Does Anyone Really Care About England?

News has just greeted me that Steven Gerrard is to take the captain’s armband for Fabio Capello’s first England match against Switzerland. My response is borrowed from Catherine Tate’s moody teenager: ‘Am I bovvered?’

Despite loving football and being English, I have more interest in whether Jason and Sarah will patch up their differences in Coronation Street on Wednesday night than in the meaningless match being played at Wembley. And it’s not because Steve McClaren made such a hash of qualifying for Euro 2008, nor that it happens to be a friendly where the national team notoriously flatter to deceive.

In fact, it would be better if Steve McClaren was still manager of the national team instead of Fabio Capello. Yes, you did just read that correctly. The FA’s appointment of the Italian means that whatever England achieve in the next few years (penalty shoot-out disappointment in the World Cup quarter-final against Italy anyone?), it will be tarnished by the fact that no English manager was deemed capable of guiding the team to a major tournament.

The FA essentially moved the goalposts when splashing the cash to appoint Sven-Goran Eriksson as manager and they’ve done exactly the same with Capello. How do we have the right to say this team represents England when the man coaching and advising the players is Italian? Doesn’t this quash the principle of international football in the first place?

Sure enough, England will beat Switzerland on Wednesday and the red-tops will be heralding the dawn of a brand new era. Indeed, nobody can deny the professionalism that the new manager appears to be demonstrating when it comes to selection and the respect demanded of each player. However, won’t the same issues start to rear their ugly head when the World Cup qualifiers start?

The fact that players will inevitably show more loyalty towards club shirt than national shirt when it comes to the crunch. That club managers such as Sir Alex Ferguson and Rafael Benitez will be reluctant to release key players for matches, especially if they’re carrying a slight injury. That the increasing hype and pressure on the team will begin to manifest itself in careless defensive and goalkeeping mistakes, in misplaced passes and failed shooting opportunities.

However people like to dress it up, the standard of international football very rarely reaches the quality of fare you will see in the Premier League every week, let alone what you’ll see in the Champions League later this month. Pitch the Arsenal team against the England XI on Wednesday and you would see the national team for all its worth these days. A disjointed outfit featuring players under intense media and public scrutiny, hoping the whole thing is over quickly so that they can return to normality at their clubs, where expectation doesn’t weigh them down like a ball and chain around their ankle.

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