This week the Roaming Football Column is slumming it with a guesting from a self confessed football-wary-writer. Of course, I do really enjoy quality football; but this week the column will focus on England’s 2008 qualifying matches against Israel and Andorra, which, for all of you who have been living in a cave for the past week, was not typically in this vein of entertainment. For someone not so savvy to the simperings of the sports press, what I have found to have been overriding the play is the general bitching over newly ruined manager Steve McLaren . This drew to a climax of sorts at the end of the 0-0 draw against Israel, with chants of ‘What a load of rubbish’ from the national fans who had journeyed to Tel Aviv for the poor show. Then there is whole thing with Rooney, who is ‘off the chain’; although this might be part of the whole red top tabloid war on McLaren – both parties deny the rift which the rumour mills tell of… but then again, Rooney did have to be taken off in the second half of the Andorra game because of uncontrollable aggression, obviously to avoid a red card.
But once you cut all the cant, the aimless chatter, you just have the England I’ve always known, just creating enough to get by, just keeping the pace to get by, and playing a particularly depressing first half. England’s squad is plain impressive on paper and the work of Gerrard and Lampard, especially in the 3-0 win against Andorra, creates a stable force in the middle of the pitch, making chances, scoring the odd goal, and the pace of some of the younger names like Aaron Lennon is fine enough. The goals against who the press have dubbed international football’s ‘whipping boys’, Andorra, were sound; a low drive from Gerrard, another from the midfielder, then a goal on the international debut of Preston player David Nugent. But ultimately the motivation is lacking; this is best shown in the boring work of supposed prodigy Wayne Rooney. The thing is, you know that they will qualify – with the next game against Estonia and a few home matches to bring new glory to a new stadium, Wembley, that has finally eshewn the spirally (Editor’s note – I should change this to spiralling, but I love the turn of phrase it creates) costs and lacklustre efforts towards completion. What was truly terrible was Beckham’s interview after his award from some industry gig (Lifetime achievement, or some other kind of meaningless rock n’ roll style gong), in which he officially backed his national team and basically invited himself back into the team, on the back of the publics jeering at McLaren’s choice of dropping the metrosexual star for John Terry (in terms of the captaincy) and the lack of goals and results thereafter. It seem to me, apart from the fact that Beckham is perhaps just reaching the stage of ‘past his best’, we don’t need to look back in any way whatsoever to the the recent past of England’s international performances; and apart from the lack of goals (the Andorra game broke a five match goalless run) things seem to be running just as they always have.
Maybe my more informed colleagues would have more answers to England’s ongoing dilemma, but I just don’t know what to think. McLaren is obviously not doing the best of jobs; the Middlesbrough man always seemed an odd choice anyhow. The players are doing their stuff, the Israel game has shaken them up. But the “irreversible and humourless” (sounds dire doesn’t it?) opposition, as one journalist put it, from the public to the leaders of the squad could do more harm than good to the reputation of England in the long run.