Oh, to spend a day living inside Fabio Capello’s head. The presumption had been that he would wait until after the friendly match tomorrow night against the Czech Republic at Wembley, but it now seems as if he just couldn’t control himself, and the announcement has been made. The England captain for the next two years will be… John Terry. You’ll have to pardon me if I’m unable to raise too much excitement over the announcement. After all, it’s hardly as if the squad is over-flowing with candidates that demonstrate that indefinable something that people seem to think will be important in a captain. This is one of the fundamental flaws with the England team at the moment. There are too many players with too few of too much. International matches, far removed from the hurly-burly of the Premier League and its chest-beating, running around in circles, grimacing and KICKING THE BALL VERY HARD, shows up the lack of even (what many perceive to be) the very best players’ lack of technical and their mental or psychological shortcomings for what they are. Could there be any more potent symbol of England’s wretchedness on the international stage than a man that missed a penalty kick in the European Cup final being made the captain of the national team barely three months later.
England obsesses over the choice of captain for its national football team like no other country but, given the steady decline of the national team, this policy can hardly be judged to be well thought-out. The over-reliance on the captain is, if anything, a trait of how we get it wrong. Too many tired war analogies. Too much focus upon “heart” and “courage”. Too much belief in “work-rate”. Not enough technique. It’s hardly a new phenomenon. For as long as anyone can remember the flair players, the ones with something approaching the skill levels of those pesky foreigners that never had as much heart as us but always seem to walk off with the World Cup and the European Championships, have been derided as a “luxury” and confined to the sidelines. Matthew Le Tissier, arguably one of the most talented English footballers of the last twenty years, won a feeble nine caps for England. In most countries, a player with his raw talent would have been made the captain and given whatever he wanted. Le Tissier was wasted by England. It’s the England way.
Now, of course, we have even fewer of these openly brilliant players than ever. Wayne Rooney occasionally borders upon being as good as the best, but his temperament is still highly suspect and he still seems to appear too isolated on the pitch for too much of the time. As for the rest, the talent is few and far between. Steven Gerrard looks shown up for being more limited than many would imagine when shorn of his expensively-assembled club colleagues. Michael Owen’s legs are basically held together with sellotape and bits of string. David Beckham is 46. The Premier League’s long since abandoned youth policys no longer bring forward players that are anywhere near good enough for the international stage. I sat and watched Brazil play Argentina in the Olympic Games this evening, with largely under-23 teams. Either of them would have thrashed England out of sight.
The debate over the captaincy is all so much smoke and mirrors, which masks deep problems for the future of the national team. It doesn’t matter who the captain is if your goalkeeper is a 39 year-old who was only barely good enough to be an international goalkeeper when he was at his absolute best, you’ve only got one striker that has scored more than a handful of internatonal goals and your whole team seems, at international level woefully unable to keep hold of possession and pass the ball. England should qualify for the play-offs for the 2010 World Cup, but qualifying ahead of Croatia will be a tall order, and finishing second ahead of Ukraine will not be as easy (I feel as if I’ve said this all before) as some people seem to think. Meanwhile, the Big Four will continually reach the last eight or the last four of the European Cup, so at least the press will be able to pretend that England is, somehow, still a footballing force.