James Lawton: England need to shatter the widely held theory that they crumble under pressure

The most damning indictment came from Capello, who said he did not recognise his own team

After shooting all those fish in the San Marino barrel, England now tell us they are bracing themselves for the really serious World Cup action in Montenegro, population 632,000 give or take a few elusive brigands up in the mountains. Wayne Rooney, we are also told, is to be put on a spit of unprecedented provocation.

"Target Rooney" declares a banner headline over a story which has Mirko Vucinic of Juventus, Montenegro's captain and one of only two home players who might on their best days reasonably cause a flicker of concern to one of the world's more serious football nations, explaining the full extent of England's prospective ordeal.

The fans in Podgorica, suggests Vucinic, are sure to remember that the last time the Manchester United forward appeared before them he earned a red card so gratuitous, so mindless, his then manager Fabio Capello almost wept with disbelief and rage.

So, yes, Rooney's composure, which has never threatened to be legendary, may come under certain pressure.

If you're already aghast at the English football genius for turning a chore which should be utterly straightforward when subjected to a decent level of professional coherence into one of the great dramas of human history, you will not be totally reassured by this assertion from captain Steven Gerrard: "Everyone has to take responsibility – we must keep 11 on the pitch." Duh, right skip.

Nor was manager Roy Hodgson exactly breezing along the high road when he said after the essentially farcical exercise against San Marino, "If you're England manager or playing for England, the pressure is always on. You're always there to be judged and I don't necessarily think the pressure builds up because a particular game takes on more importance. So I don't feel any more pressure going into the next game than this one. If we had played badly [against San Marino] I'd have been very sad about it."

Not as sad as anyone who had even briefly registered on the fact that England, home of the richest league in the world, are apparently in grave danger of slipping five points off the pace as they seek to qualify for next year's World Cup finals in Brazil. It should be nonsense, of course, but unfortunately it isn't.

Hodgson is an experienced and in many ways erudite football man but if he is due a certain sympathy for the extent of the disconnection between his ambitions and the interests of Premier League managers, and the scale of the chaos he inherited when Capello left so soon before last summer's misadventure at the European Championship, there is a point when he has to identify some of the pressure building around him and not, say, the serially offending Rooney.

If Rio Ferdinand has emerged as the villain of the latest dysfunction at the heart of England planning, there is a case that Hodgson has been less than candid with the United defector throughout the whole miserable affair.

This, though, is still another embarrassing mishap that has to be consigned to the past in Montenegro.

Hodgson is wrong about the absence of pressure. It is immense and it relates directly to the fact that in their last two seriously competitive games, against Ukraine at Wembley last September and in Poland in October, England looked anything but sure-fire contenders for the serious World Cup action.

Frank Lampard relieved the embarrassment at Wembley with the late penalty after Ukraine outplayed England as substantially as they had in Donetsk in the Euro finals. In Poland England surrendered their advantage when developing a compulsion to feed the ball to the opposition.

Now there are various requirements. One of them is that Rooney justifies the confidence of all those team-mates who have this week been assuring us that his mind has become a steel trap which will descend instantly on the slightest whim to do something utterly irresponsible that might push him ahead of David Beckham in the race that currently has them locked on two red cards each while wearing the England shirt.

Another priority is that England generally kick into touch the claim of the Montenegro coach Branko Brnovic that they have come into his country filled with apprehension. He says that England complaints about the quality of the Podgorica pitch are somewhat mystifying in that, "As far as I know England has always favoured long passes and I cannot see why they are complaining about the pitch. It supports the feeling that they are more scared of this game than we are."

It might not be the strangest development after the close-run drama which erupted after Rooney's dismissal in the European qualifier 17 months ago – but only in the long-established context of a team which so often seems incapable of producing the best of itself under anything resembling serious pressure.

Perhaps the most damning indictment came from Capello in Cape Town as England laboured so desperately towards the 2010 World Cup round of 16 in which they were dismantled so thoroughly by another emerging young German team. Capello, who is flourishing so serenely as manager of Russia, complained that he didn't recognise his own team as they floundered so dismally in the goalless draw with Algeria.

This is the spectre that hovers over Roy Hodgson in Podgorica and it is one which needs to be dispelled with maximum conviction.

Montenegro are not San Marino, it is true, but nor are they anything approaching a front-rank football nation. If England do not remind us of this, if they do not look a team in charge of themselves in every professional respect, it will perhaps tell us once again that nor are they. The big talk, let's face it, has become meaningless. What is needed, perhaps more than ever, is a big performance.

Gazza can still smile in the face of adversity

These have been the bleakest of days for Paul Gascoigne but something remarkable happened today when he faced the nation on breakfast television.

Interrogated by Ms Lorraine Kelly, he was asked a question that might have dropped like a large piece of granite on the spirit of someone with better reason for optimism than the embattled Gazza.

"Do you ever look at David Beckham and think I could have been like him," she asked before adding, "He's out in China at the moment doing wonderful things."

The response brought a ghost of a smile. "Well, I have got a few tattoos," he said.

It was a reminder for some of us of one of his jauntier moments off the field. He came into the lounge of a hotel off the Via Veneto in Rome after passing a medical with Lazio, sat himself down at the grand piano, ordered a glass of champagne and produced a tuneful rendering of "Happy Days are Here Again".

What such days would now constitute in the besieged life of the old and battered hero is probably anyone's guess. However, it is good to know that he can still laugh not only at himself but also the world.

Kiwis feast on large slice of English hubris

The worry that the time of England as serious contenders for the world's top Test cricket ranking has come and gone can only be aggravated by their parlous failure to dominate a New Zealand team which was supposed to be nothing more than pre-Ashes fodder.

The Kiwis may be less than world-beaters but they have reminded England, so recently ranked No 1, of the old sin of hubris. It is a problem that has never afflicted the New Zealanders, one of the world's most competitive pound-for-pound nations, and we can only hope their latest lesson has not come too late.

News
A Brazilian wandering spider
news

World's most lethal spider found under a bunch of bananas

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Wonnacott dancing the pasadoble
TVStrictly Come Dancing The Result
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in the win over QPR
footballInternet reacts to miss shocker for Liverpool striker
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
BBC's Antiques Roadshow uncovers a TIE fighter pilot helmet from the 1977 Star Wars film, valuing it at £50,000
TV

TV presenter Fiona Bruce seemed a bit startled by the find during the filming of Antiques Roadshow

News
people

Comedian says he 'never laughed as hard as I have writing with Rik'

Sport
Steven Caulker of QPR scores an own goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Queens Park Rangers and Liverpool
football
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past