Tuesday, 22 June 2010

A different Italian Job?

Following England's faltering start to their World Cup campaign, memories of Italia '90 are being trotted out as justification of there being no need to panic.  But are the two campaigns that similar?

And you think you're pissed off?

Seemingly everyone agrees that England's performances thus far in South Africa are not of the level anticipated beforehand.  Indeed, there's general consensus that the display against Algeria was the worst by an England team in many years.
So it's no surprise that in rushing to remind doubters that progress in the competition is still very much in the team's own hands - and we must remember that a win on Wednesday assures them of a place in the last 16 - people hark back to Italia '90 for evidence of a campaign that got off to a similarly inauspicious start.

And with good cause it would seem...

  • As with South Africa 2010, England arrived on the back of an impressive qualifying campaign (people remember the desperate draw against Poland in Katowice but forget that England remained unbeaten in the group and conceded only one goal in qualification). 

  • In 1990 they also came into the tournament on the back of an uninspiring performance in their final friendly when only a last-gasp equaliser rescued them against Tunisia.

  • Uncertainty surrounded the manager's position leading up to both tournaments.  In 1990 Robson eventually agreed to join PSV Eindhoven immediately after the World Cup once it became clear that the FA would not be renewing his contract regardless of England's progress in the competition; twenty years later Fabio Capello was being touted for the Inter Milan job just days ahead of England's departure for South Africa.

  • Both the 1990 and 2010 England squads lost their skipper to injury -  Bryan Robson's World Cup misfortunes continuing for a third time in Italy after just two games, while Rio Ferdinand was forced out of the current competition before a ball had been kicked.

  • On both occasions England's first two games ended in draws.

  • And in both 1990 and 2010 the Press and (reportedly) the players were pushing the manager for a change of system and personnel.

  • Finally, but not specific to England alone, the opening games of the 1990 World Cup were also dismissed as dour.
What would he say about all this?

Obviously, those like me who remember Italia '90 with some fondness willingly put up all the above as pointers to a successful tournament this time round.
However, before we get too excited, perhaps it's worth considering just a few differences between the two "Italian Jobs".

  • For a start, whereas England's goalless draw with Holland that marked their second game in Sardinia was accompanied by a performance far improved on that against the Republic of Ireland in their opener, the display against Algeria last Friday was actually worsethan even the mediocre first game against the USA.

  • It should also be remembered that in Italia 90 the Holland game had already seen Manager Robson change team and tactics, with Mark Wright employed as a sweeper.  (Although it still remains a point for discussion just how the change came about.  In his autobiography Against The Odds, Robson says he'd always intended to play the sweeper system though most other observers maintain that the decision was actually made following discussion with either a mentor or senior players.)

  • This notwithstanding, there's no doubt that Robson was regarded as a manager very much at ease with talking to his players over matters of team selection and tactics.  This is not the Capello way and despite much campaigning by the Press and, reportedly, by the likes of John Terry and other players within the camp, the Italian has so far resisted any temptation to stray far from his trusted 4-4-2 and/or bring Joe Cole in from the cold.

  • And personnel-wise, the England team of 1990 had in their goal a keeper who could quite rightly claim to be the best in the world - Peter Shilton.  The 2010 version can't even claim to be the best in the team!
Taking these differences into account puts a whole new complexion on things.  The "omens" suddenly don't look that good.  Which is why I've decided to discard them altogether and stop looking for reasons to think England will finally come good in this tournament...other than that too many of the players are staring at a last ever appearance on the big stage for them not to finally pull their fucking socks up and match the efforts of their supporters.

England 2 Slovenia 0...then we can all start worrying about the Germans...again!


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