The English press are really, really eager to praise Raheem Sterling all of a sudden. He was excellent against Kosovo, giving arguably his best performance for his country, but there’s more than a whiff of compensation – for what is a mystery – to some of the reaction. Particularly from those journalists employed by newspapers which, traditionally, get terribly outraged by the success of young black men.
‘Sterling was simply sensational,’ writes Martin Samuel in the Daily Mail. ‘It is incredible to think that this time last year, heads were being scratched as 1,102 days passed without a goal for England.’
Being scratched by whom, exactly, and for what reason? Sterling has certainly developed as a footballer and improved tremendously under Pep Guardiola, but are we really going to pretend that the hostile atmosphere created around his England career wasn’t complicit in its initial failure to launch? Imagine trying to concentrate on your work when you’re being constantly hounded for commemorating your deceased father with a tattoo.
The Sun are at it too, calling his performance ‘magnificent’ and carrying a small feature on Sterling giving his boots away to a young fan.
Bored of vilifying him, are you? Run out of ways to make him the emblem of your institutional prejudice?
Or hoping for a bit of access?
Mediawatch will acknowledge that those agendas were often led by the front of those papers rather than the back – and that minds can obviously be changed – but the feigned ignorance has us feeling a little queasy. It’s not long ago that these newspapers were demanding apologies and absolving themselves of blame.
The Sun’s Dave Kidd was left distinctly unimpressed by what he saw at St Mary’s.
‘Racking up mountains of goals against Eastern European no-hopers – and England have 19 from four matches in this qualifying campaign – is not what wins you major tournaments.
‘That task, England’s stated aim, requires serious, diligent defending.
‘And this was nothing of the sort.’
Fair enough so far: neither Harry Maguire nor Michael Keane really covered themselves in any glory and, for sure, England will have to stop kicking the ball into their own net if they’re to make any hay at the Euros.
‘The best international teams do not take such risks in their own third of the pitch. They are sufficiently streetwise to know when to clear their lines and Row Zed it if necessary.’
Woah there Dave, that’s just some archaic b*ll*cks, isn’t it? England’s failure wasn’t in their determination to play out from the back, but in them doing it badly. And these streetwise, world-class teams who become Bobby Gould’s Wimbledon at the first sign of trouble, where are they?
France, Spain, Holland, Belgium? Nope. Barcelona, Manchester City, Liverpool, Ajax, Juventus? Erm…
Case for the defence
Martin Samuel is similarly unimpressed by England’s defending. They did concede three goals to a relative minnow so that does seem fair enough.
Mediawatch did have to laugh at this line, mind:
‘Only a curmudgeon would have left St Mary’s without a great big smile, heading into the night, happy to have been here.’
Within literally a single paragraph, he is asking whether this was ‘glass half full or half empty’. Textbook.
‘Did you see the most dangerous forward line in European football, tearing apart a nation that had gone 14 games without defeat and racing to a 5-1 half-time lead; or did you see a sloppy, vulnerable defence, that gave up three goals against a fledgling nation missing five first-team players, and lost the second-half 2-0?’
Or something in between? A ‘dangerous’ attacking side that could afford to be ‘sloppy’. And while that is not an excuse for such defending, it is at least a viable reason.
But ‘lost the second-half 2-0’ did make us laugh. That’s not how this game works.
Samuel is right in describing this as ‘a team of extremes’, and in airing his concerns. England have won qualifying games and scored at least four goals in each, but only a fool would pretend they are world-beaters.
Yet there is a middle ground. This does not have to be a team with either ‘a genuine chance at the European Championship next summer’ or one that ‘might be horribly undone by any nation with hopes of winning the tournament’.
If being an excellent but flawed team works for world champions France, it is fine for England. They are fairly ‘sloppy’ and ‘vulnerable’ in defence every game, but do pose a substantial offensive threat each time.
‘Earlier this week, he reeled off the teams he expects to contend the 2020 European Championship finals. It was the usual suspects: Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Holland, Belgium, Portugal. Can England score four against any of those teams – because they’ll certainly concede three if they defend like this.’
Well this side have beaten Spain 3-2 and Germany 3-2 in recent years, so they do have form for this ‘we’ll score one more than you’ mentality.
England have kept six clean sheets in 12 games since the World Cup. They, in Samuel’s own words, have an attack that ‘is currently rewriting European football’s history books’. The glass is far more full than it is empty.
As Alan says…
Incredible 'true' story.
We weren't in the CL at that time.
We didn't play in GER in any of 8 months after JH joined the club.
PM played almost all of the matches at the end of the season JH joined (so not inj. 4 months).
PM's never talked about owning a horse.
But 'content'!!! https://t.co/PDXCETZfWB
— Alan Alger (@Alan_Alger_) September 10, 2019
Yes. The season John Hartson joined Arsenal, Paul Merson played in 34 league games for the club, so it seems unlikely that he found time to fit in a four-month injury. Ditto the point about Germany, because Arsenal’s Cup Winners’ Cup adventure took them through Cyprus, Italy, Denmark and then France for the final.
The racehorse? Who knows, but – at the moment – it seems that Amazon Prime’s aim is to become a home for ex-players to bullsh*t and banter their way through retirement.
Thank goodness, because we needed another one of those.
It could always be worse, though…
— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) September 9, 2019
Tedious modern trend of the day
‘FIFA 20 ratings: Rangers ratings revealed – 6 key players improve, Ryan Kent biggest riser’ – Daily Express.
‘Sanchez given one of FIFA’s biggest ever ratings drops after shocking season’ – The Sun.
‘Aubameyang gives hilarious responds (sic) to his FIFA 20 ratings’ – Daily Mirror.
‘Liverpool players’ FIFA 20 ratings revealed’ – Daily Mirror (again).
‘Manchester United players FIFA 20 ratings revealed’ – And again.
‘Meet Alexia Laporte, the stunning sister of the Man City ace who is out injured’ – The Sun.
b) Also why, but in a different sense.
Rather-cut-off-our-own-balls-than-click-that of the day
‘Piers Morgan wades into Ronaldo vs Messi debate’ – Daily Mirror.
Recommended reading of the day
George Caulkin being George Caulkin(£).
Miguel Delaney on Jadon Sancho.
Robert Dineen on sport’s fight against drugs.