The best players don’t make the best team

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England have missed out on qualification for Euro 2008 and few people could argue that it wasn’t exactly what they deserved.

The final nail in a dismal qualifying campaign was hammered home by Croatia last night as they scored a 3-2 victory over England at Wembley. Niko Krancjar scored the opener after a Jens Lehmann-esque fumble by English goalkeeper Scott Carson on his competitive international debut and the Croatians raced to a 2-0 lead after Ivica Olic slotted home after fine work by Arsenal forward Eduardo da Silva.

Scott Carson should not have played for England against CroatiaEngland regrouped after half-time and levelled the game after Frank Lampard slotted home a penalty and Peter Crouch finished well after a lovely cross from substitute David Beckham. But with the game looking poised to end in a draw, Mladen Petric fired home the winner from distance on 77 minutes. And with Russia sneaking past Andorra 1-0 it means that they and not England will be joining Croatia in Austria & Switzerland next summer.

In some ways it was a cruel way to go out but in others it was completely justified and predictable. England fumbled their way through qualifying and the fact that they ended on the same amount of points as Israel is evidence of just how poorly they performed. Manager Steve McClaren never quite got a grasp of what he was doing and his team selection against Croatia was a final reminder of his fallibilities as a tactician. Removing Gareth Barry and David Beckham was a big mistake, as was calling up Carson for his competitive debut in a match of such importance. These are errors a world-class manager does not make and McClaren has shown himself to be nothing more than a failure.

Although I can sympathise with the English supporters about their early elimination the simple fact is that this should provide a necessary reality check for the FA to get their act together and make the appropriate changes to improve their nation’s performances at an international level. Too much emphasis in recent times has been placed on the need for a foreign player quota in the Premiership, but that explanation for their failure is just not feasible. England had the players to do the job against Croatia and indeed to qualify well before the very last match, but a combination of poor management and inflated superstar egos ensured their attempts were in vain.

Croatia manager Slaven Bilic manages with a confidence that Steve McClaren lacksA failure to find the right blend

England’s biggest problem over McClaren’s and even Sven-Goran Eriksson’s tenure was an apparent need to play the best players available, regardless of where and how they fit into the team setup. Fine players that they may be, it has been shown time and time again that Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard do not work well together in the centre of the pitch. But still McClaren persisted with the incompatible combination even after the successful integration of Barry while Lampard was out with injury.

The situation can be compared to Mathieu Flamini’s emergence as a key player this season for Arsenal. The Frenchman came into the side in the place of a jet-lagged Gilberto Silva at the start of the season and has not looked back. He formed a vital partnership with Spaniard Cesc Fabregas and has convinced manager Arsene Wenger to keep him in the side at the expense of the more experienced and arguably more talented Brazilian. 

All McClaren had to do was make a couple of decisions like this to create some competition for places within his side and I’m sure he would have received an improved performance from his players. As it was, he did not, and his punishment was a failed qualifying run and inevitable termination of his employment with the FA.

I hope England learn from this, I really do. In my eyes, the potential is there to win a European Championship or even the World Cup. But for that dream to be realised, the FA needs to employ a manager who can bring the superstars together and put them in their place. It could be someone with a clear pedigree like Jose Mourinho or Fabio Capello or just someone who has the right sort of attitude, like Croatia’s Slaven Bilic. Whoever it turns out to be, they need to have the mentality that the best players do not necessarily make the best team, or England will continue to underachieve at the top level for a little while longer yet.

What do you think?

Have your say on England’s failure by leaving a comment.


36 thoughts on “The best players don’t make the best team

  1. The English people may also deserve this. The English managers play the best players, even if incompatible because thats what the English fans want to see, and because a $30M player will cry to the media if he is not picked.
    I feel sorry for the English managers, however this is desrved. I agree with all your points up there, especially with a goalie on debut in a pretty much must win game. In fact Goalie’s have been this mngers achilles heel. I mean seriously, after all the Robinson blunders, then Carson – When you’ve got experience like James, who is agruably the most in form keeper in England (maybe not so much now as last season, but still) and talent like Green, why did he stick with Robinson for so long? Plus he’s a tottenham supporter.
    Lampard and Gerrard should have shared their position rather than both on at once.
    I just hope this doesn’t create a backlash, and therow more (uninformed, misguided or stupid) fans behind the foreign player cap, because although Sir Fergie said it would hurt arsenal the most, even though these comments are out of spite – it will probably hurt Arsenal a whole lot more than most other clubs. I would say the fact hey have brought in so many foreign players, that play so much variety and such beautiful football is one of the major reasons the Premier league is the most watched league in the world.
    But I do feel sorry for the English fans, as it feels like crap when you expect much and your team (full of stars) delivers little (eg. Australia in the Asian Cup).

  2. There’s no doubt that last night will turn out to be AW’s fault, especially as one of our reserves laid on their second goal but can anyone bring me up to date with the thinking that resulted in:

    The FA spending 750 odd million producing a stadium but not a pitch. Same for both sides admittedly but with a side that ‘s forgotten/never knew how to play on mud baths, not sensible.

    A manager who presumably looks at the pitch and his players and then leaves the one player who can flight a ball accurately over the mud, on the bench for 45 mins.

    Taking off another player who was actually finding his own team mates (Barry) whilst leaving that well known successful combination to make arses of themselves. Fat Frankie MOM???…what fuk’n match?

    Oh well. At least we are spared the summer optimism and subsequent let down…and at least McClown’s gone now.

  3. I bet Bilic smokes hash aswell. did you see the way he was jumping up and down when they scored the winner, next to that think of Mclaren holding his pretty umbrella like a girl on the touchline two contrasting characters. Maybe mclaren needs to hang around with Bilic for a while and smoke what he is smoking. On a serious note what you see on the touchline is what you get in dressing room. No passion and it reflected on the players.As for the Wenger haters they will come out with a lot of crap about foreign players again. By the way Bilic said in his prematch interview that he learned his trade at Arsenal watching Asene Wenger at work so maybe the FA should be humble about their failures and send few young managers down to Arsenal for a lesson or 2 and then they’ll stop moaning about foreign players

  4. Well said all. Not to be too negative or anything but I actually had to remove a comment and there’s some comments that are bordering on racism being put on this post. Let’s just make sure we keep it clean, OK?

  5. As you said, le Gunner, what you see on the touchline is what you get, and Bilic has been a confident man throughout the entire campaign. McClaren has been a twitchy bad of beans throughout and the England players will have seen this. It’s no good for the confidence.

  6. I feel sorry for the players in a way, especially Carson i dont
    think he will forget that night for the rest of his life. The boys are paid
    stupid amounts of money and maid to believe that they are world class players,
    last night proved that some of them… Gerrard, Lampard, Cole aint as good as
    you might think they are!! They are good players but when you play for country
    quality is very important because its not so much a team performance like when
    playing for your club. Imagine if the pitch was like at the emirates, Croatia
    would have taught the overrated english superstars an even harder footballin
    lesson with even more slicker passin on the surface.
    Worst team performance i have seen by england, and everyone cant
    say they havnt seen it coming.. Mac is a good manager, but i dont think he was
    ready for the high pressure that u get with the england job. One thing we dont
    need is the arrogant Mourinho coming into the position, great manager but not
    suitable for the job. Im not english, i was brought up in london, i still think
    that an english person should be manager or someone with an english upbringin
    who cares for the country, just the way it is.. U dont see the frances, italys,
    germanys who are the succesful teams bringin in foreign coaches, but then again
    tell me a quality english manager who is capable??
    Bye bye mac!!..

  7. I think an international manager is OK, the key is getting in a manager who will immediately gain the respect of the players. As an Australian supporter I saw the transformation of our national team when Guus Hiddink took over for the World Cup and, surprise surprise, he did it again with Russia. Mourinho, Scolari, Capello, Lippi and Hiddink, these are the types of managers that demand respect. Australia is in the same position as England at the moment, in that there are no suitable candidates of the same nationality available. Going international is the only way for Australia, and it should be exactly the same for England.

  8. SF- Why do you reject my comments. I posted my comments first. Could this be RACISM taking over the BLOGGS.


  9. ArsenalKenya – I just have to be careful that the posts are clear of any comments that appear to be racist or derogatory. I definitely want to hear more comments from you, but as the administrator I do have the right to edit comments to ensure there are no problems. If you are upset about this at all please don’t hesitate to contact me personally and we can discuss. No offence is meant, I assure you.

  10. OK. It must have been a technical problem because I can assure you I didn’t edit any of your comments today. I hope it wasn’t something that took you a little while to write!

  11. It’s OK, let’s move past that anyway. I don’t want people thinking this is all we talk about. Care to re-write your long comment so we can continue the real discussion? 🙂

  12. Well what i sed was – Too think of all that talent on the field in Barry, Gerrard, Cole, Campbell, Richards, S.W.p, Beckham, Lampard we shud have qualified ages ago. And to put Carson in goal, what a plonker! Who wud do that, personally i think he is a crap keeper, even b4 last nite but 2 play him on his competitve debut agaisnt a team tht we cudnt lose to. Robbo and Jamer were available. Now I am going to be sad watching Euro 2008 with no 3 lions so ill be watching Euro 2009 instead wiv England U21s.

  13. SF- These are the true thoughts of fans here in Kenya and Africa about English players and that is why the FA is going to push for quotas. We will now switch to Spanish football as the exodus of foreigners from EPL will start with Drogba to Real Madrid soon….



  14. ArsenalKenya – I’m most certainly not an ‘FA sympathiser’, I think the post you’ve just read shows that quite clearly. I certainly do not want the quotas imposed. England have the potential to be great but they are not managed well at any level and it is hurting their international team. You’re entitled to your opinion ArsenalKenya, and I encourage you to keep giving it. It’s just that some things may have been seen as a little offensive and I just have to make sure to clean them up. Bad language cannot be tolerated either, so just keep it clean and you can be as critical as you like. All the best mate, hope to hear more from you.

    Jay – In summary yes, the players were good enough. The team selections were bizarre, to play a 4-5-1 was too conservative and to play Campbell and Lescott at the back was a recipe for disasted against Croatia’s nimble attack. I think any English supporter is going to be disappointed to see their side miss out but honestly, I think it will help the national team in the long run as long as they get in a top quality manager. Incidentally, it seems Fabio Capello has put his hand up.

  15. i wud be happy 2 c Capello take the reins at Wembley but I think an Englishman will have more passion towards winning things. Arsene Wenger is a man that all the football pundits are wanting but I would like aither gary Lineker, Ian Wright or Alan shearer

  16. I don’t think either of those three have the tactical ability to win anything. The players might play with more energy but it takes both to win tournaments. Top managers can do both, and I feel Capello fits the bill. He’s also a consistent winner, just look at his record at club level.

  17. Shearer’s never managed before. You can’t give a former player the job of England manager as his first managerial job. That’s bordering on insanity (even if in the long run the suggested 3 could do well). Basically you can’t put stuff in the hands of people with no experience.

    I’m not sure whether England should have a foriegn manager. I mean technically if you count the manager as part of the team it’s wrong to have somebody without a British passport, however if you consider the manager separate from the team then it’s ok. Take your pick I guess.

    The three problems up until now have been 1) God awful tactics from managers who seem to know nothing about what is working and what isn’t. 2) Huge egos of players who believe their own hype rather than playing the game and doing their job as they’re paid to. 3) Unbelievably uncharismatic managers. I mean MacClaren seems like one of those nice relatives who doesn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings and just wants to get along and be nice. Frankly the players (and the nation) need to have a manager who has the prsence and confidence of a man who knows how to win every game. Which is in fairness what Capello and Mourinho have in abundance.


    Who in their right mind would want to manage a bunch of footballers who have limited footballing intelligence/technique to the degree that they cannot actually play any formation other than 4-4-2?

    How can a home team that has two players in the heart of their midfield costing more than the entire entourage of Croatia lose to them?

    How can a home team that played for 45 minutes with 5 midfielders against an away team that had 4 be outpassed, outplayed and outscored?

    How would forcing club managers to play these footballers always make them better?

    How will these players improve if those who can do better and help them become better are forced out to give them more games?

    It would surely force the paying public to subject themselves to evenmore embarrassments on the continent and elsewhere when there deficiencies are displayed in all it’s glory.

    There is alot more deepseated problems involved here than people realise.

  19. I think England should change their philosophy of football. Your pundits still think it’s the 60s / 70s. I once played 5 a side with English lads in Manchester. I was amazed at how it is played here. You have very wide goal posts with a region where no player is allowed to enter, thereby encouraging shooting from a distance. How about a one foot wide post or even less? With no keepers allowed. Back home we call it monkey post. You would need to use your passing skills or dribbling to outwit you opponent so you find little space to put the ball in. This helps your technique with movement, positioning and passing. You play in triangles and can easily walk your way into the opponents net. Exactly how Arsenal plays and what Croatia did last night. You should teach such techniques to the kids rather than just to trap, pass and shoot the ball from a distance.

    Football is no longer about a rigid formation. World class players should be able to adapt to any situations. Unfortunately, these lads expect to be directed in order to function.

    I wouldn’t lay the blame on the manager alone, but rather all the players that represented England should be ashamed the let their country down. This proves England has no World class players.

  20. The problem with English football is that it is antiquated. Hoof the ball up the pitch; head it down; get a specialist goal scorer to slam it in the back of the net.

    There’s no emphasis on basic technical skills and few players are technically gifted.

  21. To get to play a good passing football takes years of practice and it has to start at very young age that is why Wenger gets them young and mould them into that style. England players are not kids and they are set in their ways so it is impossible for them to all of sudden change their style of play instead they should’ve played to their strength which is powerful direct and fast and they can overwhelm teams with that style unfortunately they didn’t do that against Croatia and the reason is that the manager keeps changing formation and no one knows why .on top of that the England style is physically demanding so needs a lot of motivation while a good slick football does not rely on physical power you look at Fabregas he is a little guy but his passing is deadly. For now England should stick to what they do best. I enjoyed watching England when they really come at you with fearsome power and speed a typical example of that is Wayne Rooney. The up and coming generation maybe they can play slick football.

  22. It’s a possibility. As you’ve said, it needs to start at that bottom and at the moment the process seems to be all wrong. I think it’s important to maintain traditional values – and in England’s case that means hard-working, physical players – but in this day and age teams need to know how to play technically or they will get nowhere. As for the manager issue, charisma and respect is everything to control big egos and a bigger ego up top is what is required. As I’ve said, someone like Mourinho, Capello or Hiddink commands respect and that is what England need.

  23. Also a lot of managers pick big names insyead of big talent. They will pick a more famous person rather than a person who is on form. I mean McClaren picked Bent over Walcott and Agbonlahor.

  24. Right on. What has Bent done this season so far? Not much indeed. I’m not sure Walcott was the answer but Agbonlahor should definitely have been part of the squad. Anyway, we’ll have to move on to Arsenal sooner or later. Wigan to come, hey. Any predictions?

  25. Its amazing the way we think in England. We criticise Mac for giving carson his debut in such an important match and then suggest people like shearer for manager. We scream drop beckam and then go on to criticise swp selection – who should it have been then. We scream no foriegn players but criticise Mac selection – who else is English and qualifies- Big Sam? just dont get.

    As it occured to anybody that the problem might not be big egos but being overwhelmed by the expectations. Why do we seem to lose when penalties come up, even when we had seaman who was great at saving penalties?

    What we need is 1. Someone with a strong will to do things his way, not the way the press suggest. Someone who does not give a damn about opinions beyond that of his crew. there are quite a number out there. I truly believe Mac dropped Beckam initially not cos of davids’ form but popular demand. The truth is Beckam seems to be the only one of this generation that is not overwhelmed by playing for england. He is the leader the team lacks. His playing might not be top like it used to be but Nothing is has important has leadership in a team. for a glaring eg try Arse last season and this.

    2. Someone who knows english football but is not fascinated by it. Someone who does not mistake England and its achievements with Brazils. WHo does not think we’ve won the competition even before we play the qiualifies. Who understands hardwork and knows it is needed cos the team is not the best in the world as the media would have you believe.

    3, a manager who’s hungry for success at international level. He should be someone who can do it, believes he can do it and believes its not a function of the players but how he uses them.

    4. He should be able to take the focus of the players and cope with the limelight, maybe even arrogant. I believe the players are overwhelmed, they need a manager able to deflect that focus from them and keep them from the noise.

    Very few fit this bill, i wont even pick capello. Maybe mourinho, dont like him but his arrogance, hunger, strong will might just be the trick. Maybe big phil, he won me over when he said no to the president of Brazil. there are others out there. Whatever they do, the FA should not expect this guys to submit Cvs and come say yes sir to them. They should not go for the conventional guy but simply one to shake things up.
    jeez this is long!

  26. It was long, but very insightful. Great, balanced comments on a difficult issue. As you say, a lot of English supporters cry out for this and that and then contradict it with completely different solutions. I’ve already said what I think but your comments are the icing on the cake.

  27. You know the difference between the Euro player and the African/south American player. the average Euro palyer learnt in a soccer academy, the average from this other parts learnt on the streets first. So the foriegn player learnt the skills, developed his talent before really understanding the tactical nous behind playing football. maybe this formulae works.

    Thing is i believe Africas’ football is held back because of their other issues, if they ever break away from their bondage, they will give south america a good run for their money on the world stage. And now we are discussing in England, how to keep this guys out? It makes sense seeing has we won three world cups and two euros before the influx of foriegn players…

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