's quite conceivable that the pressure of professionals such as the new Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson, who regards the introduction of goalline technology as a "no-brainer", will prevail. The whistleblowers' union have been cajoled into concurrence, although many of them who appreciate the power, and inherent dangers, of momentum will privately have reservations.

Referee Howard Webb said he would be "open" to the introduction of goalline technology, but just as significant was his insistence that the fluidity of the game should not be impaired. The reality is that this apparently benign desire "to help referees" could swiftly become rather more all-embracing. Those who demand change insist that the beginning and end of the process would be deciding "goal" or "no goal". Anyone who believes that is deluding themselves.

That is why techno-sceptics, such as John Motson, will continue to counsel caution (and not because he is a "cretinous dinosaur" as he was deemed to be on one message board), and continue to protest: beware the monster you let loose. As sure as a Ferguson rant follows a refereeing aberration at Old Trafford, the clamour will begin for an extension of the process. With a certain logic, too, if you favour utilising technology at all.

Isn't the failure to award a "certain" penalty similarly unjust? Doesn't an erroneous dismissal, say, have just as much impact on a game? The line between the area of "certain" penalties, "clear-cut" offsides or, in the case of Thierry Henry against Ireland, an "obvious" handball, is far from distinct. One can envisage some god-like figure in the stand, adjudicating on a "big decision", raising or downturning a thumb.

Some will claim it would enhance the game, as it has, arguably, in other sports. The reality is that it would alter football, irrevocably, and become a sport, at its elite level, far removed from the one we enjoy now.

You can be certain that the more vocal chairmen and managers will demand that other incidents are reviewed too.

For all the debate over Uruguay's Luis Suarez's "cheating" on Friday night, just imagine the furore had Asamoah Gyan scored from the resulting spot-kick, and reviews were in force. The South American team would, themselves, have had grounds for protest against the highly dubious free-kick that led to the original incident. Wouldn't they?

That's why we should welcome a period of deliberation rather than precipitate action. As someone once nearly said: what may appear one small step for football could be one giant leap into a maelstrom of mayhem.

Four bad decisions

Persevering with Emile Heskey: Starting him in the first two games limited the potential for goals and resulted as usual in Wayne Rooney dropping too deep. Peter Crouch had to be called upon each time and astonishingly Heskey was still twice used as an impact (sic) substitute after being dropped.

Persevering with 4-4-2: Almost every other team in the tournament used a more modern, more flexible formation, often as a 3-4-3. Far from reaping the benefit of having a foreign coach with new ideas, England ended up with the same formation they were using 44 years ago (when it was rather more novel).

Adam Johnson and Joe Cole: The old English mistrust of flair appears to have echoes in the deeply conservative Capello. These two players could have offered something different. Cole was ignored for two games then thrown on to prove himself again.

Only beating Slovenia 1-0: To the Italian mind, 1-0 is a potential win and is not to be risked. England felt it would suffice and shut up towards the end, only to find themselves condemned to play Germany when the USA scored in the last minute of their match to win the group.