It’s been great gas watching Sky Sports News desperately trying to compensate for the fact that they’ve feck-all actual action from the World Cup other than footage of footballers getting on and off buses, when they’re not watching some welcome ritual, typically featuring buxom natives and drums.
A lot of people’s interest in the tournament began with England against the United States on Saturday night. RTÉ, whose coverage couldn’t be more comprehensive, concentrated on Fabio Capello’s long ball strategy aimed at utilising Emile Heskey’s strengths, i.e. making chances for others while squandering his own. It couldn’t have worked out any better in fairness when in the fifth minute skipper Steven Gerrard showed just what Liverpool were missing last season when he picked up a Heskey lay-off and slipped the ball past Tim Howard, who otherwise had no bother with the new adidas Jabulani ball.
Before the game something compelled me to text the following to a few friends: “Fancy Green for a howler” – a reference to the England ’keeper’s capacity for a nervous rick. Or any England ’keeper’s come to think of it. West Ham’s No1 was only given the gloves because David James – less calamitous in his old age – wasn’t fully fit and young Joe Hart was deemed too inexperienced. He’s now damaged goods.
Brutal to behold up to the break, by the start of the second half England were an even bigger mess. Left-winger James Milner, whether suffering the effects of a midweek illness or just getting the runaround, had been hauled off after half-an-hour. Green had thrown a daisy-tickler into his own net (or as the New York Times reported it: “The Americans tied the score in the second half when England’s goalie… failed to corral a soft shot by Clint Dempsey”) and the States were outplaying the supposed aristocrats.
Jamie Carragher, only out of international retirement as a favour, came on for the ultra-fragile Ledley King, whose presence at the finals is a joke. Okay, so Jack Charlton took Paul McGrath to USA 94 carrying a badly injured arm (among other complaints). But King, who makes ex-Spurs sicknote Darren Anderton look like a man who’d walk through walls, isn’t made of anything like the same stuff as McGrath, whose personal problems, sadly, go on.
On ITV, Adrian Chiles and his new-found chums in commercial-break broadcasting stuck to the script. Commentator/cheerleader-in-chief Clive Tyldesley – who announced England’s early opener with the words “Ah, this could be fun!” – noted at the final whistle how England had begun their triumphant 1966 World Cup finals campaign with a draw. His summariser Andy Townsend, surmising possible systematic shifts, said both Gerrard and Lampard had been thoroughly effective throughout. At what?
Don Fabio duly came on camera and said it had been a terrific performance and he was happy with everything bar the result. His two central midfielders had controlled the game, he concurred. Ditto Kevin Keegan, who felt England had produced “a very, very good performance, good enough to win any game.” From which we can automatically deduce that England were very, very bad.
Having laid bare their alleged English-supporting credentials at the outset (basically because they all made good livings on Her Majesty’s sod), unfortunately RTÉ’s three grumpy middle-aged-to-old men hadn’t the benefit of Capello’s incredible post-match chat in full, just his musings on Green’s misfortune.
Dismissing Johan Cruyff’s contention that England don’t need a negative Italian mindset to set them free, (Souey: “He has a point”), Dunphy and Giles are still giving the £6m-a-year man the benefit of the doubt, primarily because of his achievements in Serie A. But in Italy he’d a blend of excellent players at his disposal: most of them bought in and moulded into a successful shape. To a man they were able to fulfill that football fundamental: pass the ball, and accordingly they trusted themselves, and he them, to keep possession. With England his options are a bit like Heskey – limited, and his chances a lot like Green – doomed.