If The Cap Fits, Wear It
I confess. I haven't been the biggest England football fan. Club before country for me, every time. After all, England always let you down, don't they?
Obviously I've had my disappointments with Wednesday too, but that's somehow more personal and the ties are stronger: strong enough never to break, and that's how it should be. But falling out of love with England - I can trace that back to the Mexico 1970 World Cup. A tournament that gave us the best save ever (Gordon Banks from Pele) and the best tackle ever (Bobby Moore on Jairzinho). The first World Cup in colour too, but one that ended in torment when, nine years old, I watched Alf Ramsey's boys lose the quarter final in extra time to a Gerd Muller strike past Peter Bonetti. Why did you take Bobby Charlton off, Sir Alf? I know he was tired, but he was head and shoulders above almost anyone else on the pitch. I cried.
Sure, we've had a few international moments to be proud of since then (the drama of Italia 90, the superb home tournament of Euro 96) but the bad times have been truly awful. Blessed with geniuses like Marsh, Hudson, Worthington, George, Osgood, Bowles and (it hurts to say it) Currie, we couldn't even qualify in '74 and '78. And since then - underachievement, much more often than not. Celebrity Sven, Turnip Taylor and McClaren's brolly.
But I tell you something: I like Fabio Capello, and he's got me interested in England again. I can't quite shout it from the rooftops just yet, because, of course, it would take success in a major competition to wipe away... just how many years of hurt is it now? However..
Capello is surly, says Carlo Ancelotti. Good, says I. Your manager is not your friend, he's your boss. He tells you what to do and you do it, or suffer the consequences. You attack in greater numbers and be aware of your role, but you make damn sure when a move breaks down you get back into position and work hard to get the ball back. Don't go walkabout while you're playing for Capello, Micah Richards and Jermaine Jenas, or you'll never win another cap. Gerrard and Lampard can never play together in the same team? Amazing that they can, if they have a clear idea of what to do. Fortunately we no longer have McClaren telling us that great players just need to be on the pitch for a team to be successful. Emile Heskey a linch-pin of the side? Sure. Doesn't sound likely, but it seems to be working just fine, doesn't it?
We do it the Capello way, or not at all. Sure, he'll ask advice, but he's definitely his own man. Joe Cole on at half time in the first match against Andorra and scores twice. Make the change at the right time, no need to give the starting line up another ten minutes, change it for the better.
And boy, can he get angry. Good, he should get angry if it's not going well. The first half against Kazahkstan, there he is, up off the bench bellowing at Glen Johnson and Gareth Barry and by all accounts savaging Ashley Cole. No dreaming about going shopping with Cheryl when you're on the pitch with England, Cashley, even if you're playing one of the world's minnows. 'In the first half I was disappointed with the position of some of our players. It was impossible to get my message across.' Not 100% impossible, obviously. Capello has the force of personality to make the team play his way, and they want to play for him. If they don't, they know they're out.
Seven qualifying games and 26 goals, and still people complain, carping and whinging about 'it's only Andorra' and 'just wait until we reach the finals, we'll be destroyed'. Stop it, you spoilt brats: live for the moment, enjoy what the manager and the team is doing. Hopefully the old 'England managers should be English' whine has been put to bed by now, it just doesn't hold water. Scots, Portuguese, Spanish, French and Dutch fellas take our teams into Europe and some of them win big shiny trophies: why shouldn't an Italian bloke do the same on the international stage?
I live in hope. And I never thought I'd ever say that again about England.