Latin himself go

Ronaldo is a marvellous talent but needs to show more application if Brazil are to hang on to the World Cup.

This World Cup has proved that Ronaldo’s nowhere near the player he was a couple of years ago. I remember seeing him when he was with Barcelona and his movement, pace and ability on the ball were incredible.

He’s still got brilliant awareness, but he’s too big, not as mobile as he should be, and doesn’t work hard enough. I can't believe that Real Madrid have let him get so obviously out of condition. He only gets away with it because the players around him are so good. Even so, Brazil need more from Ronaldo if they're to justify their position as favourites.

Another striker suffering from a loss of form at the moment is Ruud van Nistelrooy. Two years ago, Thierry Henry and him were at the same level, but you can’t say that now. The Dutchman has fallen from grace in a big way, and never got going in the three games he played in the tournament.

Something must have happened between him and Marco van Basten, similar to what happened between him and Fergie. Don’t forget that van Basten was a centre-forward, and he knows how that sort of player works. He probably spotted that van Nistelrooy wasn’t looking confident, wasn’t where he needed to be, and that’s why he left him on the bench against Portugal.

That game was such a close encounter between two teams who knew what they were supposed to be doing. But it’s disastrous for football to have so many players booked. Football is about impact. You’ve got to have players getting in and mixing it. I didn’t think there was any need for many of the yellow cards given out in that match. There seems to be no warnings nowadays, players are just booked straight away.

And what did the referee expect? Portugal and Holland were playing in the last 16 of the World Cup, and you want commitment from players in that situation. You want them to show desire, not to be pulling out of tackles. Showing so many red cards ruins the game as a spectacle. When I played with Ireland we were a tough side, we weren’t afraid to mix it. But in today’s game we would have been sent off by half-time for playing like that.

I was sent off nine times in my career, and the frustration of it can make you want to kick things around the dressing room. But you need to just calm down and put it in perspective. Some referees are always keen to book players, and want to be the centre of attention. But they can ruin a footballer’s career by making the wrong decision.

Graham Poll made a big mistake in the game between Australia and Croatia. He’ll be punished for it, and probably won’t be seen again at the highest level in football. We all make mistakes, but I’d like to see more protection for referees. This World Cup has already broken the record for red cards. It’s not because the game is dirtier, it’s because of all the nit-picking by officials.

How much longer can we keep ignoring the need for technology? It’s inevitable that it will be used more and more, but you can make the use of technology entertaining too. Seeing if a ball crossed the line or not is dramatic in itself, just look at how well it works with replays in cricket.

Guus Hiddink has done really well with Australia, who impressed me with their adventurous style of play and probably would've beaten Italy in extra-time if the referee hadn't been conned into giving a penalty. Hiddink realised that when you play against Brazil, they are going to score against you, but you have to go out to score against them too. To do that you have to commit more bodies and push forward. You might get beaten by a few more goals, but at least you’ll have had a go. Don’t expect to see anything like that in the Premiership though, for most managers there just staying up seems to be good enough.

Ireland shouldn’t be scared when they meet the Czech Republic in the qualifiers for the European Championships. Once Koller went out injured, they didn’t cause any problems for the opposition. They’re going through a difficult phase now, with a lot of players retiring. They’re definitely not the team of two or three years ago.

As for England, the only players going into the Portugal game who've genuinely impressed are Joe Cole whose been out Brazil-ing Brazil with his tricks, and Wayne Rooney who was Man of the Match against Ecuador. To come back after a serious injury and play like that is nothing short of astonishing. If they do end up in the final it'll be despite not because of Sven whose decision making gets more farcical by the game. Looking at Australia and Portugal, it's patently clear that the FA should have given the manager's job to Hiddink or Big Phil rather than Steve McClaren who's another coach that's petrified to take risks. If David Beckham was Australian or Portuguese, he'd have been left on the bench and replaced by Aaron Lennon who looks far more dangerous and effective going forward.

Germany have been much more impressive. They might not have the best back four in the tournament, but their defensive problems have been exaggerated. They’re not given enough credit as a team, but at the moment they’re the Brazil of Europe. They’re playing in a way the Germans haven’t played before, and I think they could go all the way in this tournament.


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