Last night, I made some rather uncharitable comments about tonight’s international friendly between England and Greece. I have been considering what I said this afternoon, especially after a couple of my co-workers admitted to being almost excited about the prospect of seeing the first match of the Steve McClaren era this afternoon. It will, to be fair, interesting to see how they play tactically, and I would have been looking forward to seeing Aaron Lennon getting (hopefully) a full ninety minutes on the right, were it not for the fact that McClaren has decided to play Gerrard there, in order to accomodate Frank Lampard and Owen Hargreaves. Sheesh.
I was excited for about forty seconds. This isn’t going to be the start of some great new era. McClaren, I’m starting to realise, is just going to be Sven-Lite – nothing more, nothing less. He may or may not be less in thrall to the concept of celebrity than Eriksson was, but he’s making a clear statement of intent. Defoe up front (because Owen is injured and Rooney is suspended, presumably). Downing on the left (because Cole is injured, presumably). Terry as captain. The message is this: not a great deal is going to change. Of course, we knew this all along, and it’s a shame that Dean Ashton suffered such a nasty injury in training (one would hope that West Ham will behave with a little more dignity that Newcastle, who started squawking on about compensation as soon as Michael Owen got injured against Sweden), but the sense of let-down will be as overwhelming as ever when England win by an odd goal at a disinterested Old Trafford tonight.
There has been quite a bit of talk about a “World Cup Hangover” recently. Season ticket sales in the Premiership sales are down. Manchester United couldn’t shift tickets for their final friendly against Sevilla last Saturday at a tenner a go. The FA have apparently sold a little over half the tickets for tonight’s match. I’m not surprised in the slightest. The Premiership gets greedier and more bloated with every passing year. The England team were poor during the summer, and the FA have decided that more of the same is just what we need. It’s not that we’re less interested in football – crowds in the lower divisions are higher than they have been for decades – but I do think that there is a sea-change in attitude generally. People aren’t prepared to pay £40 for any old crap. I can’t help but think that some clubs in the Premiership and, more pointedly, the FA might be about to learn this lesson the hard way.
In other news, Owen Hargreaves wants to sign for Manchester United. His performances in the World Cup to me would have suggested that he was a more sensible signing for United than Michael Carrick, but what do I know? I’m not sure exactly sure how Alex Ferguson would fit both of them into the same team, but it’s a squad game these days, and Hargreaves could hardly expect to play less than the somewhat feeble 16 games that he managed for Bayern Munich last season.
Finally… Northern Ireland caused some sort of minor surprise by beating Finland 2-1 in Helsinki earlier this evening. My mind is inevitably drawn back to England’s anaemic 0-0 draw there in the World Cup qualifiers in 2000. An excellent result for them. Growing up in the early 1980s, I was kind of used to the concept of Northern Ireland being a decent team (well, they did qualify for two successive World Cups). It would be nice to see them get back to that sort of showing again.