England: A house cat expecting a lion’s respect
The England side, and everything around it, remains as dysfunctional as ever
Whenever writing about England there’s a sense that a bit of distance and perspective is necessary to get away from the brouhaha that inevitably arises with the mini saga that comes with every match.
However, a week on from the predictably drab, uninspiring 1-0 win over Slovakia, it’s clear that, no time was needed to make sense of what happened: The England side, and everything around it, remains as dysfunctional as ever, and already, just one game into the World Cup qualifiers, we can say that the side will remain idiosyncratically awful.
Captain Wayne Rooney
If there’s one event that sums up the peculiarities of the England side, it’s Wayne Rooney announcing his retirement from the international game two years in advance.
It is one thing to announce you’ve had enough before you get dropped (which is what players, even egotistical ones, used to let happen). It is another entirely to let the world know your finish date is two years away at a time when, in any sane world, your current place would be under threat.
But that’s the England football team for you, it doesn’t do normal.
Rooney hasn’t been a world-class player since the days when lining up alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Dimitar Berbatov for Manchester United way back in 2009. And, if we’re being honest, he’s not been worthy of a guaranteed starting spot at Old Trafford for the past three seasons.
So what does new boss Sam Allardyce do? Make him captain and seemingly lets him play out a fantasy of pretending to be England’s very own Andrea Pirlo, lying very deep trying to dictate play in Trnava.
Two things: one, only England seem to have an obsession over who the captain is and elevated the role to a level of importance normally reserved for royalty or prime minister. All it involves is calling heads or tails and then, if a bit of a Nostradamus, deciding whether to take the kick-off or not. In terms of irrelevance, being captain should be up there with being the winner of the British version of The X-Factor.
Two, anyone possessing a soul and vague sense of style should have a man crush on Pirlo. But we all know our limits, and pretending to play like him on away duty is one of those no-go areas, even for Rooney.
England’s woes - and let’s face it, there are many - clearly aren’t down to Rooney alone, of course not. However, he, and his match against Slovakia - both before, during and after - typifies the vagaries of England: a team for which greatness is generally assumed as a given and one where delusions of grandeur are never far away. All in all, it’s slightly baffling.
Not only do England not do reality, they also don’t get irony, which moves us on to ‘Big Sam’.
The reception Allardyce received on being named as manager was as warm and friendly as a knee-high tackle. The good suitability of a manager who has an excellent track record of getting results with teams packed full of limited triers being appointed England boss was lost on the legion of fans who still think glory is a God-given right and just around the corner.
However, in responding “Wayne can play wherever he wants” when asked why Rooney was playing so deep, all Allardyce did was raise questions as to whether he understood the job description, and was the right man for the job. Telling players what to do, where to play, when to drop deep, when to play a higher line etc. - is exactly what the role of manager is.
The irony of giving an answer, that for some, merely confirmed fears he is the wrong person for the job, was lost on the man given task of turning England fortunes around.
Add Allardyce’s view that Marcus Rashford’s hat-trick for the under-21s proved he was right to drop him from the senior side and it’s easy to see why the collective rolling of eyes, a perennial pastime for England fans, continues.
The idea that in 90 minutes things would change under a new manager with the same players who lost to the part timers of Iceland is clearly fanciful. But it’s already clear that any transition needed to become the potential world-beaters they’ve long thought they are will be glacial.