By now the dust is beginning to settle over England’s disastrous 2010 World Cup campaign as well as the unsuccessful 2018 bid, but a disappointing end to 2010 for England may once again have the critics debating whether this England team is actually capable of anything noteworthy on the pitch. England will not play again until 2011 and the final games of 2010 were a goalless home draw with Montenegro and a home defeat to France, Capello’s first.
One lesson learned from the World Cup is that performance in qualification is not indicative of how England will perform in the actual tournament. The 4-1 and 5-1 victories over Croatia seem distant when you consider that England lacked the competency to break down Algeria or pick up a second goal over the USA or Slovenia. Either of which would have seen England top the group and avoid the dangerous Germany for the first knockout round. The poor results against Montenegro and France are excusable to an extent, Montenegro came into the game in highly surprising form having like England won all their previous games and left with a point they were highly fortunate to pick up. Cynics may look at how Montenegro almost stole victory with a late chance after Milan Jovanovic hit the bar but it’s fairer to England to focus on how the off-form Rooney missed two chances he’d usually easy put away or how Crouch should have done far better with a free header in the first half. England were also denied a clear penalty late on. Against France England were missing many players and France were able to field a significantly stronger team. Despite those slip ups it seems that England are in for another rampant qualification campaign which may or may not carry over lead to further good performances in the actual competition. The 4-0 over Bulgaria and 3-1 over Switzerland were highly impressive results and since the away game to Switzerland was probably the toughest fixture for England in the group it would be fair to expect smooth sailing when qualification results in 2011.
So can a country of supposed superstars and promising young talent backed up by a foreign manager with an impressive trophy haul really pick themselves up and go on to be a force in Euro 2012? I believe that under the right circumstances that winning the competition should not be out of England’s reach but England also face the danger of Euro 2012 being just another World Cup 2010. That is, filled with elevated expectations due impressive performances in qualification and the usual expectation that England are faced with simply due to being England, only for England to once again reach a quarter final at the very best. This is Capello’s last chance, he claims that this is his last ever job as a manager but even if he goes back on his decision it’s unlikely that he’d be allowed to continue as England manager following another failure. Capello is a manager accustomed to success and despite not being English, despite the great money he is earning from being England manager, win or lose I believe that failure in Poland/Ukraine would hurt Capello personally and that he will be determined to do a lot better next time round. A manager like Capello will surely not consider Euro 2012 as a success unless England can reach the final at least as was his affirmation before the World Cup that getting to the final was his idea of success and that anything else was failure.
But Capello could stand as the single most decisive factor over England’s success or failure in Euro 2012. Capello in the last few games has shown a willingness to bring in new players, whether that be 33 year old Kevin Davies or the significantly younger Andy Carroll. Manoeuvres such as this once again cast doubt onto whether Capello can actually figure out exactly what he intends to do with the players at his disposal. Leading up to the World Cup it was clear Capello was uncertain about his system and his starting line-up, characterised by the dramatic change in system for the game against Slovenia where Capello was forced to abandon the system that had only picked up a point against the USA and Algeria. He was also uncertain about his number one goalkeeper and dropping Robert Green after his mistake against the USA suggests that when he chose to start Green he wasn’t especially confident in his choice. If Capello goes into another major tournament without a clear system that has been practiced and refined then England face the same dangers as before. It is also Capello’s responsibility to make the correct decision over which younger players with little or no international experience will become established between now and Euro 2012. For England the talent is there and Capello must make big decisions over whether established players such as Barry, Terry, Lampard or others will continue to be first choice or whether the likes of Wilshire, Adam Johnson or Carroll can make their way into the first team. One reason why I mentioned Lampard there is because he has missed a number of recent England games through injury and a lot of the reaction I read from the wins over Bulgaria and Switzerland mentioned whether he should be allowed back into the once he recovers. Terry, on top of his persistent injury problems seems to be far away from the player he was back when Mourinho first took over at Chelsea and Barry has been very poor in England’s recent games. Wilshire is already looking like a readymade replacement if Barry cannot improve. The problem of England’s superstars feeling like they are invincible and subsequently not performing at their highest level is a problem for England and if England’s established players truly feared for their place in the starting line-up it could get England playing to their potential. Most of this will be down to the manager.
Another person that will determine just how well England perform in Euro 2012 is Wayne Rooney. His performances for Manchester United and England during the 2009-2010 season firmly established him as England’s superstar and greatest hope for victory in the World Cup. Rooney has been faced with similar levels for expectation in 2006 but like back then Rooney failed to deliver. Rooney will be 26 when Poland/Ukraine comes around which means quite possibly he will be at or close to his peak. A lot has been said about Rooney recently due to his personal life, his recent transfer saga with United and his lack of goals this season but it seems highly unlikely that England will be able to win or even make it deep into a major tournament without getting Rooney to play his best football. Rooney’s best performances this season have been in an England shirt against Bulgaria and Switzerland, the latter accounting for Rooney’s only goal from open play this season. Now Rooney seems to be clear of his injury problems and has returned for United England fans everywhere can hope that for England’s sake Rooney can return to his best and can go into Euro 2012 off the back of a fantastic 2011-2012 campaign. It would be even better if he could on this occasion avoid an injury close to the start of the tournament unlike in 2006 and 2010. England should not be too disheartened by Rooney’s failure to even manage a goal in the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, Rooney was excellent in the last European Championship he played in 2004 and has come a long way since then. He is a world class talent and during a major tournament national teams need their best players to step up and perform, England will once again need Rooney and if Rooney can perform as expected along with the rest of the team then Rooney can be the decisive factor against the big teams.
Of course if England team does manage to come back from Poland/Ukraine as successes it will have to be a team effort but as usual for England the components are there. Great players, young and old, experienced and inexperienced; a successful manager who was hired on the premise of being world class. However all these components were in place for South Africa and England were unable to achieve, and it wasn’t down to bad luck and the controversy over Lampard’s disallowed goal vs. Germany isn’t enough to explain what became a crushing defeat. So if England will compete in Euro 2012 something must be different, that something could come from the manager, the star players or perhaps the new players that will look to establish themselves between now and the end of the 2012 season. One thing is for sure, the established English players enjoy high reputations and most of the success with their clubs which they will be expected to replicate internationally, many of the younger players like Wilshire, Carroll, Walcott, Milner and Adam Johnson will be expected to develop into great players. So whether England go into Euro 2012 with any realistic hope of winning the competition or not it seems implausible that the expectation and belief from the fans will not be present as it always has been. I firmly believe that the talent of the England team is undeniable and the only thing holding England back is the inability to utilise that talent and transform England into a team that can consistently pull of world class performances against any opposition. But if England can show signs that they can overcome the boundaries that have held them back in the past then they will deservedly head into Euro 2012 amongst the favourites.