We learned on Friday night that Fabio Capello was prepared to change his goalkeeper after one, admittedly expensive, mistake. Maybe now it's time for Wayne Rooney to be dropped.
Everyone has been saying "Wait till Rooney gets going", or "He needs a big striker alongside him, or Steven Gerrard playing off him". But Rooney has done absolutely nothing in England's draws with the USA and Algeria. At times he didn't look interested. Obviously the manager keeps thinking, "He might just do something special". The fact is he's been dropping so deep that he's not a threat to the opponents' goal. He hasn't been doing it for a while. No one should be undroppable.
I saw Rooney made a sarcastic comment about England's fans as he came off the pitch after the Algeria game. That was silly. They had every right to boo. It's cost them a fortune to go to South Africa and support them, not to mention possibly costing them their jobs or even marriages. They're entitled to feel the players should be doing more.
I thought it was a very poor performance. I can't understand how these lads – especially the top men such as Rooney, Gerrard and Frank Lampard – can play so well for their clubs and so badly for their country. They've all been way below their normal standard.
I don't accept this suggestion that the players are tired after a long, hard season. When I was playing we had 42 First Division matches for a start. If you had a run in either cup, like we did at Stoke City in the early Seventies, you had replays that pushed the total up to the same sort of number these guys play. Yet we never did light training because of that; we still did the hard running to keep ourselves fit. Nor do I go along with the idea that they feel too much pressure when they play for England, or that the fear of failure inhibits them. It should be the peak of their careers, an honour and a challenge. They ought to be revelling in it, not letting a team like Algeria look slicker passers and better movers. I don't see Argentina or Holland being crippled by anxiety.
The warning signs were there before England got to South Africa. They were very ordinary in the friendlies against Mexico and Japan and have carried that form into the games with the US and Algeria. We're not privy to what's gone on in the dressing-room. There may even be arguments. We don't know. What I do know is it's time for them to stand up and be counted against Slovenia on Wednesday – to take the responsibility that goes with playing for England.
There's no need to panic, though I would like to see a few changes. Emile Heskey had a half-decent first game but was found wanting against Algeria. I was disgusted that Rob Green got pilloried for the error against the Americans whereas when Heskey was through one on one with Tim Howard and fluffed it – it wasn't treated the same way.
I thought David James did quite well on Friday though he didn't have an awful lot to do bar making the odd punch and clearing an under-hit back-pass by John Terry. I said before the finals that he might be the more relaxed of the keepers in that he has the experience to handle the situation. He was doing a lot of organising his defence, warning them about people making runs, which is vital.
England have to beat Slovenia but they won't do it unless they play far better. They must know inside themselves that there's great scope for improvement. If they can produce it, they can reach the knock-out stages.
In the tournament overall, I've been feeling great solidarity and sympathy with the goalkeepers. They're having a tough time. I have to come back to the quality, or the lack of it, of the Jabulani ball. Yes, nerves and misjudgement play a part, but time and again I've seen goalies start to move to where it ought to be going only for it to go another way. Maicon's goal for Brazil against North Korea stemmed from the bad angle the keeper took up in regard to his near post. But the majority of the so-called keepers' howlers have had an element of this new ball in them. Take the goal Nigeria's Vincent Enyeama conceded against Greece, which had similarities with the one Green let in. He was playing really well and thought he had his hands behind it, but at the last second it deviated.
This ball is killing the art of goalkeeping and making a mockery of the game. Adidas have a contract with Fifa to create a new ball for the World Cup, for marketing purposes. Is this the best they could do? The outfield players are struggling with it, too. Every free-kick seems over-hit, crosses as well, and there's only been a couple of goals from outside the 18-yard area. I think it's wrong.Reuse content