Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Hype Over Expectation?


England are out, obviously.  Were we all deluded by the hype machine of the English press, driving us to believe that England could win the World Cup?  Or was there more to it than that, were these players capable of so much more than they delivered?

The World Cup is festival of football, a chance to watch players that most of us don't get a chance to see week in week out from all over the world. That's true of nearly all the big countries here, wherever you live the League in your country is going to be the one you follow the most.  Sure we get some Spanish and Italian games live in the UK but honestly, not many of us will bother if it's not Barca, Real, AC or Inter.

The Champions League gives us a dose of European football and we love it here.  Yes it's over hyped and brilliantly packaged but it is the pinnacle of club football.  There's a reason the best players from around the world come and play in Europe, they want a taste of the Champions League and of course the opportunity to earn incredible amounts of money.  Money they can earn in Spain, Italy and England.

The game is so driven by cash but at its root it's still eleven men against eleven, a simple, sometimes beautiful game, with an ebb and flow to it that is rare in other sports.  Were England's eleven men really that much worse than Spain's, Brazil's or Argentina?  Have we sunk to new depths, are we as poor as that 0-0 draw with Algeria and defeat to Germany suggested?

No.  Something went wrong somewhere.  These players compete at the highest level week in week out, playing in the Champions League every year, for the most part playing against the best in the world and often shining.  At least the top players do and that's where the problem lays.  There aren't enough of them and the ones that there are weren't right.  Rooney wasn't on form, but who else in the England squad could have offered the team what he does.  Because England don't posses a Xavi Alonso we settle for fitting Gerrard and Lampard into the team when one would have sufficed.  They are both, on their day, amazing, world class players, but Gerrard had a poor season, he hardly went into the tournament on fire and it showed.  Nearly all our key players with the exception of Lampard went into the World Cup with some sort of problem and losing Rio Ferdinand just before it started was a key moment, England desperately missed his distribution from the back.  We produce class, just not enough of it and our hopes lay in a few individuals.

Being a realist when it comes to Football is a good thing and I think realistically going into the World Cup and looking at the group (and probable results) a quarter final could easily have been anticipated.  Football is rarely predictable but England's results were, on the face of it pretty shocking.  However when you look at the way many of the players went into the tournament and with a defence also stripped of Ledley King by the time we faced Algeria the pressure looked like it was too much and players failed to find their true form.

Rooney wasn't right, Gerrard was trying too hard (he's never at his best when he has to force it), Barry wasn't truly fit and our best defenders were pretty much out of it before it started.  Capello made errors too, of that there is little doubt.  If Rooney's not fit, don't play him on the off chance you might still get some magic, drop him to the bench, move Gerrard forward with a striker with some pace in front of him like Defoe.  Or if Rooney is fit consider that he's played all season long as a lone striker for United to devastating effect.  Stick him up front and fill the midfield with players to supply him on the deck.  That we stuck to 4-4-2 for the whole of the tournament cost us.  I still like Capello but he seemed resistant to a plan B and despite the squad looking thread bare he had brought players with him to have options with the formation yet he chose not to tinker.

I firmly believe that our best players are amongst the best in the world.  We see this every week, the rest of the world is looking at England's performance and wondering why they failed on the biggest stage too.

It's not over hype for me, this England team should have done better.  If anything the only way the hype is damaging is the way if impacts on the players, not the fans.  We are realistic about our chances, we know we have an average record yet we dare to dream because each new generation produces players that are world class.  I've never fallen for International football being a step up in terms of the football played, teams take time to bed in together, this doesn't happen with a few games a year, often it can be disjointed and not the sport at its best.  It's more pressure though.  More eyes on you, willing you to perform.  For some maybe that's too much.  Maybe that's what happened.  Maybe there's a myriad of reasons why, there's certainly a myriad of opinions about it.

Yes there's too much hype, but real fans don't buy it, we just enjoy supporting our country and wish that our players could live up to the expectation that they build with their performances for their clubs.