The Sunday morning church bells seem to be ringing England Uber Alles. But if there is wonderment and shock and even some disbelief here at the scale of the 5-1 victory in the Olympic Stadium, there should be no mystery about how it was that Michael Owen, David Beckham and Steven Gerrard, like young gods, formed an axis of brilliance so compelling it was impossible not to recall the earlier triumvirate of Moore, Charlton and Hurst.
Love, they say, changes everything. So in football, as in so many other aspects of life, does intelligence when applied with a little passion and a lot of grace and a deep understanding of the needs of the talent that is put in your care. Such, already, is the stunning mark of Sven Goran Eriksson.
It meant that Michael Owen's magnificent hat-trick against Germany in Saturday night's World Cup qualifying match was more than a virtuoso performance of the scoring art, a combination of speed and clarity of mind and purpose that deepened ever further the travesty of his shabby treatment at the hands of previous England coaches. It was repayment of faith, a celebration of certainty about his own ability and the confidence in which it is held by the man who now shapes his destiny on the international field.
It gave Beckham the stage on which he proved, more persuasively than ever before, that behind all the affectations and hype there is still a young footballer ablaze with both exquisite talent and hard intent.
It bestowed upon Gerrard the knowledge that beyond all his coltish physical frailty there is a belief, where it matters, that he can indeed be a dominant performer in the world game.
The talent of all three players was beautifully synchronised after the first shock of Carsten Jancker's sixth-minute goal was absorbed. It spread into every corner of a team performance in which every player was operating in his natural position.
That, supremely, was the basis of the wonderfully skilled and confident muscularity which allowed England to step so far from under a German heel exerted relentlessly since the victory of Sir Alf Ramsey's team in the 1966 World Cup final.
What we had was a triumph of rationality and when the Germans retreated with glazed eyes in the rain from the stadium which was the scene of one of their greatest triumphs, the 1974 World Cup final victory over Johan Cruyff's Nether- lands, there was fresh evidence of the mature perspective of the 53-year-old Swede who had brought their downfall.
No, said Eriksson, stressing his words in the way of a kindly tutor anxious that his point is understood, this did not mean that England would win the World Cup to which they now have every chance of attending next year as bona fide guests rather than optimistic play-off stragglers. There was still work to do, against Albania at Newcastle on Wednesday, and then in the final group game against Greece, and to forget that for a moment would be "very dangerous". He thought England lucky to win by such a margin, but then he also admitted that words failed him when he came to express his appreciation of a performance which at the very least showed the potential to rejoin the front rank of football nations.
Here, you could see more clearly than ever before, was a man who could step beyond the petty tyrannies of victory and defeat. His first post-match words were of sympathy for his shell-shocked German counterpart Rudi Völler, who had been rushed to a Munich hospital to join his father, who had suffered a heart attack during the game, and he pointedly refused to discuss the freedom the German coach's tactics had granted to the inspired Beckham. "I do not talk about another man's job," said Eriksson. "I am just so happy my players did so well." As he left the stadium an Italian television crew collared the "stylish champion" who had delivered the fabled scudetto to Lazio. He told them: "Yes, I am proud and a little emotional about a great victory. A win is a win, I know, but yes, this was grandissimo."
Eriksson speaks four languages with varying degrees of proficiency but it is in the universal one of common sense and decent instinct that he is most articulate. It means that his communication with players is unburdened by either ego or jargon. One of his predecessors, Glenn Hoddle, talked constantly of the players having to take new ideas and tactical concepts "on board". Eriksson, plainly, has sent such a notion down the plank. His business is not to set fresh demarcation lines, and present new problems to footballers who carry all kinds of insecurities on to the international stage. He plays 4-4-2. He creates comfort zones. Rather than ransack talent, he shepherds it. The challenge of any national team coach is to arrive, as Ramsey did with such conviction, at a clear idea of his best team, and here it was significant that on the eve of the match Eriksson made it clear that no player would go in out of his normal position. It was a lightly coded statement that he had indeed moved beyond the broad sweep of appraisal, and a few false steps, that were maybe inevitable in his first few months in the job.
Of Saturday's team perhaps only Sol Campbell cannot look back on the action without an untrammelled view of pure satisfaction. He was badly at fault for the German goal, and was again sluggish when Sebastian Deisler squandered a chance to add to the lead – a development which would have sharply increased the need for Owen, Beckham and Gerrard to ultimately play out of their collective skin.
This they did with almost bizarre composure after the Germans had been first challenged, then broken. When the game was effectively over, when Owen had performed his cartwheel celebration following his third goal, England played keep-ball with such brazen panache a stunned German television commentator afterwards said: "England put aside the power-game and played football, real football."
Eriksson's suggestion that hubris is death to the development of any football team made compulsory a stern examination of the quality of the German opposition. It has to be said that after their brisk start, which fed to some extent on English nerves, particularly at the back, they became abject in almost all areas of the game, so bankrupt that a great cloud came over the face of the "Emperor" Franz Beckenbauer, the most influential voice in the German game.
In Monaco the other day Beckenbauer could not keep the contempt out of his voice when he was asked about the threat to Germany's chance of automatic qualification posed by a revived England. Did Germany playing at home and needing a point from England to enter the World Cup finals constitute a problem? "Please..." said Beckenbauer, his face filled with dismissal. Pride can scarcely ever have so spectacularly preceded a devastating fall in football.
According to Beckenbauer, under Völler Germany had mixed an invigorating cocktail. The force of tradition, which had seen Germany lose just one World Cup qualifier on the soil of the fatherland, and perhaps the spark of Deisler, would surely be sufficient to put down England. But Deisler was soon enough a casualty of the action, along with the idea of any nation's sporting right to permanently place its foot on another's throat.
Certainly the drink poured by Eriksson was infinitely more substantial. Of all its various parts, none was more intoxicating than the sight of Owen scoring his third goal. Gerrard, a giant now, fed through the ball and as Owen bore down on Oliver Kahn – in the first half he had panicked the fine, experienced goalkeeper into handling a back pass from Deisler – he slowed momentarily. At this point you might have been excused heaving the mortgage on to the belief that he would score. Billy the Kid never appraised a victim more coldly.
When Owen's shot swept into the net one Englishman in the stands, already puffing on a fine, huge Cuban cigar, promptly rammed another into his mouth. It was a mad, brilliant gesture of euphoria; not, you had to believe, so much in reaction to one perfectly realised and even historic victory, but the understanding that whatever England achieved in the future there would always be this night when they played without fear or inhibition.
Later, Eriksson refused to confirm the belief, held here firmly, that he was astonished on his arrival in England to see the neglect of Owen, the dismal failure to understand the dimension of his scoring talent. The coach would say only that he had always been aware that Owen was "special". However, it was easy to remember that on a grey day in Cardiff earlier this year, when the player was condemned to the Liverpool bench for the Worthington Cup final, his glum face broke into a broad smile when Eriksson spoke with him briefly during a pre-game presentation to the players. The suspicion must be that he told Owen he would never again, as a matter of policy rather than the most particular circumstance, ride the England bench. Whatever the truth of that, it just happens that Owen has been on fire just about ever since.
Here he burned more fiercely than ever. So too did Beckham and Gerrard. For the moment at least, the church bells of Munich are thunderously right.Reuse content