Quite a game, no? Nick Miller watched Arsenal's thrilling 1-1 draw with Everton and saw two teams who have improved, leaving certain others trailing...
In a Sunday Mailbox which is understandably dominated by Manchester United, there are a few little bits for the rest, specifically Chelsea & a Liverpool Christmas list...
Only another few days of hand-wringing about England to go before we get back to enjoying football.
Don't the international weeks wear the f*ck out of you? The limitless discussions of how England can improve, how the future should or shouldn't be, why we're crap, why we shouldn't be crap, foreigners, non-foreigners, half-foreigners, Hoddle, Waddle and Danny bloody Mills. oh shut up, I've had e-bloody-nough.
Nothing is worth this degree of navel gazing. Sometimes it seems as if creating a successful national football team is the equivalent of finding the Higgs Boson particle. Like we need some football equivalent of a Large Hadron Collider to create a player better than Michael bloody Carrick. I think some believe there's some scientific way to engineer a successful England side; or maybe secret code that we can crack using a sporting Enigma Machine.
Unlike most people reading this website, I have seen England win the world cup and the truth is we didn't even play that well really in doing that. We were pragmatic and solid but not especially thrilling. It is this very fact that should have geared all our attitudes to England ever since and yet it is a fact that has largely escaped the majority view and especially our febrile media.
In all the subsequent 47 years watching England I can think of maybe half a dozen games where we played really good exciting football against a decent side and won. So there's no point in ever hoping that's going to happen. It won't happen on Tuesday against Poland. There is almost no precedent for it and there's not even any point in criticising England for not playing well. That's like beating the dyslexic kid for not spelling all his words correctly.
What England do and always have done is play OK in spells, play awfully in spells, and then waste a lot of time doing not much. Roy Hodgson has been criticised for playing boring football as though England has ever done anything else for anything other than short spells within games. Even in legendary games, such as the 4-1 defeat of Holland in 1996, we were just alright in the first half, had a stellar 20 minutes in the second and then faded.
We simply have never done 90 minutes of great football. We have no high standards against which to measure ourselves. We have no tradition of being a great football team. None. But to read the endless wailing about the English game you'd think the reverse was true. You'd think it is only having a few players to choose that has ruined our chances of being any good when we've never been any good regardless of playing resources. I don't know why this lesson can't be learned. There seems to be a refusal to accept a truth that has been self-evident for decades.
Sven Goran Erikson understood us and that's why he was our greatest ever manager. The best game I've ever seen England play was the 5-1 defeat of Germany. Easily. We were great for the whole game. Even Heskey scored. This never happens. It was a blip and Sven's shocked expression at the time proved he knew it was a blip. By the next game everything was back to normal; a sluggish two nil home win over Albania, the second goal coming in the 88th minute. That is the real England.
Sven's three quarter-final achievements were widely regarded as a failure by people who either knew nothing about English football or had other agendas. I do vividly remember people saying that they didn't actually want to win the World Cup playing the pragmatic sort of football that was Sven's stock in trade. This is the sort of idiocy that makes the England experience so wearing. Sven's 'first half good, second half not so good' approach served us really well. He realised that you only needed to play well for about 20 minutes per game to have a good chance of winning it. A decent 20 minutes in every game and a couple of decent free kicks and then being boring for the other 70 got us a long way. Sven lost only qualifying game in three tournaments playing this way. He knew the limits of his players and demanded nothing more from them. This is much more important than trying to get players to be achieve a standard that is beyond them and thus making them feel inadequate.
His squad was the most vaunted of recent years and judged harshly against a falsely high standard set for them. In reality, just like today, England under Sven were an average side who actually over-achieved and were a couple of silly mistakes and a refereeing error away from a semi-final or final. We cannot hope for more. We should not hope more. Roy Hodgson's critics just like Sven's and Fabio Capello's too, want England to be a side that they are not and have never been and history shows time and again cannot be. We beat ourselves up about this far too much and always have done. So much so in fact, that it would appear there is more pleasure derived by the nation, not in seeing the side win a few games, but in berating them while pretending it is somehow all for the best.
It is only when everyone from fans to players to manager and press really embrace being dull and pragmatic and demand nothing more than being dull and pragmatic and are not bothered at all by being dull and pragmatic, can we have any chance of being successful...and even then, you know fine well that we won't be. This is England.
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Carrick is the Didier Deschamps of the England team. If England did actually fluke their way to glory in 2014 in Brazil it will almost certainly be with Carrick at the base of the team. There will still be plenty of armchair critics of Carrick mind you, even in the event of that unlikely situation developing. You know, those football pundits and ex pros that know more than Fergie, Wenger, Scholes, Xavi and all his other admirers.- carrick4england