Once upon a time, criticism of English football by the enemy (well, one of a fair few enemies) would have caused consternation. “How dare they take us to task?” would have gone the cry. But in light of German legend Franz Beckenbauer’s less than kind comments, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone to raise an eyebrow, let alone get upset.
To recap, Der Kaiser was writing in the South Africa newspaper The Times and penned the following shot across English bows in regard to their performance against the U.S. in Rustenburg last Saturday: “It looked to me as if the English have gone backwards into the bad old days of kick and rush. What I saw… had very little to do with football.”
Before we get into this, some perspective please: Beckenbauer knows full well that he doesn’t truly believe that England is a spent force. He recently heaped praise upon Wayne Rooney, suggesting his stellar season at Manchester United could actually spur his country on to lifting the World Cup. What’s more, the Fabio Capello era is still best known for making qualification look like a cake walk, going unbeaten and defeating the dangerous Croatia home and away, with that road trip resulting in a thumping 4-1 win (even if he didn’t deem hat trick hero Theo Walcott worthy of a place in the 23 man squad).
So Beckenbauer’s tongue is ever so slightly in his cheek. But there is merit to his words. Indeed, the key phrase may well be the following: “The English are being punished for the fact that there are very few English players in the Premier League clubs as they use better foreign players from all over the world.” Now with this we’re on safer ground and this is a point that has been made by many an Englishman and cannot be disputed. As for the “kick and rush” remark, one assumes he’s referring to the final 30 minutes of Saturday’s game where England certainly appeared bereft of ideas as Emile Heskey and then substitute Peter Crouch were peppered with the infamous long ball.
And Capello himself isn’t exactly delighted with his charges: the warm-up game with Platinum All Stars became best remembered for the referee putting Wayne Rooney away for his petulant choice of language. But the true takeaway was Capello laying into some of the squad at half time and using body language that indicated he was pretty miffed with goalkeeper Joe Hart for his poor distribution choices.
It’s also been well documented that when England give Rooney a strike partner, they can resort to pretty basic hoofball tactics. If/when England get out of Group C, watch for Capello to change things around, allowing Rooney’s good mate Steven Gerrard to play off him, which will in turn make the midfield a tougher proposition, hopefully letting the likes of Joe Cole get a crack against the opposition. If they continue to make life difficult for themselves and come second in the group (presumably behind the U.S.) then they would surely play Germany in the second round. In which case, Capello’s team talk has already been written by Beckenbauer. And lest Der Kaiser forgets, England can turn on the style when the mood takes them. Indeed, the Three Lions can roar with a mixture of flair and short, snappy passes showing the way, culminating in goals by both Gerrard and Heskey. Cast your minds back to September 1, 2001. The location? Munich. The occasion. A World Cup qualifier between Germany and England. The score? Germany 1-5 England. Nobody in their right minds would expect something similar but it does go to show that “the bad old days” weren’t always so bleak.