To most, England’s 1-0 victory over Spain proved nothing more than a freak result. Spain dominated possession, hit the post, came close on a number of occasions (from afar), and then conceded a silly goal to which they couldn’t respond with one or two of their own. A one off, a bad day at the office, a poor performance.
The initial fear wasn’t that of a fallen giant or the demise of Spanish football, but rather, just how would England– or its media – deal with this result. On Remembrance Day weekend, a country already swelling with national pride feared it would have to close the blinds, hide behind the couch and wait until it was safe to come outside again, without having to accept that England were going to win the World Cup.
But that didn’t happen. In fact, nothing happened. The papers continued with their criticism of Capello, the bafflement that we ever thought Steven Gerrard was better than Scott Parker, and the latest scandal to involve John Terry. Something had changed. The England of yesteryear and its Golden Generation now seem like a lifetime ago. We were all of a sudden welcomed to a new humble England.
This has obviously been a psychological transition since the failure of said Golden Generation to qualify for Euro 2008, and their passive performance in last year’s World Cup. On the face of such failure, it seemed at the time that the problem was a rather simple one; their world class players didn’t perform.
A backlash at the very standard bearer of the English game – the English Premier League – then took place. The media’s first reaction was to blame the ecosystem that this cash cow had developed for England’s brave young men. It wasn’t Rio Ferdinand or Frank Lampard’s fault that the England team didn’t click in South Africa, it was societies’ for stamping such illustrious iconic banners on them, and such zealous overconfidence was a symptom to the illness we had forced upon their once modest egos.
When that didn’t work, the Daily Mail readers came out in force and English football found itself behind the reigns of a right wing media bandwagon, determined to lay the blame of the national teams misfortunes solely on the doors of foreign players and short-sighted chief executives.
Over night Arsene Wenger, Alex Ferguson and Carlo Ancelotti went from respected football managers, to hate figures and the face of a soulless organisation that cared more for instant success, than the long term future of England. This then burnt out as well.
A few months and a number of exorcised demons later, England now sit qualified for next summers European Championships in Hungary and Poland, in arguably the most comfortable position they’ve held for decades, thanks to Fabio Capello.
The Italian’s reign at Wembley has never been the most glamorous. Whether it be his underwhelming tactics or the questionable call ups; Capello has made sure his time with England has moved in baby steps, and nothing too drastic.
A qualification campaign, which neither flattered or embarrassed, has put England on a rather unassuming stage for which they can launch their approach to next summers competition without the heavy weight of expectation that followed as a result of a relatively overachieving campaign leading up to last years World Cup.
Similarly, Saturday’s game was another baby step in which Capello displayed an England side that few thought existed. Where Sven’s golden generation of the past would have felt Spain at Wembley were fair game and approached it with the most adept nonchalant attitude, Capello made sure his side knew where they stood in relation to the World Champions, and with a bit of tactical tweaking, made sure his side played to his game plan, and nothing else.
The great Brian Clough once said; ‘Players lose you games, not tactics.’
Whether the tactics were with England last summer or in Austria in 2008 is up for contention, but the players certainly weren’t. Saturday’s result showed more than anything that despite the quality this England side may or may not posses, they now have the mental aptitude to follow Capello’s tactics to such a successful degree.
From the brink of self destruction, Capello has brought a generation of superstars back to ground and built on the foundation of basic coaching. The best weapon in the Italian’s arsenal is his ability to demand discipline and force the team to play to whatever tactic or style of play he feels would suit the game at hand. England have crawled back to a level of respectability thanks to the old Italian, and are now walking gently towards the road to recovery.
Twitter – @SBienkowski