Think back to the 2006 World Cup in Germany and the game that England played against Portugal in the quarter-final. There were many vivid moments from that match including Cristiano Ronaldo’s wink, Wayne Rooney getting sent off for his stamp on Ricardo Carvalho and David Beckham exiting the game with an injury.
But the one player who stood out from all 22 on the pitch that evening personifies the one thing that is missing from England during this World Cup.
That one player was Owen Hargreaves and that one thing is passion.
Of course, Hargreaves is still not nearly at a level of an international call-up again right now, so I’m not advocating a return for him. But what I am seeing in England is a lack of passion and a lack of a player who can pick up the game like the way that Hargreaves did against Portugal in 2006.
If you remember from that game against Portugal, Hargreaves played a blinder. He was giving 100% during every moment of the game. And you could clearly see that he wanted nothing more than for England to win the game. The man ran everywhere, made incredible tackles, blocked shots on goal. He was the shining star on a night when the England players you would expect to show up clearly didn’t.
That’s what England is missing. A player that the fans can identify with. Someone that the supporters can get behind. A footballer who is willing to spill his guts to help England to victory.
In the past week, I’ve been very critical of this current England side. I’m not an England hater. I want them to succeed, but the team has to earn the respect and plaudits by playing a brand of football that they do week-in week-out in the Premier League. There are so many questions hanging over the head of England right now. And the big one is whether they are a good footballing nation or not. It’s time for England to put themselves to the test on Wednesday against Slovenia and show the world what they’re made of.
With Hargreaves not in the squad, the concern I have is who is able to rise up for England and to play a similar role to what Hargreaves did in 2006. It could be Wayne Rooney, but I believe there’s too much pressure riding on his shoulders already and it seems unlikely that he can step into those shoes. So who else can do it? Perhaps Joe Cole if Capello gives him a chance, but Cole hasn’t been that type of player for a very long time. He can score goals but he’s not a firestarter who can get the England team pumped up. Gerrard did it for Liverpool in the 2005 Champions League Final, but that was a very long time ago and was under different circumstances.
The beauty of the inspirational game from Owen Hargreaves in 2006 was that he was the player we least expected to step into the role. So, maybe it’s better that on Wednesday afternoon that an England player we least expected to step up does it for us. Or not.