England Under 21’s Fail To Inspire Confidence In The Future Of The National Team

Guest contributor Richard Smith takes a look at the recently concluded Under 21 tournament, where at least we drew with the eventual winners…even if we didn’t qualify for the semi finals because we forgot a game lasts at least 90 minutes.

If manager Stuart Pearce achieved one thing at the Euro Under-21 Championships in Denmark, it was to mentally prepare the players for future disappointments for when they represent their country at senior level.

The England Under-21 team’s humiliating exit from a tournament for which they were the second favourites to win was borne out of the usual reasons and excuses more commonly associated with their senior counterparts. Lack of ideas, inability to keep the ball, insistence on playing the long ball and worst of all, their inability to create clear cut scoring opportunities. In 270 minutes of football at the tournament, they managed to score just two goals!

To be fair it has to be said that England was the better team in their final match against the Czech Republic. They were winning 1-0 with just stoppage time left to play…

Had the score remained 1-0, the headlines would have read completely differently of course. Pearce would have received the plaudits, the players would have been branded “battlers” and more importantly, they would have had every chance of making the final.

Instead in those dying seconds, a Czech Republic attack took full advantage of England’s defensive frailties. They scored somewhat fortuitously with a toe poke in the 89th minute before wrapping things up with a second goal in injury time.

Two lacklustre draws and a defeat from their three games meant only third place in their group and ignominy. Admittedly, the England group was the harder of the two, but the side should have had enough talent to qualify to the semi finals, two of which have just completed transfers amassing £38 million!

Was there anything in those three matches for England fans to get excited over for the future?

The truthful answer is no, compared to the technical ability of eventual winners, Spain, England are some way behind achieving success at an international tournament. Performances from the likes  of Mata, Herrera, Montoya and Adrian in the Spanish side raise questions about what on earth Man Utd and Liverpool are getting for their huge investments in the bright young stars of English football? Whether it’s a case of talent or manager in charge, something continues to be sadly amiss with the England national teams.

As far as Pearce is concerned, the poor showing will not be rewarded with the sack. The FA have punished him instead by giving him the onerous task of guiding the team through the 2013 Euro Under-21 qualification, a quest he obviously felt he could not refuse. What it does however, is rule him out of the search for the next England manager when Capello steps down at thhe end of his current contract, be it in the Autumn, should (god forbid) England fail to qualify for Euro 2012 or in 12 months.

Pearce Ready For Battle

Thomas Rooney takes a look at England’s prospects in the UEFA U21 tournament, which started yesterday.

The domestic football season may well be over, but the serious stuff for England Under-21 manager Stuart Pearce is just getting underway.

The former Manchester City boss leads England’s young guns in the European Under-21 Championships this month, starting with a game against tournament favourites Spain today.

Looking ahead positively to what the tournament can achieve for his players, Pearce has been discussing how his entire squad can get ‘better and better’ as the two weeks progress.

The former England international said: “The team that starts the tournament might not be as good as the team that finishes the tournament for us. I think they can get better and better as a group.”

This is of course the main objective of the Under-21 side – to prepare players for senior international football and major tournaments.

Two years ago for example, football betting pundits note how Joe Hart, James Milner, Adam Johnson and Theo Walcott were all involved in this Under-21 tournament and are not all set to be heavily involved in Fabio Capello’s plans for Euro 2012 next year.

Of the current squad, there are players with Premier League experience too and in comparing the two teams (2009 and 2011) Pearce can see the similarities when it comes to positive attributes.

He said: “The preparation’s probably been nigh on identical (to 2009), to be honest with you. The camaraderie with this group’s been fantastic. there have been a lot of players come to the party. I’m very buoyed up by it.”

Pearce is clearly enjoying his role within the England set-up right now and so he should. He gets the chance to help the most talented young footballers in the country progress their game. He is also involved in a position where results probably come second to progression of players.

This doesn’t mean England won’t want to win the tournament though. They lost in the final two years ago and Pearce in particular will want to put this right.

The winning mentality is a key factor to succeeding at international level and it would be beneficial if a group of young England players have a tournament victory under their belts.

In terms of England’s chances, they do go into the tournament as the No.1 ranked team in Europe and many people will place football bets on them being the team to beat. However, with Spain, Czech Republic and Ukraine to face in the group stages, they have a difficult path to the semi-finals.

However, if Pearce’s confidence in this team proves true, they have a very good chance of lifting a European trophy for England. Something the senior team will be aiming to do next summer.

Capello Excuses Wearing Thin After Draw Against Switzerland

Regular guest blogger Richard Smith doesn’t pull any punches with his appraisal the current state of the senior squad – we’ll have a preview of the Under 21s posted on Saturday morning.

The situation in the England football camp appears to be worsening by the day with manager, Fabio Capello, coming under increasing pressure, more so than he has ever known before.

The Italian’s comments regarding the tiredness of the English players being responsible for their less than lacklustre performance in their 2-2 Euro 2012 Qualifier draw against Switzerland at Wembley at the weekend has invited the wrath of the media. There have been various negative responses including the suggestion that the ‘tiredness excuse’ would have been better applied to the fact that the players were tired of him and the media and fans are tired of his excuses. The draw against the Swiss was also the fourth game running at Wembley that the England team has failed to win.

Certainly to only draw against a Swiss side who they defeated easily in the reverse fixture last year is a potential setback to automatic qualification. However, their next match is in September, against an improving Bulgarian team in Sofia, which if they should lose will put them in deep trouble, particularly so if Montenegro defeat Wales on the same day.

The big problem Capello has when he blames the performance on tiredness is the simple fact that should England qualify for the European Championships, then tiredness will be a huge factor again as that tournament comes at the end of the domestic season like every other major international football tournament. He is paid £6m pounds per year to find remedies for this problem not to provide excuses which is something he appears not to understand.

Understanding of a different kind is another probable reason why England are failing to produce the level of performance that is expected. Capello has simply not picked up the English language as well as others have from his country. He is almost impossible to understand when conducting media interviews; a fact that makes the mind boggle when thought is given to how he actually conveys his match instructions to the players. Leaving the fans to wonder just how much of his strategy is Lost in Translation?

In the wake of this setback, there have been further rumours of squad unrest with yet another player, Peter Crouch, apparently ready to quit international football. This has prompted FA Director of Football Development Sir Trevor Brooking to lambast the players who want to ‘throw in the international towel’ but he must know that there is a big problem within the set up and perhaps he would be better to clarify the reasons before ‘pointing the finger’. Crouch in fact did not even make the substitutes bench against Switzerland!

The real reason why England could only draw against Switzerland was the fact that they played poorly, lost concentration in defence and failed to take their chances. That all adds up to a player/team/manager problem and not one of exhaustion!

Despite the current plight, bookmakers are still confident that the Three Lions will win Group G, making them astonishingly short favourites at 1/7 to qualify for Poland and Ukraine in twelve months time. They sit joint top alongside Montenegro who also have 11 points after five games but with two of the last three qualifiers on the road for Capello’s men, including a trip to Montenegro in the final game the odds of 5/1 about Montenegro topping the group come October make plenty of appeal for those punters happy to allow sense to prevail and overrule their patriotic heart. The odds on England winning Euro 2012 look even less appealing and it would be the most loyal of fans that are happy to take odds of 9/1 about England ending their 46 year wait for glory.

England remain cautiously optimistic ahead of Euros

Guest blogger Callum Dent takes a look at the England situation almost a year after the debacle in South Africa.

After the 4-1 defeat to Germany in South Africa which knocked England out of the World Cup, changes had to be made if the national team are to be a success at future major tournaments.

The Germans did Fabio Capello a favour. They showed him what happens when managers adopt players in form, use attacking and versatile formations and give youngsters to opportunity to shine on the big stage.
England were flat in SA and lacked everything that was needed to win a World Cup. Togetherness, flair, confidence and freedom were all absent and it showed as England scraped through to the knockout stages despite draws with Algeria and USA.

Since the World Cup, Capello has taken a leaf out of Joachim Low’s book and changed the approach to the England team. The Italian has selected players that are playing well for their domestic clubs and has used strategies that have made England look a more attractive prospect.

Despite Capello’s lack of commitment and communication, England have been improved following their nightmare World Cup, although they remain someway off free bet favourites Spain in terms of quality, and look like a team heading in the right direction once again.

The qualifier against Wales was a very good performance even if they were playing an out-of-depth and inexperienced Welsh side. The players picked adapted well to the situation and played like a team with confidence and freedom, which were non-existent in South Africa.

Capello chose Jack Wilshere and Scott Parker to form a new look midfield with Frank Lampard and it worked as England outmuscled, outthought and outplayed their Welsh counterparts. Aston Villa striker Darren Bent was given a chance and he took it, scoring a first half goal to set England on their way to a 2-0 victory at the Millennium Stadium.

England adopted a 4-3-3 setup and looked comfortable with Ashley Young proving to be an inspired selection on the wing. Capello has a young side that can be winners in the future and could be worth placing free bets on.

Younger players like Joe Hart, Andy Carroll, Wilshere, Gary Cahill, Young and Adam Johnson are all likely to play a huge part in the future of English football. With big players such as Steven Gerrard, Lampard and John Terry all close to coming to the end of their international careers, England look in capable hands.

Capello In Danger Of Losing His Right Hand Man

It’s almost silly season again, but Pete South has a plausible theory that fits in with the ‘Ancelotti to Roma’ rumours that are circulating…

England manager Fabio Capello could find himself with his general manager Franco Baldini when England play against Switzerland on June 4th after speculation grew the Italian is set to join Roma.

Baldini has been a central part to Capello’s reign as England manager, and was responsible for informing some members of the England squad they didn’t make the squad for their world cup campaign in South Africa.

A US consortium recently completed a takeover of the Italian club, and are said to be targeting Baldini to take over the role of General Manager, a position he held during Capello’s tenure in the Italian capital, and the temptation of an injection of funds from the new owners into the 6th placed Serie A club could prove to be too much for the 60-year-old with links to the city.

Baldini has always been seen as a crucial link between Capello and the players, and was said to be a central figure in the recent captaincy controversy which saw Rio Ferdinand stripped of the arm-band in favour of ex-captain John Terry, and also spoke to Ferdinand in an attempt to calm the situation.

US tycoon Thomas Di Benedetto, who led the take-over bid of Roma, is a confirmed fan of Baldini and admires his knowledge of the game.

“He is someone who knows his football,” he told the press. “I like him a lot.”

The former Real Madrid manager could be left isolated by the departure of Baldini, and after his communication skills were put under the spotlight following criticism from the media for his handling of the captaincy situation. If Baldini were to leave, the man who once said he only required “100 words” to communicate his message to his side may be forced into taking up a more involved role.

Baldini is said to be a popular member of the England set up, and if he were to join the Italian giants it would be a blow to England’s Euro qualifying campaign. Football bets suggest a possible option for Baldini is to wait until England’s qualifying campaign finishes in October after being rumoured to be unwilling to leave Capello high and dry.

England are football betting favourites to qualify for Euro 2012 and currently sit atop of Group G, level on points with Montenegro after four games, with their next opponents Switzerland six points further back in third place.

Recent Internationals Provide Hope for Capello and England

The last ten days have been encouraging for England – there’s certainly no lack of competition for places throughout the squad, even though the general feeling about Sr. Capello is that the sooner he’s replaced the better. Richard Smith takes an overview of the recent games.

So, after the debacle of the captaincy change and England’s latest two matches against Wales in the Euro 2012 qualifier last weekend and the friendly against Ghana at Wembley in midweek, how far exactly has England come in the past nine months in terms of putting away their world cup nightmare and moving on?

The win against Wales was an extremely comfortable affair which saw England wrap the game up within the first fifteen minutes, scoring twice and never looking in any danger from then on. Some hardened critics might question why did they not go on and win the game by more goals, but the truth was this was a comfortable win and the team never needed to get out of first gear and the points has Capello’s side back on top of Group G at the halfway stage on level points with their nearest rivals Montenegro, who sit in second and who England must play away in what could be a crucial final qualifier on 7th October.

The friendly against Ghana gave England boss, Fabio Capello, an opportunity to ring a few changes and take a look at a few fringe players. It also allowed him to work on his newly found 4-3-3 formation. The result was a good all round performance against a vibrant team with the match ending 1-1, with England being deprived of victory in injury time after Sunderland’s Asamoah Gyan deftly slipped the attention of Joleon Lescott before firing into the net to cancel out Andy Carroll’s first half left foot strike. All in all, it was one of the more entertaining England friendlies in recent memory and more positives can be taken than negatives.

Overall, England should be pleased with their work this past week, which provides a glimmer of hope for the remainder of Capello’s tenure, particularly as the media were baying for the Italian’s blood after his handling of the England captaincy, a situation that has probably not yet gone away.  Certainly it is difficult to envisage Rio Ferdinand playing for England again under Capello, who failed to inform the Manchester United defender about his decision to reinstate John Terry as captain. There may well be question marks too over Steven Gerrard’s commitment to Capello, particularly as he had been appointed captain in Ferdinand’s absence for the World Cup last season, where he was blatantly and publicly undermined by Terry.

That said, perhaps Capello himself will feel the time is right to change a few of the ‘old guard’ in favour of some of the younger players such as Andy Carroll, Jack Wilshere, Michael Dawson, Phil Jagielka and Ashley Young. Certainly if Capello is to persist with his 4-3-3 system it looks very difficult to play Gerrard and Frank Lampard in the same team. Add to the equation that both Ferdinand and Gerrard have spent plenty of time this season injured, it could prompt them both to consider the option of retiring from international football, however, both are likely to want to play a key role should England reach next Summer’s European Championship in Poland and the Ukraine and it will be very interesting to see which team Capello picks come the next qualifier against Switzerland on 4th June should both Gerrard and Ferdinand be available for selection. 

England remain hot favourites to automatically qualify for Euro 2012 with the odds as short as 1/10 to top Group G, an outcome all concerned will hope is already decided in their favour well before the trip to Montenegro in October.

Barry Handed England Captaincy

Pete South takes a look at some of tonight’s possible team changes before our first ever meeting with Ghana.

Manchester City’s Gareth Barry has been handed the England captaincy for the Friendly game against Ghana on Tuesday.

John Terry was controversially re-named as captain for the comfortable 2-0 victory over Wales on Saturday, but was released from his duties along with four other players involved in the upcoming Champions League quarter finals.

Barry was dropped for that game, with his replacement Scott Parker impressing in his absence, but the former Aston Villa midfielder will return to a much changed England side. England boss Fabio Capello believes he has made the right choice, despite coming in for some criticism for changing captain once more.

“Barry is a really good player, a good captain and he’s also the player with the most England caps in the squad now.” He commented.

Capello insists he is keen to avoid overkill as some of his squad potentially faced playing four games in ten days, but climbed down from his claim after the Wales match that he would make 11 changes for the Ghana game.

Some of the players have played a lot,” he said. “They should only play three games in eight days – I think four games in 10 days is too much. I respect the clubs and the players.”

“Joe Hart will play in goal, we will have Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka at centre-back and Leighton Baines will play at left-back. Barry will be the captain and Carroll will play up front.” He added.

Overall, Capello will make “about seven changes” to the line-up the helped England move back to the top of their European Championships qualifying group over the weekend, with only the services of Jack Wilshere, Joe Hart, Ashley Young and Scott Parker likely to be retained.
The Italian manager came in for criticism for his botched handling of the captaincy issue, and is still yet to speak to Rio Ferdinand about his decision to take the captain’s arm band from the Manchester United Shirt wearer and give it to Terry, who was initially stripped of the job because of accusations over an affair with a team-mate’s ex-fiancée.

Capello then faced a further grilling after vice-captain Stephen Gerrard revealed the former Real Madrid coach had spoken to him by phone over the captaincy issue, while insisting it would be inappropriate to contact Ferdinand in the same way.

“Rio was captain, so I must meet him. Steve is only vice-captain,” he said. I hope I will speak with Rio next week.”

Ferdinand “Very Upset” With Captaincy Decision

Guest blogger Pete South takes a look at the latest controversial decision by Fabio Capello…

Current England captain Rio Ferdinand is said to be “very upset” over Fabio Capello’s decision to name John Terry as captain for the crucial Euro qualifier against Wales at the weekend, BBC sport reports.

The Manchester United defender has endured an injury hit season and has only played four games for the national side in the last 12 months, and last week media rumours have circulated about the Italian’s impending decision to name Terry as skipper.

Initially back problems kept Ferdinand out of the action, but now a hernia problem means he is unlikely to feature against Wales, and while nothing had been confirmed until the weekend free bets had largely been placed in Terry’s favour.

Terry was stripped of the armband last year following reports about his personal life. Terry allegedly conducted an affair with team mate Wayne Bridges ex-fiancé Vanessa Perroncel, and Capello acted swiftly to take the captain’s armband from him, but now the Chelsea defender has regained the position.

Frank Lampard led the team out in their last match, a friendly against Denmark, but media reports suggest Capello has started to re-think his decision following Ferdinand’s injury woes. The armband was passed around the team in that match, although Terry was a notable exception, and Capello admitted the captaincy had become a headache for him.

“I was really upset about what happened in Denmark, when I saw the players saying ‘who is the captain?’,” he said.

“After one year of punishment, it was not the best moment for John Terry to see this. For that reason, I need to make a decision – and it will be a permanent decision, not just one game.” He added.

 The Italian also admitted the injuries that plagued Ferdinand were becoming an issue and insists he has to act now.

“First of all, I want to know what happened with Rio’s back and when he will be fit because he is a really important player for us,” the 64-year-old said.

After that, I will explain to him what really happened and what I am going to do in the next week – if I will decide on a new captain or about John Terry or something else. I will explain what happened in Denmark and what I think. I would understand if he is not happy but I am the manager. I have to take decisions.”

 England are overwhelming free bet favourites for the game against Wales, but will have to play without Stephen Gerrard, who has been ruled out for a month with a groin injury.

Can Walcott Finally Be England’s Main Man?

With a little over three weeks to go until a rare local derby, guest blogger Pete South wonders if Theo Walcott can shine in Cardiff – and identifies one of Walcott’s biggest fans.

Those studying the online sportsbook will note that being selected for a World Cup isn’t always necessarily a good thing, while being dropped can also have its benefits.

Wayne Bridge, caught up in the eye of a storm as tabloids exposed the comings and goings of ex-team mate John Terry and his former girlfriend Vanessa Perroncel, decided to rule himself out of Fabio Capello’s squad for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Lampooned as he was lamented for his decision, sports betting pundits note how Bridge had the last laugh as he stood back and watch England burn to the ground.

Conversely Theo Walcott’s selection for the 2006 tournament has gone down in history alongside a despairing Rob Greene fumble or  a  Wayne Rooney stamp as one of the biggest aberrations in English football in recent years.

Sven Goran Eriksson took the young winger with him to Germany at the expense of Jermaine Defoe and promptly left him out of every single game. To add to his World Cup woes, Fabio Capello didn’t include him in his squad for South Africa as his form deteriorated towards the end of last season.

Both decisions involving Walcott affected the young winger, his club boss Arsene Wenger concurs, and as yet he has been unable to showcase his undoubted talent at international level

Is he ready to finally leave his mark on England as they look to recover the aura that slipped so badly during the farce in South Africa? The upcoming qualifier against Wales could provide the perfect opportunity for the former Southampton man.

He has impressed sporadically for England, most notably his hat-trick against Croatia in the World Cup qualifying campaign, but his omission from the world Cup squad in 2010 began a series of hurtful insights into his ability.

TV pundit Alan Hansen was ruthless in his assessment of Walcott, suggesting he lacked a “footballing brain”, and was more akin to a sprinter than a footballer.

It is the curse of the modern English winger that pace and dribbling ability cannot be married with a decent final ball – Aaron Lennon and Adam Johnson suffer as Walcott does – but Walcott is the only one of the three who has been marked as the next big thing for England since a young age, the emphasis is on him.

His performance against Barcelona in Arsenal’s first leg Champions League tie was fairly typical. Some malice, some dangerous running, but he cut inside too often, refused to take his man on and most frustratingly of all, failed to put in a final ball against a side that Lionel Messi admitted they were worried about.

“Barcelona players are not scared easily but I can tell you that when we played Arsenal last season he truly worried us” the current Ballon D’Or holder said and it is a source of constant frustration that he is unable to replicate the form that saw him terrorise the Catalan club at the same stage last year.

But he has matured this season and looks to be learning his craft – something which can be said of the entire Arsenal team as they look for their first trophy since 2005. His seven goals so far is a good return for a wide-man, and with Arsenal still in with a chance of winning four trophies this year, big things are expected of him.

If England can find the best way to utilise him and extract all the talent from his right foot then they will have a very dangerous prospect on their hands. He is still young and learning, but sooner rather than later he must prove he is the man for England or face getting left behind. He is good enough, players of Lionel Messi’s calibre do not dish out praise at will, but now is the time, when England need him most, to show he is a world class talent.

England Face Tough Task At Sold-Out Millennium Stadium

Guest blogger Pete South takes a look at the forthcoming Euro 2012 qualifier with our local rivals…

Online sports betting pundits will be aware that England’s goal of qualifying for the European Championships in 2012 will get under way in earnest next month as they come up against their toughest challenge.

The Welsh, in another stage of transition, won’t offer the same resistance as Montenegro did in their last qualifier on the pitch, where a 1-1 draw was all they could muster, but their secret weapon is loaded and ready to fire.

Those studying sportsbook online note how  a packed Millennium Stadium will be an intimidating obstacle for Fabio Capello’s men to overcome as they look to finally put their failed World Cup campaign behind them.  Martin Johnson’s rugby team recently experienced the full force of the Welsh crowd, and Capello could do worse than making a quick phone call to find out what to expect.

“Being an Englishman this weekend in Cardiff means you aren’t the most popular” Johnson said after the game, and it is something their footballing counterparts will have to contend with.

But, England not only need to overcome the partisan Welsh crowd, but excel on the pitch.

The Italian will know a successful won’t be enough this time around to convince the nation that they are a side ready to win the competition, fingers have been burned from last time around. No, they must offer more than just winning if they are to win over English supporters.

The signs are good however. Their 2-1 friendly win against Denmark earlier this month represented a shift in attitude towards the much maligned friendly. Despite the constant switch of captains and a steady flow of substitutions, England achieved what most thought impossible – they managed to take some positives away from the game.

Denmark were a genuine test. If not the most technically gifted they pressured England and put together some fluent attacks, mostly through the gifted Christian Erikson. But the emergence of Jack Wilshere and Ashley Young’s success in a central role means Capello has genuine variation in his attack for the remainder of the qualification games, something which was lacking previously. If the form of Wayne Rooney is still a worry for the former Juventus boss, then the goal scoring prowess of Darren Bent and his connection with Villa team-mate Young will appease him somewhat.

New Welsh manager Gary Speed faces his first home match in charge against possibly the toughest task he will face as Welsh manager. Three losses from their first three matches, which spelt the end for previous manager John Toshack, mean their chances of qualification are all but over. England will have to be mindful of a Welsh side with only one thing to play for, one thing they care most about. Beating the English.