Meet the new boss, same as the old boss? It’s reassuring, in a way, actually. The new season has started, and England are being terrible. Last night in Barcelona, England toiled and struggled and huffed and puffed their way to a tortuously laboured win against a country with a population of less than half the size of Brighton. What was probably the most worrying about last night’s England performance was that Fabio Capello is starting to display the same sort of errors of judgement that his predecessors made. Couple this with the obvious shortcomings of the players (how many more times are people going to try the argument that “the players are all good enough – why oh why are things going so badly wrong?”) and the utter lack of imagination being displayed by everyone concerned, and it becomes pretty obvious that the next two years may turn out to be as grim as the last couple have been.
Anyone with any knowledge of the game would have been able to tell them that Andorra, possibly the most limited team in Europe, would put eleven men behind the ball and hope for the best. Jermaine Defoe almost gave England the lead with thirty seconds played on the clock but, apart from a shot from Frank Lampard that flashed just wide, that was more or less it for the first half. The somewhat predictable booing had started within thirty minutes, and with half-time arriving and the score goalless, the situation was even more worrying than the last time they were in this situation. McClaren’s England were pretty clueless but this, if anything, was even worse.
The introduction of Joe Cole at half time turned out to be just enough for them to limp over the line. Cole, one of the very few players in the England team that is capable of lighting up when he gets the ball had inexplicably been left on the subsitutes bench again in favour of the pedestrian, plodding Stuart Downing, but Downing’s first half performance was shocking enough to warrant being replaced. Within ten minutes of the start of the second half, Cole had made a mockery of the initial team selection. Four minutes into the second half, he volleyed Frank Lampard’s cross, and six minutes later he poked a Wayne Rooney ball under the Andorran goalkeeper to make the points safe. Other than that, though, there wasn’t much to report. It was an insipid, lifeless performance which, had it been against anyone else, would almost certainly have led to a defeat.
The people that say, “Well, they got the win, and that’s the most important thing” are wrong this time. Getting a win against Andorra isn’t even the minimum requirement. The minimum requirement is a win and a performance that indicates that the players actually know who each other are, and England didn’t manage that last night. Goodness only knows what Croatia are going to do them in Zagreb on Wednesday night. England have to play one of the best teams in Europe on Wednesday, and one can’t help but think that anything other than abject humiliation will be a reasonable result for them. We’ll know by Thursday whether England have any chance whatsoever of overhauling Croatia for top place in the group, but it’s difficult to see how this is going to happen. Perhaps the more pertinent question to ask would be whether they’re capable of overhauling Ukraine for second place in the group. On all of the evidence provided since about August 2006, the answer to that would seem to be “no”.