England’s Loss to Germany


World Cup 2010

England’s performance was in a different league of awfulness from the regular awfulness that had been seen in earlier games. Before, the problem had been one of not seeming to care; the players behaving as though they deserved to win by virtue of the size of their wages. This time they definitely cared, they were fired up, ready to go and then when they got there, they were just awful.

My brother, an avid Arsenal fan sent me a text during the game: “Hopefully Manchester United will trade their Wayne Rooney for this bloke with the same name.” And my friend Andy Martin sent me an e-mail that read: “When Capello brought that loser Heskey on as some kind of supersub, I took the dog for a walk—we might as well commit ritual hara-kiri right there.”

It’s an odd marriage, the one between the Italian coach and the English team. It doesn’t seem to be working out for anyone. On the bench, Fabio Capello seems genuinely pained by the complete lack of basic technique shown by the English players. During the Slovenia game he was reduced to yelling, “Barry, the fucking ball, Barry.” He is also a fan of the ristrito: shutting his players up in the hotel during the tournament and enforcing naptime between lunch and supper. When John Terry led his insurrection, one of his complaints was that the players were desperate for a beer.

The greater complaint made by the players is that Capello persisted in playing 4-4-2. It’s a system he’s fond of using, but also one that nullified the talents of his three best players—Rooney, Lampard and Gerrard—by forcing them to play out of their best positions. Almost everyone else at the tournament is playing a 4-2-3-1 and all the England players play that formation for their club teams.

The truth is that 4-2-3-1 requires a great deal of positional discipline from the players, a talent England clearly does not possess. They roamed the field, chasing after the ball, and not holding any kind of shape until the Germans simply picked them off—waiting for the English to organize themselves into utter chaos and then exploiting the spaces that opened up. Germany couldn’t help but win.

In England, much has been made of Frank Lampard’s not-allowed goal. The ball clearly did cross the line and the game would have been tied going into the second half. Jurgen Klinsmann, the former German player and manager, argued that far from getting their heads down, the injustice should have riled up the English players. They should, he felt, have come out for the second half seething with rage and ready to show that nothing was going to stop them from getting their just rewards. Instead it looked as though they had found their villain and could now settle down into feeling hard done by.