With RTÉ still way ahead of the competition – and savour every second of Bill O’Herlihy’s broadcasting swansong – Graeme Souness’s adamant and animated assertion that England are suffering from a form of altitude sickness has gained little currency outside of Montrose. He may well be right (even though Johnny Giles dismissed the notion when Souness originally raised it after the USA match), and has indicated he knows more than he can say, but the more common conviction is that the English players inflated heads are simply in the clouds. That they’re choking, not gasping for air. But is that view too simplistic, and let’s face it, popular given the urge to see them as overpaid underperformers? Could the effect of living and training in a rarified atmosphere explain why they’re running on empty already?
Certainly their display against Algeria last Friday was abject to the point of pitiful. Epitomised by PFA player of the year Wayne Rooney’s more-than-passable impression of Emile Heskey, it was way worse than Ireland’s dull effort in eking out a 0-0 draw with Egypt 20 years ago that Eamon had Dunphy flipping his Bic.
Speaking from his personal experience at Mexico 86 when he was, by his own admission, a shadow of his enforcing self, Souness reckons that if the thinner air in South Africa has depleted the England players’ energy, this week’s shit-or-bust assignment against Slovenia could see them at their lowest ebb yet. (Perish or cherish the thought.)
If it’s not the case, as previous World Cups have proved the Three Lions may roar yet. But even a heavy gambler like John Terry wouldn’t be betting on them making the second phase.
He, and doubtless some of the other players, have decided that the manager’s to blame, not them, with Terry’s solo-run press conference on Sunday patently designed to undermine Capello’s authority and pass the buck for the muck he and his team-mates have produced thus far. Not to mention exacting an element of revenge for the Italian’s decision to relieve him of the armband last February.
Terry, of course, has form, allegedly being one of the main movers behind the departures of Mourinho, Grant and Scolari from Stamford Bridge. At the time the England manager stripped him of the captaincy I wrote right here: “Terry, by all accounts, calls most of the shots at Chelsea. And that’s something that Capello would have been wary of too.”
The under-pressure Italian, who feels his side’s performances are the result of mental frailty, has menacingly described Terry’s tuppence worth as “a very big mistake” (as opposed to the small mistake that is his use of Sean Wright Phillips). But, if Souness’s theory is correct, maybe not as massive as where England are based.