A game of two halves, national pride and near embarrassment
It’s an old cliché that gets thrown around a lot in football, but the game between Holland and England a little earlier tonight was exactly that – a game of two halves.
I have to start by saying I was surprised at Fabio Capello’s starting 11, particularly the inclusion of David Beckham. Friendly games have always been considered an opportunity to test out potential young talent and new faces so I was hoping to see the likes of Joleon Lescott and Matthew Upson play some sort of role in the game, but the England manager decided to go with a fairly standard lineup consisting mainly of all the usual big names. Needless to say I was not expecting a passionate performance from these players with the start of the Premier League season starting in three days time, and right from the kick off my assumption was proven to be correct.
Pass after pass was in the words of Guus Hiddink, ‘Schloppy.’ Several were misplaced until the inevitable happened and a goal was conceded due to a defensive error courtesy of Rio Ferdinand, and Liverpool’s Dirk Kuyt was there to capitalise. Once England managed to regroup and refocus the same thing happened, this time by way of a sloppy pass from Gareth Barry capitalised on by Rafael Van Der Vaart. By half time they were 2-0 down and not looking particularly threatening at all, in fact the only person having an above average game at that point was David Beckham – a player who I had wrongly written off at the beginning of the game. I was therefore quite surprised to see him substituted in favour of Shaun Wright-Phillips, but at the same time Jermain Defoe was introduced which was pleasing to a fan who wanted to see some new faces on the pitch. Two first team regulars had embarrassed themselves and the rest on the pitch weren’t much better, so these were well needed changes on the whole.
This is where the cliché came into full effect, as Defoe (a player I didn’t rate highly as mentioned in this blog entry) scored a wonderful goal within about three minutes of coming onto the pitch. From there things looked much better with the introduction of Carlton Cole and later James Milner for his debut, and he certainly made his presence felt by providing a perfect cross for Defoe to steer home for his second of the game. Final score, Holland 2, England 2, and national pride restored thanks entirely to players who have probably never been considered in Fabio Capello’s short-term plans leading up to the World Cup next year.
National pride with the England national football team is something that’s been bothering me for some time, certainly since the turn of the century. In an era when players earn more in a week than a lot of people do in 10 years club loyalty has almost eclipsed that of the desire and honour to play for your country. I sadly speak only of England as it doesn’t seem to effect any other nation, but with the English Premier League season set to begin in three days time I knew going into this match that certain players simply wouldn’t give a damn that they’re wearing the shirt of their country, and by the time the second Dutch goal was scored this was all too apparent. Those who regularly feature in the starting lineup for England were the ones who performed the worst tonight, because they know their position on the team sheet is always safe due to their reputation alone and their club status regardless of how piss-poorly they perform during any given game. As years go by and players earn more and more money they care only for their club from what I can tell, and this effects their performance playing for their nation. What was once a matter of pride has become merely a formality, and it was two of the highest paid players in the game who very nearly embarrassed an entire nation due to their inability to give a shit, and look who came to their rescue. Jermain Defoe, Carlton Cole, James Milner. The latter two only have four caps between them, and it was clear from the moment they graced the field of play that they were going to work as hard as they possibly could. As mentioned Defoe scored both goals, one was set up by Milner and Carlton Cole looked like a beast holding up the play and fending off players like they weren’t even there. These new boys for England single-handedly demonstrated what pulling on an England shirt should mean to a player, and will hopefully give Capello serious food for thought when it comes to the World Cup. It’s been proven time and time again how the usual starting eleven can happily blaze through vastly inferior opposition without breaking a sweat, but when it comes to playing anyone with similar qualities they get outclassed, outplayed and outperformed. Usually the players who perform particularly badly are replaced far too late for the game to be salvaged, but tonight he got it absolutely right… luckily for them.
These young players need more match action now. Guys like Ferdinand, Lampard and Barry are simply paid too much money to remain loyal to their club and their club only and I truly believe if they weren’t continually picked during the Euro 2008 campaign the team would have qualified. A better manager can only improve things so much, otherwise we’ll have the same damn players being chosen for many more years to come. So what if they’re successful with clubs like Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea? If they don’t care to represent their country at the highest level of football they don’t deserve to pull on the shirt, and tonight was very nearly a stark reminder of that.