England expects, as the old saying goes. Fortunately, when it comes to international football the old girl doesn’t anticipate much these days. So last night’s World Cup defeat to Italy has been greeted with a recognition that Roy Hodgson’s side is a work in progress, rather than the usual anger that accompanies such a setback.
England were refreshingly positive going forward, with Rahim Sterling playing the part of pesky, pacy, unpredictable teenager to perfection. Yet the final pass was lacking, mainly because it was played too soon. It takes time, and confidence to hold onto the ball that second longer. By contrast Antonio Candreva’s cross supplied to Mario Balotelli for the winning goal was sublime. The ex-Manchester City mad man simply had to nod hello to Joe Hart and the result was assured.
In defence and defensive midfield, England were lacking, which possibly comes from having two full backs who are better going forward and then they are at defending. Leighton Baines was stiffed, not for the first time, before Candreva made his delivery, and Glen Johnson who should have provided cover for Gary Cahill, had presumably gone for a chat with someone in the crowd.
It could be argued that the difference in the two sides was Andrea Pirlo, who showed that if you have the right stuff between the ears, then it isn’t necessary to run around like a maniac. The 35 year old, strolled about the pitch, puffing from a cigarette and taking the occasional swig from a glass of Chianti, whilst doing the simple things supremely well, like the step over that gave Claudio Marchisio space to fire home Italy’s opener. England had the knackered old carthorse that is Steven Gerrard.
The major disappointment was Wayne Rooney who provided the cross for Daniel Sturridge’s equaliser, but was otherwise hopeless, missing a golden opportunity for an equaliser, mis-kicking a corner to comic effect and failing to provide cover for his left-back. Granted, being out wide isn’t his favoured position, but the man was given a job and failed to do it.
Wayne has other things on his mind these days. Like his hair. Part of the recently installed Rooney Thatch has gone missing. As one poster on Twitter pointed out, the Chav Master General may be the first man in history to go bald three times before he’s thirty.
At least there’s good news on that front. New follicles can be harvested from other parts of his body. The resulting hairs will be curly and Colleen won’t be that keen to run her fingers through them.
After an encouraging start to his international tournament career in the 2004 Euros, Rooney has been a spectacular flop. He spent most of the 2006 World Cup sulking at being asked to perform a lone striker role, before attempting to castrate Ricardo Carvalho with the referee a yard away. In South Africa four years later he spent more effort castigating the fans when walking off the pitch than he did whilst playing on it.
It’s not impossible for Rooney to come good, but it seems unlikely. On song, he’s a useful addition to any team, but the spells off form seem to last longer as time goes by. The familiar signs are there – the frustration with himself, and with his situation, which usually precedes him doing something mental.
Roy Hodgson has been brave in this campaign. There’s a reliance on youth and an enterprising feel to England’s attacking play. It’s time for a further step. If Wayne Rooney can’t be accommodated in his chosen position, then it’s time to introduce him to the substitutes bench.