Sunday, July 02, 2006

Sven will we share precious moments?

OK, I can't let it pass without comment.

The familiar pattern of England's exit from the World Cup on Saturday left me rather cold. There was a time when I would have got excited by the tournament. The squad recognised that the Quarter Finals no longer represent success, their interest was the final. For me also, only achieving something beyond the quarter finals would have raised the excitement levels.

And so to the aftermath. Was Eriksson overpaid? His agent, as agents always do, stresses that he was paid market rate. So if the buyer is willing to pay £4million a year for something, then it's not unreasonable to accept it. It would be unfair to blame Svennis for taking the money, but the FA ought to take a look at themselves for offering it. Argentina's coach was paid £100,000 a year. This recognised the facilitator role of a national coach; they can only work, for very short periods, with the product they are given. The national coach should be paid a premium for the pressure, but that's it. Seb Coe cited Jack Charlton's philosophy with the Republic of Ireland; choose the system, pick the team, practice set pieces, rest a lot, then let the players get on with it. The national coach's role is not to improve players, but to simply choose the best 11.

The billion pound Premiership machine has produced a slew of quality players coached to the highest possible standard. Sven needed to marshal this glut of choice, and resist the rampant media. The first choice eleven was self selecting. Take the Beckham versus Lennon debate. Lennon has just begun to emerge as a talent, Beckham, though not having the pace, has years of success behind him and contributed to 50% of England's goals. Using Lennon as a replacement for Beckham to chase a game, or stretch the opponents is a good one. But Beckham, though not as influential as he used to be, remained the obvious starter. That said, I hope he will retire from international football now, it would be a shame to watch him be dropped and remembered as a has-been.

Eriksson had precious few decisions to make, but the one key one, was wrong. To take only four strikers; two injured, one teenager and an acquired taste was a key error. Owen's injury against Sweden meant that Rooney had to play on his own. This was frustrating and exhausting, leading in part to his sending off against Portugal. Had he taken Defoe in place of the unused Jenas then there was a ready made replacement for Owen, the system didn't need have changed, the players could have got on with playing rather than trying to re-learn the pattern of the team. I'm not saying that England would have won the World Cup, but the over-complication certainly contributed to failure.


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