Tag Archives: england

Why Does England Keep Losing?

England U-21 coach Gareth Southgate has more than a passing familiarity with the agony kane u21of tournament soccer: In 1996, Southgate’s shoot-out miss eliminated England from the first European Championship played on English soil. But at least Euro ’96, the last time England looked capable of winning an international competition, produced some genuinely inspirational moments. England lost in the semi-finals – but it lost heroically.

On Wednesday, Southgate led the U-21s – a motley assortment of established Premier League players (Harry Kane, Danny Ings) and up-and-coming prospects (Nathan Redmond, Ruben Loftus-Cheek) – to a profoundly unheroic tournament exit. England’s 3-1 loss to Italy, which sent the team tumbling out of the group stage of the U-21 European Championships, will be remembered as a particularly pathetic collapse in the history of a national program that has raised pathetic collapses to a gruesome art.

There are clear on-field explanations for England’s underwhelming performance. Injuries deprived the team of its calmest center back and its most creative attacker. Ings and Kane, who both played surprisingly well in last season’s Premier League, missed chances they usually convert. Against Italy, a group of highly paid professional athletes failed to mark opponents in the penalty area.

But England’s real problems have little to do with the shortcomings of this particular squad. The national team’s pattern of failure is rooted in the cultural and institutional weaknesses of English soccer.

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Why Isn’t Wayne Rooney Considered A Great Player?

Wayne Rooney recently earned his 100th England cap in a European Championship Manchester United v Manchester Cityqualifier at Wembley Stadium. He scored in that game, and then netted another two goals in a friendly against Scotland, putting him within reach of Bobby Charlton’s England goal-scoring record. At club level, Rooney has won five Premier League titles, a Champions League, several domestic cups, and a handful of individual awards. And yet many pundits insist that, despite his prodigious talent, he will never join the pantheon of footballing greats.

Rooney’s detractors emphasize a few key criticisms. He has repeatedly underperformed at the World Cup. He has endured long goal-scoring droughts. He can’t control his temper. He smokes cigarettes and eats unhealthy food. But the real reason Rooney hasn’t achieved greatness – or, at least, the kind of greatness pundits recognize – is the same reason he continues to be one of the most interesting players in world football.

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Unfortunately, It’s That Time of Year

The September international break is universally despised. It inaugurates a new round of boring qualifiers, rooney norwaybrings the daily news cycle to a standstill, and forces fans to wait two weeks to see their teams’ deadline-day signings in action. Moreover, most of the games take place on Monday or Tuesday, so the first weekend of September is almost always devoid of soccer.

During this summer’s World Cup, sports fans stayed glued to the television as star players competed for a prestigious title. Last week, England played Norway in a half-empty Wembley stadium, and virtually no one watched on TV. That’s the great irony of international soccer: for a few weeks every four years, it attracts hundreds of millions of viewers, many of whom aren’t even soccer fans – but the rest of the time, it’s kind of a drag.

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Italy Can’t Kick Racism Out of FIGC Presidency, Let Alone Football

Racism is a major problem in Italian football – just ask Mario Balotelli, who fled Italy the first chance Carlo Tavecchiohe got, only to return three years later to escape the not-racist-but-still-pretty-awful English press.

That problem just got a whole lot worse: Earlier today, Carlo Tavecchio, a bona fide racist, was appointed president of the Italian Football Federation. In July, Tavecchio said he hopes to strengthen the rules governing non-EU players, so that Africans “who previously ate bananas” can’t insinuate themselves into Serie A.

Tavecchio won 63 percent of the vote. I think it’s time for Balotelli to move back to England.

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I Hope This Was A Joke

Yesterday was bad. But England isn’t this desperate:

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I guess it’s easy to say that a coach “deserves to be part of the debate.” After all, what does that even mean? That someone at the FA should say the words “what about Steve Bruce?” and then quickly change the subject? That Bruce merits at least an interview? That we all ought to tweet about him just to see what happens?

In others news, Harry Redknapp says Roy Hodgson should remain England manager and that in the future, the team should try to emulate Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool. For some reason, he didn’t mention Steve Bruce.

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Fearsome Chelsea Prepare for the Future

Marko Marin is not an elfin warrior. The pint-sized, blond German international may look more like an extra from a Lord of the Rings movie than a professional footballer, but his flashy talents have nothing to do with Middle Earth. Indeed, from the point of view of Chelsea’s many rivals, Marin and his fellow new signings, Oscar and Eden Hazard, are a little too real; their arrival at Stamford Bridge marks the beginning of an aggressive new era.

Over the past three seasons, Manchester City’s owners have routinely outperformed Roman Abramovich in the indulgent-spending stakes. That gradual power shift culminated in City’s Premier League title success. Now Abramovich is biting back.

While City triumphed in England last season, Chelsea saved their champagne for the Champions League final. The Blues’ undeserved yet brilliantly cathartic penalty shoot-out win over Bayern Munich — in Bayern’s home stadium, no less — capped a turbulent season replete with managerial controversy and several dressing-room revolts. Many critics dismissed Chelsea’s triumph, however, claiming the team had won the tournament by “parking the bus” and playing “catenaccio” (By the way, this is one of my pet peeves. Catenaccio is not a synonym for “defensive.” It is a system built around a sweeper and man-marking, two tactical devices that are almost obsolete in modern football). Some even went as far as to blame Di Matteo’s Italian ancestry.

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Reflecting on the Euros: 15 Things We Learned

1.      It’s getting harder and harder to host- In recent years, FIFA and UEFA have made a lot of noise about the importance of spreading football around the globe, encouraging traditionally unsuccessful football nations to host international tournaments. It’s no surprise, then, that, despite a couple of glorious moments, this year’s hosts were both eliminated before the first knockout round. After all, neither Poland nor Ukraine is one of the best eight teams in Europe.

Wild expectations don’t help. After Poland’s disappointing 1-1 draw with Greece, Francizek Smuda claimed that his team had been “paralyzed by pressure.” Ukraine looked similarly disabled against England, though a controversial goal-line decision provided them with a readymade excuse.

2.      Holland are still unreliable- Almost 40 years after the 1974 World Cup final, Holland are still masters of self-destruction. First, their pre-tournament preparation was marred by a dressing room argument over whether certain black players had been racially abused by someone outside the squad. Then the team imploded against Denmark, Arjen Robben forgot how to shoot, and Robin Van Persie reverted to, well, Robin Van Persie-at-the-2010-World-Cup-form. Holland exited the Euros without a single point, and Bert Van Marwijk resigned soon thereafter.

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Here We Go Again

And thus begins another two years of hurt for England. The only difference this time is that the inevitable penalty-shootout defeat was a deserved punishment, rather than a cruel trick of fate.

England’s tournament destiny was sealed the moment that injury ruled out Jack Wilshere. Wilshere isn’t the first, and certainly won’t be the last, player to be touted as the “future of English football,” but he would have added cohesiveness to an England midfield that was outnumbered and overrun in all four matches.

With Wilshere unavailable, Hodgson should have worked harder to recruit a player capable of dictating the tempo of a game. Gareth Barry was never going to be the answer. Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes are the only fully fit English players at all comparable to Italy’s Andrea Pirlo. But Carrick turned down a place in the squad when Hodgson refused to guarantee him a starting spot. And Scholes, frustrated by coaches who constantly played him out of position, had retired from internationals in the mid-2000s. He showed no interest in a return. Without a passer in midfield, England never had a prayer. Possession is the crux of international football, and it was England’s inability to maintain possession that ultimately cost them a place in the semifinals.

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England Depend on Unreliable Rooney

Ten months have passed since Wayne Rooney aimed a kick at Miodrag Dzudovic’s leg. That moment of madness spawned a brief public hate campaign against Rooney, a frustratingly familiar routine that lost all momentum when England fans realized that the Manchester United striker represented their last, tenuous hope of tournament success.

Rooney, who has polarized opinion since his emergence on the international stage in 2004, is one of only two players to have been sent off more than once while playing for England. The other is David Beckham. You could hardly find a starker contrast. Beckham is suave, handsome and married to a pop star; rumor has it that his match-worn jerseys smell of something suspiciously like perfume.  Rooney is rough, ugly and married to his childhood sweetheart; in 2011, he swore loudly at a camera during an overly boisterous goal celebration.

What Beckham and Rooney have in common is an uncanny ability to frustrate and inspire in equal measure; especially when playing internationally.

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Death of the Striker?

There’s nothing better than an accomplished center forward. A selfish, two-footed goal-scoring machine; a Gerd Muller or a Marco van Basten. Strikers score goals and goals win games, or so the cliché goes. Of late, however, strikers have become expendable. Indeed, the position seems to be going out of fashion.

When David Villa broke his leg at the Club World Cup, Spain manager Vincente Del Bosque was left with a tactical conundrum. Should he take a risk on misfiring Chelsea striker Fernando Torres, or field fatiguing Athletic Bilbao front man Fernando Llorente instead? In the end, Del Bosque rejected both options. When Spain kicked off against Italy, they did so without a recognized striker. Flanked by David Silva and Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas started through the middle as a false nine – Lionel Messi’s position for Barcelona.

That approach proved unsuccessful: Italy’s back three coped easily with the toothless Spanish attack, and Torres returned to the starting line-up for the next game, versus the Republic of Ireland. But the willingness of the reigning European and World champions — football trendsetters for the last four years –to countenance a striker-less system raises important questions about the future of the position.

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