Or why we delude ourselves that the English are good at football
We seem to labour under the misapprehension in this country that our national football team, England, are good at kicking the leather sphere around.
This belief seems unaccountable with reason or sanity, but I'd guess it somehow stems from a few sources: a) We "invented the game" b) we "love the game" and c) the Premiership is one of the best leagues in the world. Whilst these may be true, they are easily rebutted by pointing out a) We also "invented" tennis and look how hopeless we are at that b) Being passionate about something is no substitute for talent and c) There are very few English players in the top flight of the Premiership.
Despite this we somehow entered this World Cup with some kind of collective delusion, fuelled by the media and so-called "experts" that we stood a good chance of winning this year and were one of the favourites. This is despite the fact that we've not won a major tournament (or even reached the finals) for nearly 45 years and dismally failed only two years previously to qualify for the European Championships with much of the same squad. Yet somehow the sheen from the so-called " Golden Generation" cannot be tarnished by reality until, of course, it all comes crashing down to Earth and the recriminations begin (fuelled by the very same tabloids and media "experts" who previously built them up).
The Golden Generation. Really?
Why do we fall for this? Is it the media? Or the hyperbole of mass-marketing campaigns run by marketing agencies on behalf of multi-nations wanting to have some of the "gold dust" rub off on them? Or is it just our desire to have heroes and feel that England can be great again? Regardless, the vein of gold that runs through the current team seems much more like pyrite than precious metal. The following players where some of the ones actually picked by our £6 million a year manager, Fabio Capello as part of the first team. Let's take a closer look...
Robert Green (GK) - Plays for West Ham, a club that barely scraped relegation this year, and has no experience of playing in major tournaments for either club or country and has barely a handful of caps to his name. Yet started as our No. 1 keeper and his only significant contribution was to gift the USA a goal with the type of school boy error that guarantees a prime place in the inevitable "James Corden's Soccer Howlers" that will be gracing unfortunate dad's Xmas stockings next year.
Jamie Carragher (DF) - Even the most ardent Liverpool fan would concede Carragher is more leaden than golden. He evidently realised this himself by retiring from international football. Yet Capello, like some mad scientist, resurrected his dying career and launched his reanimated corpse onto the international stage, with predictably frightening results.
Glen Johnson (DF) - A promising enough young defender (if you discount tackling and tracking back as being a prerequisite of the job) but still lacking in top-flight experience.
Mathew Upson (DF) - Another West Ham player (remember they barely scraped relegation this season whilst conceding 66 goals) with no real major competition experience. But, hey, he looks the part.
John Terry (DF) - Now Terry is a born leader - or so he seems to believe. He proves this by shagging his team mate's wives and holding press conferences undermining his manager. If only his undoubted passion would translate into staying in position he might not have embarrassed himself so much against Germany. But like a figure in a Greek tragedy his hubris permeates his every action.
Ledley King (DF) - Capello once said he would only select players based on form and fitness. Yet King was clearly not fit and his recent form has been strewn with injuries making him more liability than "reliability". Still, he needed a nice holiday and South Africa is beautiful this time of year.
Frank Lampard (MF) - Lampard can truly claim to have played at a high level for both club and country (and, no, I'm not implying he was a customer of John Terry's dad...). And yet he continually fails to deliver in an England shirt; can't play alongside Gerrard; didn't score a single (allowed!) goal in either this or the last world cup; misses vital penalties and was booed off in Euro 2006. Apart from that, truly golden.
Shaun Wright-Phillips (MF) - Philips has the pace England so often lacks on the wing, but unfortunately neither the brain nor the vision needed to do anything with it. After failing at Chelsea he went back to Man City where he's most often seen sitting on the subs bench.
Steven Gerrad (MF) - He may be thick as two short planks and a genuine Scouse thug, but he does have the virtue of both experience and talent when he plays in central midfield. Thus he was played on the left, a position he failed to stay in and so aimlessly drifted through most of the campaign. A career owning gauche restaurants catering to brain-dead wags awaits.
Joe Cole (MF) - Cole is an exceptional player. At least, when he's on the bench he suddenly becomes so. If only he'd remained there then people might have been able to maintain the delusion he is still a talent and not an unfit Chelsea reject with no match form this season.
Emile Heskey (FW) - Our first choice striker managed to score a sum total of 3 premiership goals this year. Even his most vociferous advocates would admit he can't score - which most people would concede is slightly concerning in a striker. The only thing he managed to kick with any force this World Cup was Rio Ferdinand - ruling out of one our best players for the entire competition.
Wayne Rooney (FW) - Even the most ardent Man U. haters would admit Rooney is a genuine talent. Yet he continually fails to reproduce his club form for England, and has clearly not recovered fully from the ankle knock he received at the end of the last Premiership season. Yet the idea of not playing him didn't seem to cross Capello's mind. And they say one sign of madness is trying the same thing over and over again with the hope of a different outcome…
Peter Crouch (FW) - Crouch actually has by far the best goal scoring ratio of any England forward of recent years. Yet he looks like a gangly idiot, so you can see why he would offend Capello's innate sense of Italian style. Which, presumably, is why he barely featured in the entire campaign?
The simple fact is that there aren't that many good English players - and the ones that are good are good because they play as part of good squad in a position they have made their own. Football is a team sport, and a good team is far more than the sum of the individuals in the same way that a good recipe is more than throwing a few of your favourite foods in a pot and stirring.
So what can be done? Well, pay me £6 million and I'll let you know. But let's forget all that - there's always the European Championship in two years. And this time I have a really good feeling…