The Last Word: The fact it's Barry or bust is Fabio's fault

England do not underachieve at World Cups, it is the nation that overexpects, so please be realistic

So it has come to this – again. Less than a fortnight to go before the South Africa spectacular kicks off and England's hopes are seemingly resting on the damaged ankle ligaments of a player the team simply cannot do without. Wasn't this World Cup supposed to be different?

Well, it is in one sense as unlike in 2002 with David Beckham and unlike in 2006 with Wayne Rooney, the man cannot be deemed a footballing superstar. Gareth Barry is a good player, no doubt about it. Underrated even. But he is hardly a one-off. Except, it appears, in his own country. Nobody else can play the holding role which allows Fabio Capello to integrate the talents of Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard. It's Barry or bust. Oh, the torture of the wait.

Now, hang on, shouldn't Capello have thought about this a while ago? After all, it has long been obvious that Owen Hargreaves, the other proven international performer in this capacity, had little to no chance of making the starting line. If, as all the experts are telling us, the Capello masterplan hinges on a disciplined midfielder keeping his field position and thus England's shape, was it wise for the Italian to put all his uova in the Barry basket? Would it not have been astute to consider the consequences of one injury and find an understudy some time before the last two warm-up matches?

But no, the word is that after Michael Carrick failed so dismally against the Mexicans on Monday, Capello will check out the suitability of Tom Huddlestone and Scott Parker against Japan in Austria this lunchtime. With respect to Messrs Huddlestone and Parker, this does smack of desperation, rather like the punter who sees his selection withdrawn 30 seconds before the off and rushes up to the counter to fill in another name – any bloody name – on a fresh betting slip.

Goodness knows where Capello goes if this pair of untested wannabes bomb out. Back to Carrick? Lampard and Gerrard back together in the centre, anyone? As he makes his way from Twente to Wolfsburg, a certain Steve McClaren might see the irony in that; as he might in the question marks surrounding the goalkeeper and the most appropriate partner or otherwise for Wayne Rooney; as the England manager before McClaren might in the apparent decision to pander to celebrity and chumminess by taking along an injured David Beckham essentially as a cheerleader.

Does any of this make Capello a bad gaffer? Of course it doesn't. But it may just signify that he isn't the genius that England and the media have portrayed him to be. To be frank, the deification of this man has been as ridiculous as it has been depressingly familiar. It has been further proof that when it comes to ignoring the lessons of recent history, English football makes certain alcoholics seem pragmatic.

Remember Sven? He, too, took over England when they were rock bottom and he, too, was acclaimed as some sort of saviour when he achieved what any accomplished manager should with a disparate but talented rabble. He introduced a little structure, a bit of a game-plan and, hey presto, they advanced to the world stage. Naturally, England couldn't be satisfied with merely being there; they had to be world-beaters to boot. And soon they would be, thanks to the new Svengali and his inspirational management.

Back then, of course, it was all about Eriksson's impervious nature in comparison to the frenzy which accompanied Kevin Keegan's ill-fated reign. Eriksson had the perfect antidote, implanting control and calm into the panic-induced Three Lions. Later, he was inevitably accused of not having enough passion, of becoming too close to players to whom he was once praised for empowering with the self-belief to think and act for themselves as adults. And after the disaster that was McClaren, so arrived Capello to mop up the Sven lather. Ban the mobiles, ban the WAGs, ban any trace of insubordination. The hard man was here to chuck Sven's soft soap down the drain.

Yet had the Swede created such a mess? Wasn't it more a case of a falsely installed national hero being unable to live up to the falsely installed national hype? The accepted prefix for Eriksson, whenever he has been referred to in this build-up, has been "the underachieving". That is insulting. He was nothing of the sort. His team did not underachieve; the nation overexpected. At his two World Cups, Eriksson actually fared better than the reality said he should.

Like every sports rankings system, Fifa's has its critics. But at least it is based on what has happened instead of what armchair know-it-alls think should happen. And as far as England are concerned, the rankings have been about right. In 2002, they went as world No 12 and reached the last eight (where, incidentally, they were beaten by the eventual champions). In 2006, they went in at 10th and again reached the last eight. On both occasions, England's results in the finals saw their ranking leap up afterwards (four places to eighth in 2002 and five places to fifth in 2006).

Unsurprisingly, however, Eriksson travelled back to his adopted home to a chorus of criticism. Thus the dismantling of the pedestal began. In the rush to do so, there was absolutely no acknowledgement that it should never have been erected in the first place.

Eriksson made his mistakes. But then managers do. All managers. Even managers undoubtedly better than Eriksson – such as Capello. This morning he probably wishes he had already identified and blooded in a back-up for Barry. He didn't, so he has to live with the problem and solve it in the best way he can. England can only pray that Barry recovers in time to assume his critical berth. Then, with the system and the personnel which plainly make them tick, the Boys of 10 can go on to end the 44 years of hurt, or whatever it is now. Capello's standing would be yet more God-like then. Of course, the glory would all be down to peerless judgement and leaving nothing to chance. The smallest degree of luck would not be allowed to feature in the narrative.

For the record, England are eighth in the rankings. If they go out in the quarters yet again, Fabio has not "underachieved".

Have your say

Do you agree or disagree with James Corrigan? Email your thoughts about any article in The Independent on Sunday's sport section to the editor m.padgett@independent.co.uk

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'