The England team's most recent friendly match against Spain does not get any better on a second or third viewing but watching it again is exactly what Steve McClaren will require of his players over the next few weeks. The England manager has sent his team tailor-made DVDs of their individual performances and statistical data with the promise that every player will be held "accountable".
It will be a bleak five weeks until McClaren gets the chance to put right the dismal showing against Spain at Old Trafford with the crucial Euro 2008 qualifier against Israel in Tel Aviv on 24 March. In the meantime he is trying to fill the time between with preparation and debriefs - which will include asking the players to relive the lowest points of that defeat last week.
In McClaren's defence, he has not hidden after a demoralising seven days and yesterday he laid out his plans for rebuilding the team by talking up the return to fitness of Owen Hargreaves, whose stock has risen dramatically in his injury-enforced absence. After five months out with a broken leg, the Bayern Munich midfielder underwent a minor surgical procedure this week on his gall bladder and was back in training yesterday.
McClaren has had some serious questions asked of his regime in recent days, but few have been more radical than his assistant Terry Venables' belief that the England team would be better served by playing fewer friendlies and having more training camps. The England manager said that he was talking to the Football Association about reducing the number of friendlies, despite the imminent opening of £757m Wembley stadium.
His recovery programme starts with theDVDs. "We're analysing the game and making sure that the players and myself all learn from that and take it forward," McClaren said.
"Each of the players has been delivered an individual DVD. The message is that we're not forgetting about England between games and the players are not either. We do know what our best team is and the best way to play and we're aiming towards that. So the message to the fans is that it's not just been forgotten.
"We're all made accountable. But the big accountability is within and what we do about it. And the biggest thing is what we're going to do about Israel. The players know whether they are performing or not, what we are looking for is a reaction. Yes we are being criticised, we lost a game of football, we have been criticised individually and collectively. We have to use that."
There now seems no doubt that Hargreaves will come straight back into the team against Israel, most likely in a 4-4-2 formation with Steven Gerrard on the right wing, Frank Lampard in the centre and possibly Kieron Dyer on the left. In attack, Wayne Rooney and Andy Johnson look the most likely starters with Peter Crouch a better bet for Andorra.
Hargreaves has now completely recovered and McClaren stressed yesterday that the player would be the cornerstone of his side against Israel and Andorra four days later. "He [Hargreaves] does the unseen work and allows other players to express themselves. He's like Claude Makelele allowing Lampard and Ballack to play. Keane gave that freedom to Scholes. He was the glue, linking the team together.
"Owen has demonstrated that in his times with England. He makes thousands of tackles and interceptions, he does the unseen things in the game that are very important. Because he does that, he creates a different kind of tempo and a more English-style tempo. We need him."
It was some surprise that McClaren also backed Venables' call to reduce friendlies, given that the FA have up to £580m in equity and bank loans invested in the success of the Wembley project. However, the next television contract, that runs from 2008 to 2012 and is currently out to tender, will have scope for four international dates to be used as training camps should the FA decide that is what they wish to do.
In addition, the new television deal factors in 18 friendlies scheduled over that period rather than 20 - as there was over the last contract. It would be a radical move to axe the traditional friendly, and it would have to be seen to yield results, but there is a growing feeling that the February friendly, which Premiership managers dread, had too many withdrawals year after year to make it worthwhile.
"I want the flexibility to be able to control when we have friendlies and when we have get-togethers and what is the best preparation," McClaren said. "That has to be under my control and that is what we are working towards with [FA chief executive] Brian Barwick - regarding the opponents, when we have them.
"I wanted a friendly against Greece [in August]. The key thing is more time, finish that game. If more time means sometimes get-togethers with no end result then, yes, I would like that."
Despite his reprieve for Real Madrid, McClaren said that he had "no plans" to go out to Spain to see if David Beckham's form was deserving of a recall. The England manager believes that he knows his team for Israel, although that will, as ever, be subject to injury.
"From now until November the goal is to qualify," he said. "There are three away games coming up and the next one is the most important one against Israel. We are going there to win. But nobody qualifies in March. Qualification comes in November. People have got to remember that. Put their feet firmly on the ground and say 'This is reality'."Reuse content