Ryan hopes he’s not the only one to see the way forward for England and Ireland is, well, behind them.
Watching England and Ireland stumble over the weekend against obdurate yet ultimately pedestrian opposition in the latest bout of Qualifying games, it was hard to think that but 17 years ago both sides were a few kicks away from being on top of the World. Italia 90 saw the renaissance in English football and the inception of Ireland on the global stage. Sky TV was being ushered in, Gazza’s tears were on loop, and Jack Charlton was endowed with the freedom of the Guinness factory for life. Fast-forward several major championships and one’s getting pummelled 5-2 by Cyprus, whilst the other’s taking 2 points from a possible 9 against Macedonia, Croatia, and Israel.
Both games on Saturday were a disgrace. Footballers with genuine ability; Duff, Gerrard, Rooney, Keane, Lampard et al not doing a lot to disprove the claims of hacks and cynical fans alike, that merely being a big name in the Premiership should be ample enough cover to see them through on the International stage. Had Israel a modicum of talent to add to their evident determination, England could be looking at Scotland sitting atop their group with envious eyes. John Toshack must know too that Staunton’s bunch of Championship makeweights were there for the taking in an opprobrious second half of football in Dublin. A scrambling of results and points now could possibly take either side to next summer’s Alpine festivities; nevertheless it’s going to take a shift of mountainous proportions for one of them to be around for the latter stages of it.
Worst thing about it is that the England squad have the talent. Move heaven and Earth to get Paul Scholes out of retirement and on their day, they could beat anyone. Their woes continue because so many of their over-hyped group believe that ‘day’ will just rock up when most needed. Well, it didn’t against Argentina in â€˜98, Brazil in 2002, or Portugal in the last two tournaments. Were they to have actually gone and made it happen against eminently beatable opposition, they’d have at least one trophy to show from the intervening 17 years. And bar an air of gloom mixed with mediocrity-settling, that Ireland side could shock a few. They too are capable of results that take many by surprise, and if a brutal Greek side can win on the biggest of stages, there’s certainly room at the top table for Eire to breathe. Much as Staunton and the FAI would loathe admitting it, but behind Roy Keane’s bluster was a salient point; too many dead fish are simply going with the flow.
A damning and disparaging point that wouldn’t have been labeled at Mick McCarthy, Terry Butcher, Mark Wright, Packie Bonner and the rest. Maybe it was the era of muck ‘n’ bullets that made such limited but determined footballers they players they were. Do any of the afore-mentioned list have the ability of a Ferdinand, a Terry, a Given, or a Finnan? No, but they’d have trampled all over Wales and Israel at the weekend. A victory for treachery over style every time.
Which is why both the FA and their Irish counterparts, the FAI have wheeled out their respective big-time players for media duties this week to counter the criticism that â€˜playing for your country doesnâ€™t matterâ€™. Something that again didnâ€™t need to be proven in Italia 90; A four-week spell that made household names of Sheedy, Platt, and Roger Milla. Were England good enough to win that World Cup? Certainly. Was their squad, which ranged from the sublime in Waddle and Gascoigne to the ridiculous (Steve Hodge anyone?) any better than todayâ€™s current day group? Probably not, but they didnâ€™t lack for effort. Fortune perhaps dragged them through abject performances to reach the semi-finals, and with a touch more theyâ€™d have encountered Maradonaâ€™s Argentina in the semi-final. â€˜Catching a breakâ€™ in the semi-finals of a World Cup must seem a distant, forlorn hope for a beleaguered Steve McClaren right now.
And if Ireland can overcome Dutch, English, Romanian, and so-nearly Italian resistance when odds are overwhelmingly stacked against you, then surely itâ€™s not a distant fantasy to do so against Wales against Slovakia right now. They shouldnâ€™t need to look far to witness personification of such much-needed resolve; itâ€™s in the manager theyâ€™re currently plodding along under. Maybe he needs to remind them of Pavarotti, and of the time England and Irelandâ€™s determination brought them both oh-so-closeâ€¦