Fans aren't fools as call goes out to back boys

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The Independent Online

As grim news piled upon ominous dispatches from Stamford Bridge, from Anfield, from Los Angeles, it all evoked Harold Macmillan's retort when asked by a young reporter what determined a government's success. "Events, dear boy. Events."

Except to say that the England head coach is almost certainly no Supermac, and his England have already been outman-oeuvred and are many miles from the front line they should have established in a qualifying campaign widely regarded as an uncomplicated mission.

Steve McClaren stands beleaguered. A month into the season, and already it's like a scene from 'MASH', with virtually no one left to fire the bullets. Then there is one central midfield general definitely absent and the other doubtful. No doubt there will be club- versus-country conflicts before the week is out. McClaren says Steven Gerrard is in, or to be more precise: "He wants to be involved." Rafa Benitez claims he will miss the game.

McClaren confirms Wayne Rooney has a smidgen of a chance of making some contribution, presumably against Russia on Wednesday week. Not if Sir Alex Ferguson has any say in the matter. Which he will. With the contest against Israel six days away, it's a case of in-out, in-out. McClaren can only shake his team all about, and declare to his side that England expects. Though, increasingly under his stewardship, the nation expects not an awful lot.

England's recent friendly defeat at the hands of Germany was accompanied more by a shrug of resignation from the majority of England followers, and, no doubt, a desire that the England coach would do just that. Resign. Long before the conclusion of a performance assessed by the former England winger Chris Waddle as "woeful", the visitors' vocal support had overpowered the locals, in decibels and wit.

When an England management, and their players, fail to inspire the home supporters among an 86,000-plus crowd, it represents a harsh judgement call on all concerned. On Friday, McClaren made an impassioned plea for "the country to get behind us". The coach stressed: "We need the players to perform, go out there and play with passion, and we need the fans fully behind them for the full game, because there are spells in games where you get frustrated." He added: "A game might not be won in the first five; it might be won in the last five; and we need to stick together on that, the players need that."

In reality, McClaren knows that it will require more than even the most vehement backing from a sceptical public. This will be an examination of his judgement, both before and, crucially, within the games that will dictate England's right to be present, possibly along with Northern Ireland and Scotland, in Austria and Switzerland next year. Should they fail, it would almost certainly do for McClaren, although the bookmakers have him heavily odds-on still to be in his role by the end of November.

England have been here before: confronted by failure to qualify for a major tournament. One suspects they will still prevail, narrowly. Yet if they are eclipsed in Group E it should not be followed by an outbreak of traumatic stress disorder, but regarded as an opportunity for sober reflection: of the manner of McClaren's appointment; how his successor should be chosen; and the quality, or lack of it, in England players at this level.

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