RUSTENBURG - A glum-faced
England arrived at the Royal Bafokeng Sports Campus for the
World Cup finals dressed like undertakers in tight-fitting
three-piece grey suits and wearing black ties.
When they departed on Monday, it was seemingly only after
they had completed the grimmest of tasks - overseeing the
decline and burial of modern English football at World Cup level.
Not for the first time, England failed to live up to the
hype generated by a myopic media corps and the rash predictions
of a manager with no previous experience of guiding a team at
Fabio Capello told reporters on June 11, before the opening
group game against the United States, that he was certain
England would "arrive in the final on July 11."
His claim was based on his faith in a group of experienced,
but ageing, players who had qualified easily, but not played
well for eight months.
On Monday, instead of eating his words he groped for excuses
after a finals showing that left him baffled and England's
supporters feeling cheated and humiliated.
To seasoned observers, it was a familiar story, but on this
occasion manifested in a more emphatic failure than any in
modern times - and some of the worst football ever played by an
England team at the World Cup.
German captain Philipp Lahm said: "Maybe England were not
prepared for this game as they should be - maybe they
under-estimated us because our players are not as famous as the
It was a tournament campaign of such dismal displays and
results that it was widely regarded as England's worst World Cup
showing since 1950 when a team of once-revered names was beaten
by the unheralded United States.
The 4-1 defeat by Germany in a one-sided second round clash
in Bloemfontein on Sunday was not only England's heaviest ever
in the finals, but also a career-ending knell for many of the
current squad's revered, if overrated, players.
In draws with the U.S. and Algeria, a narrow win over
Slovenia and Sunday's humiliating defeat by the Germans, too
many demonstrated that they are not only growing old, but they
have also grown too slow for modern international football.
Jaded, mechanical and unimaginative, they appeared to lack a
love and enthusiasm for the game that was displayed so
vigorously by such so-called 'smaller' teams as Chile, Japan,
Ghana and Slovakia, not to mention Argentina or Brazil.
With an average age of 28.6, England were the second oldest
squad - behind Australia - at the finals.
A besieged Capello alluded to as much on Monday when he
talked of a paucity of young talent, called for a winter break
in the league and claimed that his rigid 4-4-2 had nothing to do
with their failure.
Capello, however, is not the main reason for this England
failure even if his conservative approach deprived England of
flair, verve or rhythm through the use of younger, faster
players, like Arsenal's Theo Walcott or Manchester City's Adam
The 64-year-old Italian may be extremely well paid and
treated like a celebrity but, like his players, seems to many to
be a victim of a football culture in England, built on the
financial success of the premier league, that has eroded the
identity of the national team.
The clubs and their players have grown so rich that
England's national team and the structure that surrounds it
could be in danger of becoming almost a symbol of decadence, at
the heart of which is a fateful mix of celebrity, big money,
player power and media manipulation.
The perceived arrogance that gave England a self-affirmed
justification for running news conferences only for hand-picked
television reporters, while ignoring questions from up to 250
accredited international journalists, was just one symptom of
The players, cocooned in a luxurious world of their own,
failed on the pitch because of rigid tactics and bad preparation - clearly Capello's area of responsibility - but also perhaps
because of a lack of identity.
As individuals, each player seemed more synonymous with his
club team than with England.
But the whole England hierarchy was responsible for the
squad's apparent air of conceit and disdain towards the wider
spirit of the tournament.
England's bid to host the 2018 or 2022 World Cup tournaments
cannot have been helped by behaviour that alienated so many old
friends and admirers.
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