“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
“The key to success is often the ability to adapt”
This weekend provided an intriguing insight into the possible future of the England team under Fabio Capello. The retirements of Paul Robinson and Wes Brown were both bizarre and untimely. They may have little impact on Capello’s team selection but they were further examples of the communication problems emanating from the England camp. Capello’s face will have turned a shade of scarlet after these premature retirements but he would have been even more frustrated at the Wembley snubs from both Ashley Cole and Michael Carrick.
When facing the music this afternoon, Capello admitted that he needed to improve the mindsets of the players. The withdrawals of Robinson and Brown, coupled with the chilly receptions from Cole and Carrick have simply reaffirmed this. The problem is, Capello stated he simply doesn’t know how to. It is a massive admission from a man who commands £6 million a year to concede that he sees no way to improve the attitudes of his own players.
He should begin by looking squarely in the mirror. What was painstakingly obvious from this summer’s debacle was that Capello had lost his own dressing room. When he accepted the England manager’s job we were led to believe he was a disciplinarian. He would command the respect of this country’s elite and was supposedly a breath of fresh air after Steve McClaren who was more of a mate than a manager.
The initial signs were positive. A highly successful qualifying campaign brought back the lofty expectations that come around every two years. But as soon as the squad came together in South Africa things started to turn sour. The players were isolated, bored and unhappy; this manifested itself onto the pitch where England embarrassed themselves continually. The most poignant moment was a John Terry press conference where he called for immediate changes; Capello was being undermined.
For the record, I don’t believe Capello is to blame for England’s pitiful showing in South Africa. Any post-mortem should focus on the absence of a winter break. It was not just England’s players but the majority of the Premier League’s finest who toiled away in South Africa. The entire England squad faced a rigorous year in the Premier League whilst the majority of their counterparts enjoyed lengthy breaks midway through the year.
For now Capello can do nothing but lament the current schedule and hope a change comes soon enough. In hindsight, he should have lobbied harder for a mid-season break when he signed his initial deal. No doubt the large sums on offer were enough to dissuade him from pushing the issue further.
Aside from the scheduling concerns, Capello must address the internal problems. In this situation, if he wants his students to change, the teacher himself must adapt also. Players like Terry enjoy far more leverage at club level and more than likely they had more sway under McClaren and Sven Goran Eriksson too. The laid-back style of these two previous English coaches may have failed but it appears Capello’s head teacher-like style isn’t paying dividends either. Capello needs to discover a happy medium.
If he doesn’t, expect another repeat of this summer’s abysmal showing because if the players don’t want to play for their manager there is no chance success will come. Although it is certainly a more extreme case, one can’t help but look at the mess that erupted on the other side of the Channel. France’s Raymond Domenech didn’t command an ounce of respect from his players and the effects were mortifying. The French team is stacked with talent but without any motivation, they were merely a laughing stock. Brian Clough is another case in point. Clough remains one of the finest to have ever managed but even he was primed for nothing but disaster the moment he walked into that Leeds United dressing room back in 1974.
Capello’s relationship with his players is not as strained as these examples but it is also far from perfect. The man who was once held in such high regard has become an outcast. Unless he changes his ways and regains that respect, Capello will continue to fail with this group of players.