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Wayne Rooney is a great player

There’s a lot of talk in the English press about whether Wayne Rooney should be dropped by England. There’s often similar talk about his place at Manchester United. Why all the fuss? Firstly, let’s talk about Man U. Rooney missed a sizable portion of the season with injuries and played a lot of minutes deep in midfield in a 4-2-3-1 formation, but he finished the English Premier League season with 17 goals and 10 assists. If a Brazilian or Belgian (all the rage) playmaker produce these statistics, the would-be pundits calling for Rooney to be dropped or sold would herald him as the sort of talent that England doesn’t produce. Instead of insisting that his playing in multiple positions reflects a lack of world-class ability in any one position, they’d be wondering why England doesn’t produce such adaptable, intelligent, well-rounded players. DF isn’t a stats guy, but in Rooney’s case, the stats don’t lie.

Moving on to England, Rooney played wide left for England against Italy on Saturday. He made a great run before receiving Raheem Sterling’s wonderful pass and making an inch-perfect cross for Daniel Sturridge’s goal. He took two touches. If a German made that play, we’d be heralding the maturation of a once child prodigy. Did the would-be pundits not notice Rooney’s intermittent in-field movement from the left? Leighton Baines is in the team to take that vacated space. That’s his job. Otherwise, his mediocre defensive game wouldn’t be tolerated. It’s not Rooney’s fault that Baines didn’t take these opportunities to get forward. Consequently, our attack sometime floundered down the left.

Wayne Rooney is a great footballer. If a French player were having a mediocre game (Rooney wasn’t) and delivered a perfect ball for his striker to convert at the back post, the English press would rave about his mercurial talent. Wise up, England. Rooney’s a great footballer. If you don’t see it, it’s probably because his footy IQ is so much higher than yours. Enjoy him.

 

World Cup fact

DF is bogged down with reading and writing in his day job right now, so has not been been posting to his blog. The timing of this conflict is unfortunate, what with the World Cup and all. To tide his readership over, DF provides the following interesting fact – less than 9% of teams that lose the first game of a World Cup campaign make it out of their groups. DF believes the young, energetic England side can buck this trend.

In further praise of Atletico Madrid

Atletico didn’t win the Champion’s League after all, but they won La Liga with a payroll smaller than Queen’s Park Rangers in the English second division (bizarrely known as the Championship). DF doesn’t know the sum total of transfer fees for Atletico’s roster, but it’s probably comparable to the 50M Sterling paid by Chelsea for former Atletico striker Fernando Torres several years ago. At a time when English and European clubs are being purchased as toys by the super-rich, Atletico’s story is good for football. The toy clubs purposefully distort the transfer market, aiming not only to buy top players, but to be seen to pay excessive fees. Their strategy fits into high-end brand culture: look what we can afford. Players at smaller clubs are happy to join them because they offer them double the salaries of other clubs, and smaller clubs are inclined to sell to them because of the excessive transfer fees. This part isn’t the issue. The issue is that non-toy clubs (including successful, well-run clubs) can’t match these terms, or they burden themselves with heavy debts to keep up. If Paris Saint Germain pays 50M Sterling for defender David Luis (admitedly, a transaction between two toy clubs) then if another club wants to buy a defender as good or better than the mediocre Luis, the selling club expects to be paid 50M or more. You get the picture. With all that money distorting the professional game, it’s a joy to see Atletico win La Liga and reach the Champion’s League final. Doubtless, their best players and their manager will be picked off one by one this summer, but their achievement should be cherished.

In praise of Atletico Madrid

This Atletico side is special. We’re talking about a team that sells it’s top scorer year after year, only to replace him with someone just as good – Torres, Aguero, Falcao and now Costa. The rest of the squad is comprised of players not quite fashionable enough for the likes of Man City or Chelsea, but who can flat-out play. They pass, they move, they attack and their combined transfer fees and salaries wouldn’t make a dent in Man City’s perpetual loss-making budget. Atletico Madrid’s success is good for football. Like everybody else in the footy world, DF is in awe of Diego Simeone. Props, Diego. Beat Real.

Manchester United and David Moyes

Mercifully, the David Moyes era is over at Manchester United. Among the media and footy insiders, there’s no shortage of opinions about the fairness (or not) of his dismissal. Some say that taking over from Sir Alex Ferguson was an impossible job and that Moyes wasn’t given enough time to build his own team. Many of these pundits claim that Moyes inherited a team in decline, lacking physical presence and skill in midfield. Others say that senior players resisted his appointment, his training methods and his tactics, thus making an impossible job even less possible. DF’s description of this last opinion, of course, defies logic, but the opinion itself defies accepted wisdom about the role of managers in football. Dealing with dissenting players is part of the job. As for the need to build a new team because of the poor quality of players at Moyes’ disposal, take note: Manchester United won the English Premier League by eleven points last year. Not wanting his readership to miss this point, DF will repeat it: Manchester United won the English Premier League by eleven points last year. The single-game equivalent to winning the league by eleven points is a 5-0 win. It’s a huge margin of victory. Take further note: to improve the physical presence and skill of his midfield, Moyes spent 65M GBP on two midfield players, albeit one of them in the January transfer window. To provide a physical presence, Moyes brought in his Everton buddy Marouanne Fellaini for 27.5M. To provide skill, he brought in Juan Mata from Chelsea for 37.5M. Bizarrely, he was reluctant to play Mata in midfield, afraid the two-time Chelsea player of the year wasn’t up to the hustle and bustle of the English game.

DF is dragging out this post. The simple truth is that David Moyes isn’t a good enough manager to thrive at the top level of the game. Sir Alex chose him for the job because he established Everton Football Club as a consistent, upper mid-table team in the EPL. That’s an impressive accomplishment, achieved by teaching a good group of players to be organized on the pitch and to play with intensity. As such, Everton was consistently better than their mid-table rivals. Nice. At the top level of the game, teams need more than that. Game after game this year, DF watched Man U play the ball wide to the fullbacks, who would hit aerial balls up the line, in hopes that a winger would retain the ball and drive it into the opposition’s 18-yard box. The calibre of the opposition didn’t matter. These were Moyes’ tactics. They’re decent mid-table tactics, but they’re far too predictable to open up top teams at the back. Opening up a top team requires incisive football, which requires ingenuity by the manager, both in training sessions and in team selection. DF is in no doubt that the senior players at Man U would have been happy to play incisive football for David Moyes, and does not blame them for being unenthusiastic about playing the sort of football played in the English lower leagues – and by the national team whenever it faces a top tier opponent. Man U might as well have hired Mick McCarthy, Neil Warnnock or Martin O’Neil (by all accounts a good bloke, but the most overrated manager in the UK).

The pundits have missed the point. David Moyes didn’t fail at Man U because of a poor squad or dissent among senior players. David Moyes wasn’t able to teach incisive football, so Man U couldn’t beat top teams. Man U also struggled to defend set pieces, but we know Moyes can teach that stuff. On reflection, the thing that stands out to DF is Ferguson’s extreme underrating of himself as a manager. It’s as if he thought that all Man U needed was a steely Scotsman at the helm. Give DF a break. Fergie’s teams played incisive football, which is hard to do against strong opposition. David Moyes doesn’t know how to teach it. Case closed.

Doctor Footy is Canada’s foremost soccer authority. And probably England’s too

Yes, footy fans, Doctor Footy is back. This time, DF is here to stay – or at least for the foreseeable future. You no longer need to trawl substandard footy blogs in search of footy wisdom. DF has it covered. All of it.

England postmorten, round 1

England are out of the World Cup just as the real fun begins. A group of players bizarrely labelled the golden generation (by whom?) have once again been terrified by the big stage, just as they were in 2006. They didn’t qualify for Euro 2008. DF is tired and is going to bed following a long day of footy-related activities. Still, I cannot retire for the night without a word or two.

The cold facts are as follows: England and their 6M Sterling (per year) Italian manager were tactically inhialated by a low key German coach of whom few fans outside Germany have even heard. Yes, things might have been different had Frank Lampard’s goal been given, but a large part of the reason things might have been different relates to the poor psychological state of the English team. Lampard’s goal could have been the moment we dragged ourselves back from 2-0 down to tie the match before half time. True. But instead, we couldn’t get over the sense of predictable injustice that has tortured English players for so long. I submit that the eleven players who took to the pitch today for England knew they were going to lose. Just as the eleven German players knew they were going to win. Footy is a difficult game because you play it with your feet. In any other sport, players look roughly the same when they’re playing well as when they’re playing poorly. Not so in footy. No hands. Confidence is everything. Today, England knew it was happening all over again. It. Was. Happening. And they were terrified by the inevitability of it all. And that’s why we would have lost even if Lampard’s goal had been given. That and Lowe’s magnificent tactics and their perfect execution by his confident, skillful team. Lowe played counter attack against slow defenders (Ashley Cole notwithstanding) and a 4-man midfield, drawing them up the pitch by allowing them posesion and then killing them on the break. It was clinical and brutal.

So what now? DF hasn’t had much time to write since we beat Slovenia in our final group game. England played well that day. We might have won it by five, but we were scared in front of goal. So in the end we drew the USA. We drew Algeria. We beat Slovenia by a goal and then we lost by three to Germany. That’s not good, but it gives us an idea of our place in the World. England are a very good footy nation, but perhaps not a first tier nation. We haven’t beaten a first tier nation in the knockout stages of the World Cup since 1966. DF has been a footy fan since Euro 96. We actually beat Holland 4 – 1 and then beat Spain on penalties in the quarter finals that year, before losing to the Germans on penalties in the semi finals. That was a very good England team. In France 98, we went out to Argentina in the round of 16, despite out-playing them with 10 men and having a perfectly good Sol Campell header ruled out. The red card was born of stupidity. We beat the Germans in Euro 2000, but neither of us made it out of the group. We beat Germany 5 – 1 in their own back yard during qualification for WC 2002, but we lost to Brazil in the quarter finals. We lost to France and Portugal at Euro 2004, outplaying France and being outplayed by Portugal before having a perfectly good Sol Campell header ruled out (begin to glimpse the frightening, dreamy, iron-clad sense of fate suffered by England players). Portugal beat us on penalties that year and again in 2006, though in the latter match, we outplayed them with 10 men after another red card born of stupidity. In all those tournaments, we’ve also to Romania twice, lost another match to Portugal, tied Sweden twice, tied Nigeria, tied the USA and tied Algeria. But we did beat Argentina in WC 2002 to go with wins over Tunisia, Paraguay (twice), Switzerland, Croatia, Ecaudor, and of course Slovenia. I submit that’s an upper second tier record.

But I haven’t answered my question yet. What happens now? Capello should do the honourable thing and step down. He got everything wrong at the World Cup and his mystique has been shattered. Hire a former national team player to coach the team (or Roy Hodgeson) and ditch the old guard and their psychological baggage. Bring in young players, just as France did when they didn’t qualify for WC 1994 (they won it in 1998) and Holland did when they didn’t qualify for WC 2002. We should have cleaned house two years ago (didn’t qualify for Euro 2008).

Postmorten 2 will follow in due course with more constructive advice for the FA and its players. One thing to note though – England do not produce players like Germany’s Mehsut Ozil. He’s clever. He finds space between the midfield and the strikers, draws defenders and then sprays perfectly weighted balls into the space that opens up behind them. Spain’s Iniesta and Xavi are masters of that stuff too. The FA should consider why England players can’t do it.

Frustrated, rambling thoughts about England

England were awful against Algeria on Friday. There are two common lines of logic concerning the many poor England performances over the years. Some pundits claim that English players are world class footballers who cave under the immense pressure put on them by the media. They argue that English players are clearly world class because they star in the world’s best league, the English Premier League (supposedly). Other pundits claim that English players star in the Premier League because better foreign players enable them to shine and that England actually produces rather clumsy footballers, lacking in technique due to the stunted traditions of English football – roll your sleeves up lads, get stuck in and so forth. Like most things in life, the truth is probably somewhere in between the extremes of opinion, but DF is beginning to side with the latter.

Week in, week out, year in, year out, we celebrate the skills of Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney and on and on. Lampard has had his good days in an England shirt (2004/05) , as have Gerrard and Rooney, but it seems that when the world is watching, English players simply don’t have the courage to match their ambition. Lampard was awful at the 2006 World Cup, but the ultra-conservative Sven Goran Erikkson wouldn’t bench him. Will Fabio Capello? Lampard spent most of Friday’s match with his face in his hands, just as he did in 2006. Bench him, Don Fabio. That’s what a decent manager does with an underperforming player. You selected 23 players for your squad, so use them, though perhaps not Stephen Warnock. Gerrard has never really done the business for England, though his goal return against second-rate teams is decent. And as for Rooney, I would argue that despite some good games and a bucket-load of goals in the recent qualification campaign, I haven’t seen Rooney dominate a decent international side since he was 18 (he was the best player at Euro 2004). He says he’s matured, that he doesn’t try to do everything by himself anymore, that he trusts his teammates and so on. Frankly, I preferred the fearless 17 year-old who ripped Turkey to shreads in the crunch Euro 2004 qualifier at Villa Park. He dribbled around them and through them because he knew he was the best player on the pitch. He doesn’t know that any more, despite the accolades he received this past season.

The key word above is “fearless”. Why are English players so scared? It’s common in the English media to talk about “brave” England performances of the past, usually in reference to matches where we ran around in a frenzy chasing the ball, wafting it into the 18 yard box, only to eventually succumb to skillful opposition who had 75% of the ball and made it count with the help of an unseen handball or a harsh red card to an England player. But chasing down long balls isn’t brave. It may be intense and frenetic and passionate, but not brave. DF would like one of his readership to make him a T-shirt that says “Bravery is playing the ball to feet in the middle third, up by a goal.” Show me a little bravery, England. Think of it this way: you’ve been dreaming about being here since you were five and now that you’re here, you’re not having any fun. Enjoy it. England haven’t enjoyed themselves at a tournament since France 98. That’s why Paul Scholes retired from international footy at 29. Same for Jamie Carragher (now returned). Why the doom and gloom? Why the fear. If you’re good enough, you’ll play the ball to feet, you’ll pass and move (instead of bickering and standing still) and you’ll allow the World Cup to be the celebration of footy that it’s meant to be. And if you do all that and you don’t win, so be it.

And finally, Fabio Capello, are you Sven Goran Erikksen in disguise? Show some managerial courage. Drop Lampard. Drop Rooney (the worst player on the pitch on Friday). Drop Terry (especially after his bizarre press conference last week). Use your 23 players. Resolve to play the players who know they’re the best on the pich, rightly or wrongly. And for the love of Jules Rimet, play Joe Cole.

DF out.

Comments on England v USA

Doctor Footy was very annoyed with Rob Green and Fabio Capello yesterday, following Green’s blunder in gifting the Americans a draw. I was annoyed with Green for the obvious reason that he made a mistake, but I was annoyed at Capello for picking Green in the first place when it’s been obvious for the last year or two that he’s not an international-class keeper. Whom do I blame? Capello. You can’t blame Green for a blunder of execution born of poor technique and rock-like hands. Indeed, DF does not generally blame players for poor execution, though you could argue that such errors are the result of poor concentration. I don’t believe that was the case yesterday. DF certainly does blame managers (and players, for that matter) for poor decision making. Picking Green was a bad decision. See 2010.04.01 of this blog for DF’s thoughts on Green.

Picking Milner was also a bad call, though I’ll give Capello credit for substituting him on 25 minutes or so. DF will reiterate his feelings about Milner: what’s all the fuss about? He’s a decent squad player, but no starter. DF will also criticize Capello for subbing Crouch for Heskey, when (in retrospect admittedly) Defoe was the obvious sub: England needed a predator in the box yesterday, and somebody to stretch the American defenders with clever runs. Defoe gives you both.

All that said, I am somewhat dismayed by the idiotic comments of some of the press (I should expect the idiocy in many quarters). England didn’t play particularly well yesterday, but we could have scored five goals. For all the talk about the well-organized American defense etc etc, we breached this impenetrable wall something like five times: Gerrard’s goal, Lennon bearing down on goal shortly after, Heskey’s breakaway, Wright-Phillips’ shot from the edge of the six-yard box from Rooney’s excellent pass, and Johnson’s brilliant skinning of two USA defenders right after Dempsey’s fluke goal.

All told, Dr Footy Sr probably summed it up best: it’s easy to blame Green, but we didn’t score enough goals. He’s right. With better finishing, we could have spared Green’s blushes and won it by a goal or two.

England will have Gareth Barry back for our next match, so hopefully we’ll keep possession better than we did against the States. However, we’ll have to put away our chances if we hope to have an impact on the tournament. And let’s have somebody else between the sticks. It’s your call, Capello. Make the right decision.

England v USA

When you think about it, the much-anticipated match-up between England and the USA shouldn’t be such a big deal. Indeed, Dr Footy is considering what all the fuss is about. For me, the fuss is about England playing in the World Cup. That’s a big deal. While the USA is a big, powerful country, it is not a footy power and its FIFA ranking of 14th should be considered generous. The fuss is media-driven and I’m trying hard not to be sucked in.

Objectively, this match should be a mis-match. There are three American players that might have a shot at making England’s 23-man squad: attackers Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, and keeper Tim Howard. Indeed, it’s unclear how many American players would be good enough to play in a major European league. Most of them play in the MLS, a league that doesn’t factor in the thoughts of European (or English) players younger than 33, David Beckham’s suprise stateside mission at 31 being the exception. If these two teams played each other five times, England would win four. And it’s not like the USA are one of those pesky underdog teams that can frustrate more illustrious opponents such as England by keeping possession for long spells and forcing their opponents to chase the play. American players are, in general, much less technically accomplished than the English and I would be shocked if England didn’t have 60% of the play. To win, England has to play an average game, nothing special, nothing awful.

So, does all this objectivity mean DF will be comfortable at kick-off tomorrow? Hell no. Above, I said England would win four out of five matches against the US. For the non-arithmetically inclined, that means there’s a 20% chance of England not winning. Those aren’t bad odds for Americans. The pressure is clearly on the English because we expect (and are expected) to win and because the world is watching. England don’t always handle this sort of pressure particularly well, though we have a very experienced squad,  many of whom are used to playing big Champo League matches against much better teams than the USA. We also have Capello.

But I’m still nervous and here’s why: American athletes are so goddamn mentally tough. You can be sure that they’ll genuinely believe in their ability to win. As clicheic as it may sound, American athletes may talk the talk, but they walk the walk, so they’re scary. If the Americans get an early goal, it could be a nervous match for England. Landon Donovan proved during his loan spell at Everton that he can star in a major European league. Donovan’s very good. Clint Dempsey has a flair for the spectacular and sometimes the dramatic. And Tim Howard can be a dominant keeper when on form. In International football in particular, when mediocre players on well-organized teams support their stars, the stars can get on a roll. Indeed, it can be an advantage to have fewer stars if support players know their roles and execute them.

So DF is nervous, but is going to keep a cool head and play the odds: England 3 – USA 1.

The World Cup is on.