Bye bye, England

It is tantalisingly ironic that by far England’s best performance in the tournament saw as its reward another demoralising defeat by penalty kicks. England were the better team for much of this match; they created most of the chances, and, even after Wayne Rooney’s dismissal, looked the likelier team to find the net. England dominated the midfield; Owen Hargreaves was outstanding in the holding role, and after Rooney left the pitch, the Bayern Munich man was easily the most dynamic player on the pitch. Frank Lampard was his usual disappointing self, fluffing his lines to scuff over the bar England’s most presentable chance of the first half. Had he been unfit, as per the wishes of this observer, England might have started with Michael Carrick or even Jermaine Jenas alongside Hargreaves in the centre of midfield. As it was, Lampard was exposed at both ends of the pitch, where his lack of confidence and pace became serious liabilities.

But not liabilities as serious as that of captain David Beckham’s continued presence, ostensibly on the right wing. Beckham has not been a right-winger for his country for some time now, but as long as he was exerting a genuine influence on proceedings, his desire to stray from the touchline could be tolerated. More recently however, his contributions have been pedestrian at best. It is true that he is a fantastic striker of the ball, but he no longer lacks the ability to find the space to send in his trademarks crosses. Beckham has famously never been quick, but his inexhaustible motor took him up and down the touchline with all the assuredness of the little engine that could. But he has not only lost what little pace he may have had, he has lost the ability to chug up and down the field, choosing instead to stroll arbitrarily around the right-hand side of the pitch. As a result, when he receives the ball it is not by the corner flag, or in any zone in line with the penalty area. In fact he receives the ball nowhere useful at all. Instead of launching in crosses from dangerous positions, Beckham’s long balls are often speculative punts from distance, easily dealt with by any halfway competent defence. People claimed Beckham was a one trick pony; now he is a lame one trick pony. Beckham’s free kick delivery is still above average, but is it worth keeping an otherwise useless player on the pitch just because he can kick a mean deadball? Aren’t Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Joe Cole and others all meant to be useful takers of free kicks?

When Aaron Lennon came on for Beckham he immediately changed the way England looked. Suddenly they had penetration down that flank. Suddenly Portugal’s left back had to start to worry, midfielders had to track back, space was opening in the final third of the pitch as Portuguese players had to worry about tracking both Lennon and the space he was unlocking.

In the end, England lost, but at least the future is still bright. Beckham has relinquished his carefully manicured grasp on the captaincy and with it the air of invincibility (read ‘undropablity’) that infuriated much of the England fan base must surely have crumbled and blown away like dust in the wind. Let’s hope that for all his proximity to the debacle of the latter years of the Beckham regime, new England manager Steve McClaren will not be afraid to ring in the changes.

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2 Comments »

  1. Raging Bull Said:

    Beckham looked quite unremarkable aside from a few excellent free kicks. He has become a one trick pony who needs to be sent out to pasture, perhaps even the L.A. Galaxy.* It’s unfortunate that one of the most talented players at his position and the poster boy for football could not produce one more great performance but cie la vie. The ESPN announcers appropriately noted Lampard’s lack of confidence as he stepped up for a penalty. He could have had several goals this tournament with a better finishing touch.

    This was probably England’s best of the tournament but it seemed like they could never find someone comfortable up front. Crouch was tall when he needed to be but little else. The Boy Wonder was typically frail. Wayne “Big Baby” Rooney was also a big disappointment. He showed some promise at times but lacked the maturity to deal with his inability to live up to the giant expectations on his broad shoulders. His tantrum showed his immaturity. Luckily, he has four years to think about what he did and he can live up to his promise. Hopefully, the international media will lay off a bit.

    Much credit to Portugal, perhaps, they didn’t deserve to win but Ricardo guessed right almost every time and came up big. PK takers did what they were supposed to do. Hopefully, they can do well as the last underdog of the tourney, much as English fans have reason to be bitter.

    [Much as I would like to see the MLS one day emerge as a league as respectable as France or at least Scotland, it will take some time for it to grow beyond it’s role as a retirement league for some world class players and others couldabeens who’d rather shine than languish the rest of their days on a first division squad in a world class league]

  2. Raging Bull,

    It is indeed a shame that Beckham went out with a whimper in this world cup. however, eriksson should have realised that his captain was below par and dropped him, along with lampard. i think that hargreaves, lennon, and to a lesser extent michael carrick all should feel genuinely aggrieved by the favouritism displayed by eriksson.

    regarding the mls, we can only hope that it will continue to grow.


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