“Don’t waste your youth growing up”
David Bentley’s career has never hits the heights his ego might suggest it has. A friend recently used the credo “if he was half as good as thinks he is, he’d be twice as good as he actually is” to describe Bentley and it seems perfectly applicable.
His current club Tottenham have all but abandoned him and Bentley has left the white flag planted in St Andrews after an unsuccessful loan spell at Birmingham City.
Four years ago, the story was very different. Bentley was at Blackburn Rovers and playing perhaps the best football of his career. Impressive performances at home and in Europe fuelled speculation that a big move was just around the corner.
That summer he made an interesting decision. Bentley withdrew from England’s Under-21 squad. He had played virtually the entire season at Blackburn, one which included European forays and cup runs. Bentley was on the fringes of the full national team and felt a summer in Holland at the European Under-21 Championships would cause possible burnout. Never one to downplay his aspirations, he was looking further ahead, 12 months on in fact to Euro 2008.
The withdrawal may have been a drop in the ocean for Bentley’s career but the ripples continue to reverberate today. Bentley saw the Under-21s as beneath him. Having sampled life at the top table with England, he wasn’t willing to dine elsewhere. As it materialised, England and Bentley never made Euro 2008.
He started in Fabio Capello’s first game in charge but his name barely warrants a mention when national squads are decided these days. Four years on from his ill-fated decision, Bentley may wish he’d opted to join the Under-21s that summer after all.
Fast forward to the present day and a similar quandary is facing Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere.
After a mammoth season which, like Bentley’s, has encompassed European excursions and lengthy cup runs, many feel Wilshere should not join the Under-21s this summer. In many respects, Wilshere’s situation is entirely different. Unlike Bentley, he is central to the senior team’s plans. Unlike Bentley, his attitude does not seem to be tainted by egocentricity. So there are even more excuses for Wilshere should he decide that a summer with the Under-21s is not high on his list of priorities.
And last night, the Guardian’s Paul Hayward, an advocate of a Wilshere withdrawal, tweeted saying the Under-21 squad was nothing more than a “development level”.
Well perhaps it can develop winners. With Wilshere in the team, England stand a far better chance of winning the tournament this summer. The nation is plagued by perennial problems when it comes to masterminding international tournaments and they lack a winning mentality.
The opportunity to nurture English football’s future lynchpin in the art of winning international tournaments should not be overlooked.
Neither should the chance to build team camaraderie. Andy Carroll, Micah Richards and Kieran Gibbs should also all feature in 12 months time at Euro 2012 and their integration will be made much easier after this summer.
It is also refreshing to see fringe members of the senior squad, which has more than a streak of self-indulgence coursing through it, willing to participate in a tournament which was below Bentley.
Winning the European Under-21 Championships would probably be a drop in the ocean of Jack Wilshere’s career. But the ensuing ripples could continue to reverberate for years to come.
“It’s football, it’s not brain surgery. Have some fun.”
One of the proudest things about being a British sports fan is our unparalleled support no matter where in the world we are playing.
You can guarantee that Brits will travel to a sporting event en masse. We follow Ricky Hatton in Las Vegas, the European team in America for the Ryder Cup and the British Lions in the Southern Hemisphere. Whatever the weather, whatever the likely outcome, we’re there in droves. The most memorable of all was just a few months ago when the England cricket team recorded a historic Ashes win in Australia. Had it not been for the late night/early morning start and the glorious sunshine, you could have mistaken it for Lords because English fans had invaded. Patriotism has never been a characteristic I possess in any great abundance but there’s always an enormous sense of pride when I see such a large presence of British support.
So to see Wembley, the home of English football, infused with the culture of West Africa tonight was both surprising and awe-inspiring. The sheer number of Ghanaian supporters inside the stadium meant this could easily have been a home fixture for the Black Stars.
The concerns that the withdrawal of several of England’s more senior players would make this friendly even more redundant proved to be unfounded. As soon as I heard and saw the Ghanaian crowd, it was clear that this game would adopt an impetus.
It finished as an entertaining 1-1 draw and the game was played at a frenetic pace in an end-to-end environment. The passion and soul radiated down from the stands because Ghana played with the same intensity that made them so likeable in South Africa. Yes, there were times when that enthusiasm boiled over in the form of some rather choice tackles. But with a multitude of England players deeming this game expendable, it was encouraging to watch the Ghanaians play with real heart.
I have an apathetic attitude when it comes to international football, particularly mid-season friendlies. But I couldn’t help but be enthralled by this Ghana team. One player who captivated it all it was Asamoah Gyan. I’ve never seen a player treat an international friendly with such fervour. His goal at the end and the ensuing celebrations summed it all up. It could be a meaningless friendly in England or a World Cup quarter-final in South Africa; Ghana will always play with energy, passion and most of all, with a smile on their faces.
In the aftermath, the ITV cameras were greeted by a beaming Fabio Capello. The hard-nosed exterior was cast-aside as he joyfully waxed lyrical about the performance he had just witnessed. He may carry the demeanour of a deadly serious, no-fun type manager but we were reminded here that like us, he too can be an excitable fan.
We scrutinise over the game and spend countless hours debating its various nuances so it’s refreshing to reflect by just enjoying the spectacle. For once after an England game, Twitter wasn’t awash with comments on team selection and tactics. Instead we were united under an umbrella of appreciation for the game we’d just witnessed. So for that, thank you Ghana.
You can follow me on Twitter @liamblackburn
“Communication is the real work of leadership”
I don’t envy Fabio Capello some times. Picking an England captain should be a rudimentary decision. It should also be irrelevant. Yet we seem to hold the title in the highest esteem in this country and so handling it with such colossal thoughtlessness was not Don Fabio’s wisest move.
The armband and title are merely superficial. In fact, were England’s senior players not a collection of wholly uncouth morons, it would probably matter even less. It is just a title to appease the media hoards who want a figurehead to speak to and a scapegoat to hold accountable when, always inevitably in England’s case, the latest crisis rears its head.
The title of captain is one which John Terry clearly relishes. It may in part be egotistical but it’s more that possessing the armband shows that others appreciate his more endearing qualities. Terry is a leader; he is an organiser and a very good one at that. This season he’s performed magnificently at times in what has proven a difficult period for Chelsea. He also has an excellent injury and disciplinary record and is very committed to playing for his country.
Strip away the personality and the misdemeanours and you have a perfectly adequate candidate. Of course, that’s hard to ignore.
But Terry’s biggest faux pas and the reason why he shouldn’t be within a country mile of the captaincy dates back to a press conference he held back in South Africa. What he said on the record (we can only assume that what was said off it was an even more damning indictment of the Capello regime) completely undermined the Italian. He questioned his tactics, his methods, his team selection, all at a time when England needed to rally behind their manager the most.
Handing him back the captaincy is one thing but the manner in which Capello has handled it is a more worrying one which highlights his most underlying flaw. Rio Ferdinand’s continually sporadic England appearances should result in a charging of the guard if not on a permanent basis then at least a temporary one. But instead of a quiet word in Ferdinand’s ear explaining the decision we had Chinese whispers, we had a reportedly disgruntled Ferdinand who was blissfully unaware of Capello’s thoughts. Capello’s biggest drawback was highlighted once again. He is completely distant from his team. He doesn’t communicate with those in the camp frequently enough.
It is not, as some of his naysayers claim, to do with his grasp of the language. There are a growing number of problems Capello has caused himself simply by ignoring one of the most fundamental managerial qualities; communication.
Ferdinand should have heard from Capello, not the media, that he was to lose the armband. The goalkeepers should have been informed of who would start in South Africa well in advance rather than a day before. If he wanted to recruit Paul Scholes, he should, as Scholes alluded to, have called the Manchester United midfielder much earlier. Then there was the awkward Community Shield moment when Michael Carrick, who Capello had presumed unfit, strode past the bewildered Italian to collect his medal.
Communication is vital. It is important not just to gauge the opinions and thoughts of your players but also in commanding respect from all involved.
Was there any uproar and upheaval when Rio lost the captain’s armband to Nemanja Vidic? No, because Alex Ferguson communicates with his players. As a result they respect him and they respect his decisions.
The England captaincy shouldn’t have been an issue but the cloak and dagger stuff that has surrounded Terry’s reappointment has soured what should have been a positive week for England. I think that people are overly critical of Capello but he has to start communicating better with his players to ensure he doesn’t contribute to his own downfall any more.
This is a classic example. Moreover, how can Capello expect to command the respect and discipline he yearns for when he promotes the one man who so publically challenged his methods? By handing Terry the captain’s armband, Capello has handed over the keys of the asylum to the lunatics.
You can follow me on Twitter @liamblackburn