England’s Biggest Problem – They Are Just Not that Good

 An Uhappy Steven Gerrard England World Cup 2010 England V Algeria (0-0) 18/06/10 Group C at Durban FIFA World Cup 2010 Photo Robin Parker Fotosports International Photo via Newscom

For a number of months there has been a debate on this site about how good the English team really is.  Most have claimed that this version of the Three Lions represented a golden generation of players finally coming to the pinnacle of their skills and ready to challenge for the most valued trophy on earth.  Others took a decidedly dimmer view.  For those, the real England was the team that failed to qualify for Euro ’08, failed to impress in friendlies against quality opposition, and shuffled managers as if a different cook could turn chicken droppings into Chicken Cordon Bleu.

Two games into Engalnd’s World Cup campaign, that debate looks largely settled.  England may still qualify out of the group stages, but even if they beat Slovenia on Wednesday, few hold out much hope of them progressing much further.

So what is it that makes some of these players so effective on their Premiership team and so stolid on the English National team?

Most critically, on their club team, they are surrounded by better players.  All these great English players rarely partner with other English players on their club teams.  Instead, they are usually paired with an outstanding player who would sooner eat their shin guard than a plate of fish and chips.  Frank Lampard plays with the outstanding Michael Essien of Ghana.  The same goes for John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho and for Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov (and before him, Cristiano Ronaldo). 

This impact can clearly be seen in the case of Steven Gerrard.  In England, it is settled law that Gerrard is one of the most ferocious, driven midfielders in the game.  However, that law became settled when he was paired with Xavi Alonso, a tremendously hard working and efficient box-to-box dynamo.  When Alonso went to Real Madrid last year and was not replaced with anything of similar quality, all of the sudden Gerrard looked very ordinary.  The empty space that Gerrard used to barrel into now was closed down.  Gerrard struggled to make an impact all year and, despite his armband, is struggling in a very similar fashion in Africa.

Gerrard without Alonso, Lampard without Essien, and Rooney without anyone is what you are getting in this World Cup.

And yet, on their club teams, these English players are treated as Gods by the media.  The English media creates its own reality.  In the Fleet Street press, Oasis is the next Beatles, Sienna Miller is the next Katherine Hepburn and David Beckham is the next George Best.  Pumping up their celebrities to impossible acclaim (and then deflating them to figures of scorn) is the business model that sells newspapers.  In that light, it is not at all surprising that a decent player like Rooney, Gerrard or Terry is presented as the undisputed star of their team, handed all the armbands, and allowed to lift all the trophies.  From this side of the Atlantic, it is a little easier to be more objective and see how virtually all of the top teams in England are carried by the imported players, but for the English fans, it takes a mightily objective person to be so calculating.

So, what now for England?  The players left the field yesterday in Capetown to a chorus of jeers.  After a long English season, they are now in a tired place where they cannot to read a newspaper, do an interview or watch a sports show without seeing their own ridicule.  Psychologically, the temptation to bid this messy affair a warm goodbye and spend the next three weeks on a beach waiting for the new season to being must be very enticing.  Whether the players have the stomach to pick themselves up, beat Slovenia and continue forward against this emotional and physical onslaught will be a revealing test.  They may have the bottle to fashion that type of victory on Wednesday.

But what they no longer have is the myth of greatness.  This “greatest team in a generation,” is not anything close.    Instead , they are nothing more than a mid-level European team, and it will take a monumental reversal to indicate otherwise.

45 thoughts on “England’s Biggest Problem – They Are Just Not that Good”

  1. An absolutely horrendous performance by an over-rated team and an ever more over-rated manager. Why on earth does ugly Capello not give Joe Cole a decent run. I am certain that he cannot be any worse than Milner or Lennon or SWP.Teams like Arsenal that do not give a fair chance to English players is the root cause of all this nonsense and it can get only worse for England from now on.

    1. “I think that right now, the strongest sides going into the World Cup are Spain, England and Brazil”
      -Lionel Messi (Barcelona/Argentina) – May, 2010.

      “Lampard and Gerrard, for me, are number one players.”
      -Xavi (Barcelona/Spain) – June, 2010.

  2. They are that good, they’re just not that good together.

    Same thing with France: Great players, yet play very poorly as a unit.

  3. lampard didnt play with essien through nearly the entire season but your point holds. At chelsea lampard has anelka and drogba to not only hold up play but to come deep and bring the ball through midfield. he also has mikel to do the mopping up, something mikel does very well but doesnt get the accolodes for. Add to malouda is a better winger then anything england have and can shoot, has excellent movement and its no wonder that lampard does well. Chelsea has the best left side in the world because a.cole, malouda and lampard all work there and dont get into each others way.

    at england level though you have gerrard, lampard and even rooney all occupying similar positions.

    My suggestion either drop lampard or gerrard, they both great players but you need a more calming influence in the back, put on carrick and barry together, use gerrard in the centre, j.cole on the left and rooney as lone striker. The team would play better. use lampard for a more subdued pace with more ball retention if gerrards lack of tempo control isnt working.

  4. Yer shite…deal with it. Saying that, its good entertainment. Oh and constantly repeating comparisons with1966 does not make the team better

  5. Another one of those articles designed to provoke a reaction and get as many comments as possible. Well done EPLtalk moving up that quality ladder fast.

    1. I should know better than to read these sorts of articles and usually dont bother as they just wind me up. The author takes such delight in it on a blog dedicated to the English Football League. I am sure there is irony there somewhere.
      England have been poor no question, no real defence for it – hopefully it improves.

  6. Hi Eric,
    Your analysis along with your previous articles about english squad for world cup have turned out to be right on the money. English media does creates its own reality. I am one of those who firmly believed that english team will be in the finals based on all the hype i let english media ( especially TV commentators) get in to my mind.

    I am glad I am not a gambling man otherwise I will be in a dog house like english team.

  7. Absolutely spot on. Great stuff Eric.
    I think everyone in England gets swept along by the underlying assumptions that the likes of Lampard and Gerrard make their teams tick, which just wasn’t the case with Gerrard for the past couple of years (Xabi was for me the key man). Lampard has played well without Essien but I agree with the point that he has support from someone like Essien/Mikel/Belletti to give him protection.

    You say that the failure is because the players just aren’t that good, but do you also attribute something to the formation/team selection. I can’t help feeling that the rigid 4-4-2 is starting to look outdated and can be exploited by teams willing to play 3 at the back or other more fluid formations.

  8. You’re shit and you know it
    Clap your hands!
    You’re shit and you know it
    Clap your hands!

    You’re shit and you know it,
    and you’re really gonna show it.
    You’re shit and you know it
    Clap your hands!

    God I love England!

    1. another sad article from the european immagrants aka yanks no 1 cares about ur opinions,only spain brazil argentina have better players so shut it yank no likes you lot an no 1 respects ur opinions

  9. ahahahahahahahaahhahahah

    Limey bastard.

    What are the chances of the United States qualifying to the next round, while England continue to sink.

    Does that officially make us better than you?

        1. It is EASY, why do you think the team is getting murdered in the press after they could only manage to get 2 draws?
          If the group was tough and actually had some talent in it then the media and the public would not be as harsh as they are being now.

          The fact that we have been so shit and can still qualify from this group shows just how shit the other teams are and how EASY it should have been.

          1. I guess by this point I shouldn’t be surprised by your continuing lack of respect for the other teams, and yet I still am.

            You England fans are equally culpable. You hype up your team, attribute greatness to them that they haven’t earned, and then crucify them and their manager when they fall short.

          2. If it was so EASY, why isn’t England walking through the group instead of floundering. I doubt you can draw wi

          3. Okay, a normal persons response would be that this entire tournament field has been quite surprisingly level. Whether it’s from teams like England that really aren’t a team at all or good team efforts from teams like Englands opponents, all the groups seem to have every team mathematically alive going into the final round (except Cameroon). If you really believe what you said then you’re not learning anything from what all you self centered English fans have misjudged this entire tournament.

      1. What a dipshit thing to say. England looks to be getting worse with every match they play. The U.S. actually looks to be getting better.

        What are you going to do if the U.S. gets farther in the tournament than England? (It’s looking increasingly likely, BTW) What’s your argument going to be then?

        1. Did the US team look to get better when they let in two goals in one half? That’s two games in a row that they let a goal in within the first few minutes of the game. England look bad but that doesn’t, by default, make the US look good.

          And nothing is looking likely at all! Every game is just that – a new game! Save your chest-bumping for after the next game. One little win for England and we advance (same for US). You do remember there is another game, right?

  10. I would agree with most of the article except the part about Rooney and Berbatov. They rarely play together and Berbatov has been awful at Man United. You should have used Valencia who seems to have the ability to put a cross directly on Rooney’s balding forehead an ability that England’s “wingers” can’t even dream about.

    I think that the England team is suffering from what the US has suffered from. The 4-4-2 is not the right system for them. Go 4-5-1 and see what happens for both teams making the most of the central midfielders.

  11. One game to put it right, one game to show you have pride, one game to show the world that we are not a joke. it all comes down to one game, i know we can do it, forget changing formations, forget winning the world cup, just show show some belief and play your hearts out. Forget the English haters, lets just make sure we have the chance to make them eat their words in the knockout stages.

  12. My confidence in the England team before the World Cup was not based on media hype or Ladbroke’s odds because, like most older English fans, I have already learned that lesson. I was confident because of a solid qualifying campaign, excellent performances against Croatia and the form of Rooney and Lampard during the EPL season.

    The performances in the first two games of this World Cup are down to the insipid play of Rooney, Lampard and Gerrard as much as anything else. It’s difficult for me to be too harsh on Capello because almost any line up and any formation will fail if the top three players are this bad.

    I’m still not convinced that this campaign cannot be salvaged, but I accept that a turnaround in form at this juncture looks pretty unlikely.

  13. If you wrote something similar two weeks ago, it would have been because you were an American and just didn’t understand the nuances of “Sock-ah”.

    I think England just went from being over-rated to under-rated because of the fickle nature of English fans who think last game’s form means everything.

  14. England should apologize to the world for the disgusting performance yesterday…and to think that all those overhyped losers make over $100,000/week for their club teams. Disgusting, disgraceful! No other way to descirbe it! No ifs, no buts, no excuses…same old England…hopefully Slovenia puts them out of their misery on Wednesday!

  15. You need some context to say “they are not that good”. They are not HOW good? Are they less skilled than Algeria? Of course not, so to simply say they are not that good you are over simplifying the issue.

    But you have a point. Many people reading English media might have thought the team’s skill level was 3rd in the world or so, in reality it’s lower. Perhaps 6-10. But that is still at a level which could compete well and go far if they had the right chemistry and a hot streak. No one is saying that France’s talent is not that good.

    Your best point is that the English players play better with their club teams’ imports. I don’t think the England players complement each other, and I’m not just talking about Lampard and Gerrard, I’m talking about the whole team. They don’t easily hold posession, and so aren’t comfortable and don’t do anything creative because they are struggling to keep the ball. That is not the situation at Chelsea, Man U etc. Rooney is obviously frustrated and it is affecting his play.

    I do think people read too much into England’s qualifying campaign. Maybe Croatia had a couple crap games and made England look good? Point is you can’t read too much into it.

  16. Months ago, for those who said Wright/Lennon/Walcott should be cemented in the squad, I said how important a fit Beckham would’ve been to England in S.A. because “when they run out of ideas as they almost always do, knocking in a Becks cross whipped in from the right will be their salvation”

    I’ve seen more chemistry in a team hastily assembled for charity match

    I’ve seen pub teams string more passes and have better control of a football.

    Andrew Johnson should’ve been in South Africa.

    Again, Gerrard/Lampard cannot play together. The latter should be dropped.

    Was there a single cross from the left?

    Heskey did most of what he was brought in to do but it’s not working.

    England must start scoring goals. Defoe has to start the next match.

  17. I agree with Rob Dee, there is still one game left. I remember everyone bashing the Canadian olympic team in the early stage and they end up winning the Gold Medal because hockey is our sport so England if football is your sport win this World Cup or you will be a joke.

  18. Agreed. They are a very solid team that is nothing more. They are dead tired and it shows everytime they play.

    They have the talent and play to make it a round or two but that is really it.

    Against quick/talented teams, they will get killed

    1. I think fatigue is so key with this English team. Very few leagues have the continuous grind (league play, league cup, the cup that goes all three divisions plus Europa or Champions league if you play for teams 1-7) and then the continual international friendly, Euro qualification, and World Cup qualification grind. Chelsea players have got to be so exhausted by now. This isn’t an excuse, it’s just an observation. The lads are gassed. I think Rooney is the most obvious example of this.

      And why is Barry the anointed one? He’s another Hargreaves, prone to injury and never going to live up to his hype. You put him in and now you have Barry, Gerrard, and Lampard all playing the same damn role in the midfield. And without a creative midfield, England flounders. English strikers don’t necessarily create so much as they are the recipient of midfield production. And the defense is older and slower. I’m a Liverpool fan, so I’ve watched Johnson and Carra and I know the problems they can cause. Johnson often abandons defense in search of goals and Carra makes mistakes.

      1. But all leagues have long seasons. France has 2 domestic cup competitions. Germany’s biggest team played all the way to the CL final. And then there are non-European teams like Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and the US who’s players are scattered all about the globe and have to travel extra long distances for national team duty. If anyone should be tired it should be those teams. Every England player plays in England. Not so for most other teams.

        1. What you’re saying is true, but aren’t other countries a little more forgiving about international friendlies than England? I know Spain constantly puts its best 11 out for friendlies, but it seems to me (and I could be wrong) that other national teams will give a pass to stars for friendlies and concentrate on giving younger guys experience. Am I wrong?

  19. I’ve watched Hundreds of England matches, and as far as i can remember, that was the worst England performance i have ever seen, i’m just glad i wasn’t one of the thousands of fans who spent a fortune getting there.

  20. brett said it right.

    they are great players, and just like a lot of national teams with great players, they stink up the joint because together, they have no chemistry. england is THE prime example of that this time around. france a close second.

    if they find some glue though, and those great players step up, the three lions could make y’all eat your words.

    good point about their talents being tapped when they have their internationalized club squads surrounding them, but to label rooney “decent” is laughable, regardless of how he plays in a stretch of a few games. and i hate man u.

    hyperbolic article, but it sells hits. much like the english press you strung up.

  21. Spot on article. Nothing more to add. It should be noted that the author of this article has been making the same point way before the last 2 games. Kuddos!

  22. “Most critically, on their club team, they are surrounded by better players.”

    Don’t all the good players take advantage of playing with other good players at the club level? You can certainly say this about the English players but you then have to apply this same rule to all the other players stationed in the Premier League.

    For example, Drogba looks incredible at Chelsea… not so much at Ivory Coast.

    Plus, they are top performers (and sometimes scorers) in the league. They take advantage of playing will other good players (as I said – everyone does) but it’s not like the team gets together and agrees that they are going to make all the English players look good today.

  23. Two notes here. I’ll get flamed and voted down but I just have to say it.

    1) American fans love to come out and support when things go their way. All the Americans that “supported” England on here a month ago have suddenly dissipated and turned into US fans. I hate it when English fans call Americans glory-hunters but, for the first time, I have witnessed this and can see where they’re coming from.

    2) Nothing matters as long as you get out of the group stage. And typically, England often leave it to the last group game to advance. I know the US media loves to sensationalize this idea that England are “terrible” but this is basically par for the course. I may be wrong and we’ll could end up getting eliminated from the group stage for the third time ever – but, conversely, three wins and they are heroes and all this group stage debacle is forgotten.

  24. yeah – we took all the world cup tickets and resold it to you gullible bahstads and made some pretty coin because we may not be that good in football (i mean soccer) but we’re great in making money (at least until the Chinese loanshark comes in to collect and even then we’ll sell them some more shit loans dressed up to look like winners).



    Sarah Palin

  25. Yet you have the 4th most talented team in the world (according to you) and can only manage a draw against a team without 1 good player.

  26. ok one more thing hey brits please take sarah palin, she is perfect fit for english tabloids.. please take her.. :)

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