Sven the nearly man

Forget the disallowed goal, England have only their bad attitude – and their manager – to blame for crashing out of Euro 2004.

England fans can moan all they like about disallowed goals and dodgy penalty spots, but the real reason they crashed out of the European Championships is that Sven didn’t make any brave decisions.

Being a quiet man’s all very well and fine, but when you’re up against it like England were in the France and Portugal games you need more from your manager than him wiggling his glasses. His first mistake was including Emile Heskey, a player who’s clearly not up to international standard, in the squad. While five of Portugal’s goals have come from substitutes, there was nobody on the England bench that you could in any way call an ‘impact player’.

When you think that Ronaldo started the first game on Portugal’s bench, it highlights how threadbare the England squad was in the attacking department. Fair enough if, like Ireland at the moment, you haven’t got the personnel, but Sven had James Beattie, Jermaine Defoe, Jermaine Jennas and three or four other in-form strikers he could have chosen from.

It’s ironic that having been hailed as the best in the competition, England’s midfield was found totally wanting in the quarter-finals. Whether he was carrying an injury or was below par because of the turmoil in his private life, I don’t know, but David Beckham had a terrible tournament. 50 minutes in and he was huffing and puffing like a Sunday league player who’d been on the beer the previous night. If Scolari was the England manager, he’d have substituted Beckham five minutes into the second-half. There’s also something very wrong with a team that deflates the moment their relatively new 18-year-old striker has to go off. Sure, Rooney was their best player, but the Czech Republic beat Germany with their reserves.

I don’t want this to turn into Brit bashing, but there’s a prima donna attitude about England which, as an opposing player, you can exploit. Dennis Wise used to say to me at Chelsea, “One of our caps is worth fifty of yours”, which was said with a smile but wasn’t a joke. They really think they’re a notch above other countries, which is great if you’re winning cups but makes you look a bit stupid if you’re going home after 10 days. When I was playing for Ireland and we got drawn against England, the lads’ reaction was, “great, we can knock them off their pedestal.”

You also have to question the FA saying to Sven, “win or lose, your job’s safe till 2008.” What’ll happen is that England will qualify for the next World Cup, they’ll have one mildly impressive game and then get knocked out by a team that on paper they ought to thrash. I’m sorry, but he’s got ‘nearly man’ written all over him.

I rarely cheer teams being knocked out, but the Italians – who I backed to win the tournament – should be bloody ashamed of themselves. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a wanton display of whinging, whining and Fancy Dannery. To go and accuse Sweden and Denmark of match-rigging, well, that says it all. I watched that game and when the Danes went 2-1 up, they went hellbent for a third. The rivalry between those two countries is every bit as strong as England v Scotland or Germany v Holland.

To have so much talent in the Italian squad and not produce is scandalous. Ditto the Spaniards who’ll be looking at who’s left in the tournament and thinking, “If we’d pulled our fingers out when it mattered, we could have won it.” So could Ireland if we hadn’t made such a pig’s ear of our qualifying group. You only had to look at how poor they were in Portugal to realise how much of a travesty it was to be beaten by Russia and Switzerland.

Broken metatarsals or not, I can’t see Everton holding on to Wayne Rooney which is a pity because I think he could do with anther season before moving to Manchester United or Chelsea who are the only clubs in England who can afford him. One thing that he shouldn’t do under any circumstances is move abroad. Never mind Barcelona or Milan, he’d be homesick going down the M62. Gifted youngster that he is, I think Man U and Chelsea could both get better value for money for their £35 million. The deal I’d go for if I was Alex Ferguson – and David Moyes – is £20 million plus Butt, Solskjaer and Forlan. The other thing I’d say about Wayne Rooney is he’s not a 30 goal a season predator. He’ll make plenty for other people, but he’s not a replacement for, say, Ruud Van Nistleroy if he goes off to Real Madrid.

Finally, I’ve got to say “well done” to Greece who showed France, Spain, Germany, Italy and England up for the bottlers they are. They’ve no £100,000 a week superstars – but what team spirit.

 
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