The Nick Townsend column: Master Rooney needs lessons at finishing school
United manchild's ridiculous challenges and haranguing of officials must perplex Capello, who is at least a striker light
Sunday 01 June 2008
An apology of a contest really, wasn't it, Wednesday night's affair? A let's-get-this-over-with kind of occasion for the first names on the teamsheet, plus Jermain Defoe, as England play "catch a vote" – next stop Port of Spain tonight – in a probably futile bid to host the 2018 World Cup.
People tell me the second half was better, an improvement on an excruciatingly poor first. Other than Steven Gerrard's goal, from an impeccable Gareth Barry pass, how many times did England did trouble the USA's goalkeeper? Thought as much.
Thank heavens there isn't a major tournament approaching, given the demean-our of some of these players. What's that? Oh, there is. No doubt the FA would prefer to airbrush it from history; except that the BBC – with their army of TV and radio people out there, including Steve McClaren, a curious choice as a voice of authority – keep reminding people as they attempt to arouse home interest with a patronising trailer asking: "Who will you support?" As if viewers and listeners, and particularly women, at whom it appears to be aimed, aren't capable ofbeing captivated by the tournament unless they have an appreciation for Freddie Ljungberg's physique.
Anyway, as 14 of the 16 participating nations contain a total of 44 England-based players, there is plenty of choice, though the more you scan the final squads, the more it accentuates a grossly wasted opportunity. That is not to say McClaren's men – as they still would be – would have won but, granted a following wind, any team containing James, Terry, Ferdinand, Ashley Cole, Gerrard, Lampard, Hargreaves, Barry, Rooney and Owen could have surely brought their presence to bear.
Of the current members of the England squad, most involved at the 2006 World Cup have progressed or, like Michael Owen, reinvented themselves. All except Rooney, about whom Fabio Capello must be as perplexed as when he first came in as manager. For too long – and remember, the striker became an international in 2003 – his so-called "competitive nature" has allowed him to claim a kind of diminished responsibility for his excesses. On Wednesday, he came close to the impossible: dismissal in an otherwise relatively sedate friendly, after two ridiculous challenges.
He was fortunate to receive only a caution, after which his four-letter scorn for the official was all too evident. An FA spokesman later claimed this kind of verbal tirade was "not about Rooney, it's about changing a general culture". That's not true. In the England squad, Rooney has established a virtualmonopoly of crude mouthing off at officials which tends to go unpunished. Despite that latitude, one red card and eight yellows in 43 appearances for England, and one dismissal and 37 cautions in 189 club appearances is, for a forward, anything but an acceptable record. It is no excuse, merely an explanation, to suggest that the problem often arises from frustration that he does not see enough of the ball; hence he goes foraging too deep to seek possession and launchesinto unnecessary tackles.
Even Sir Alex Ferguson concedes Rooney is a conundrum. The United manager admitted after the Champions' League victory that even he was unsure of what Rooney's right position is sometimes, and added: "It would help me if we could get another player, a centre-forward maybe." The problem is many times worse for Capello. England are not blessed with Ferguson's option to go out and acquire a target man to play in tandem with Rooney, and that dearth of striking options is, in part, why England are playing friendlies rather than Euro 2008. Capello's finishing school contains goal-scoring midfielders but not enough talented strikers. Dean Ashton, who might provide the answer, was omitted from Wembley consideration.
Oh, and if anyone imagines that the latest decree from the Court of King Sepp, the 6+5 rule, would provide a miracle they are misguided. Such a quota system would merely depress quality overall, and produce more average English players, rather than the elite demanded by Capello.
As the Italian ponders his striking dilemma and looks ahead to 2010, it is Germany, whose Polish-born striker Miroslav Klose is favourite to win the Golden Boot, who are favourites to claim their fourth European Championship. Spain, armed with Fernando Torres, are not far behind.
Greece, four years ago, and Denmark, in 1992, are a reminder of how open these contests can be, but it is unlikely that the winners will not emerge from Germany, Spain, France (who will rely on goals from the former Arsenal striker Thierry Henry) or Portugal, if Cristiano Ronaldo retains his club goal-scoring form. Outside those, perhaps Croatia, who, despite the loss of Arsenal's Eduardo, could still make the semi-finals.
No doubt McClaren will be privately supporting Slaven Bilic's men. Mr Umbrella Man will view Croatia's progress as some kind of mitigation for England's failure, and explain why he will be in Austria and Switzerland summarising while the England players he once coached are sunning themselves.
It's foie gras rather than caviar, and Hughes wouldn't be able to stomach it
"Fans starting to lose faith in Abramovich," according to a London Evening Standard headline this week, based on a survey of supporters. So, what took them so long? Whoa there! Before I am assailed with statistics – and accused of sounding like John Cleese's Reg (leader of the People's Front of Judea) in Life of Brian, asking "What did Roman ever do for us?" – let's put it another way. We acknowledge what he has bought: two titles and two domestic cups after arriving with the club just hours from insolvency.
But what conceivable pleasure can there be in supporting a club who have become a meta-phor for short-termism which flies in the wind of all that guff from their chief executive, Peter Kenyon, about self-sufficiency? The only possible justification, and one employs that word guardedly, for the Abramovich approach is for Chelsea consistently to mop up the major prizes. But they are not even doing that. So, what's the point?
Their followers should not delude themselves that the club will ever evolve as Manchester United have. Not under this Byzantine administration. When Kenyon declares: "It's been an interesting season, but you don't like finishing second. Given the standards we have set at the club, that's not something we have settled for", the frontman for Abramovich betrays the lack of vision that prevails.
Avram Grant went, swiftly followed by his No 2, Henk ten Cate. It was thought to be a question of I spy with my little eye, someone whose name ends in "i", as in Luiz Felipe Scolari, Carlo Ancelotti or Roberto Mancini, though yesterday Frank Rijkaard suddenly shot down in the betting, from 6-1 to 2-1, while Milan said they had refused Chelsea permission to talk to Ancelotti.
There is still Hughesy, of course. But with his eye on Old Trafford long-term, surely Mark Hughes would not be so foolish as to consider any approach? Particularly with the suggestion that Abramovich desires to have a direct input on 30 per cent of the playing side.
His Chelsea have become a footballing foie gras. Force-fed with money, players and resources, it is certainly an extravagance, but with too much abhorrence about the manner of its creation to be appreciated.
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