Tag Archives: Don Fabio

Marginal players quit England

Wes Brown, one of the rare times he's worn an England shirt (Getty Images)

So acceptably decent goalkeeper Paul Robinson announced that he is retiring from international soccer because he’s a fringe player in Fabio Capello’s squad. Of course, he’s not that good, either. So there’s that. And then Peanut Head joined him a few hours later. Well, at least the latter told Capello in person (both were called up for next week’s friendly against Hungary).

It’s not like either is a big loss for England: Robinson is a third-string keeper on a second-team squad while Peanut Head barely made the squad as Don Fabio looks at different and younger players. So the world looks on and shrugs and moves on.

Of more interest is Don Fabio’s squad, which includes teenager Jack Wilshere, as well as Kieran Gibbs and Theo Walcott. This is a good thing: Capello needs to know which of the younger players will be key players at Euro 2012 and World Cup 2014, and their respective qualifying campaigns.

Hungary won’t provide much of a challenge, but it should give Don Fabio and idea of who can handle some of the media circus around the England national team.

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Manager a-go-go

Roy Hodgson introduced as the new Liverpool manager

Now that some of the good teams are knocked out of the World Cup, expect a lot of movement in terms of managers in the next few weeks, for both club and country.

Javier Aguirre, Mexico. Aguirre resigned as Mexico manager, falling on his sword and taking responsibility for Mexico’s showing. To a degree, he’s right (it was a stupid decision to go with Oscar Pérez in goal and he had misplaced faith in the obviously overwhelmed Efraín Juárez). At the same time, he’s wrong because Mexico’s expectations were too high. The team that went to South Africa was a 2nd round team (perhaps a quarterfinal team if it played its socks off). That’s the first problem. The second problem was skill level. Mexico is very talented in midfield, especially with Giovanni dos Santos’s improvement over the last year. But the team has no strikers: Guillermo Franco isn’t that good and Carlos Vela isn’t developing (here’s hoping he makes a dos Santos-like breakthrough in the next year or so). When Cuauhtémoc Blano is still seriously considered for national team duty, the cupboard is bare. Mexico needs to develop young players and put its faith in them (Javier Hernández comes to mind), much like Germany has done.

Roy Hodgson, Liverpool. Hodgson left a decent Fulham team for a Liverpool squad in disarray. What he does get is a massive step up in reputation (no matter what I think about Liverpool, it’s one of the biggest clubs in the world). Hodgson is clearly a stop-gap and he might not even have been the first choice (Didier Deschamps reportedly turned Liverpool down). So, one of the biggest clubs in the world hires a middling manager with precious little success on his resume. Fascinating. I think this was a political choice and I hope Hodgson makes the best of it. But when the clear-out comes – and it will come sooner rather than later, what with the owner debt and lack of European competition – Hodgson will be the sacrificial lamb. He should’ve stayed at Fulham.

Bob Bradley, United States. Let’s make this clear: Bob Bradley should NOT be fired. Although starting Ricardo Clark was a massive error, Bradley’s system works for the United States, as it’s currently constructed. In short, he gets good results out of sometimes lacking talent (the distressing habit of allowing goals in the first 20 minutes notwithstanding). The bigger problem is that, like Mexico, the US has no go-to striker (if we’re being honest, the two best strikers are midfielders: Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey). Jozy Altidore has the potential to be very good but he needs to play like he did against Algeria all the time (he was virtually absent against Ghana). Some of that is the coach’s fault. But national team managers are put in a position where they only get to see their players for weeks at a time. It falls on the USSF, MLS, and players to get into situations to maximize their skill development.

Fabio Capello, England. Of course, the English tabloids are calling for his head. They are, if nothing else, predictable. England’s problem is similar to Mexico’s: it fancies itself a world soccer power when, in reality, it’s a middle-of-the-road player capable of extraordinary results once in a while. In fact, according to Soccernomics, England consistently punches above its weight and wins a lot of its matches, except when it counts. England’s problems are twofold: first, it’s a relatively small country, in terms of population (meaning there are fewer players to choose from) and it’s relatively insular in terms of coaching and skills development (the Everton academy is a bit of an exception). Don Fabio helps with both of those by exposing English players to Italian soccer philosophy. Second, the players it develops are all the same. Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard. Emile Heskey and Wayne Rooney. John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, and Jamie Carragher. Aside from skill level, they’re all basically the same player. And they can’t play together. I think Capello will learn from his mistakes and I think he has the stones to leave some of those players out next time (clearly Gerrard was England’s best player at the World Cup – he should be the captain).

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Jobbed in Joburg

Koman Coulibay looks stunned that he's refereeing a World Cup match (David Cannon/Getty Images)

It’s probably a good thing that I waited this long to write about the US/Slovenia match in the World Cup. Then again, I saw the replays again a few minutes ago, which made me angry again. Almost as angry as I was when it actually happened. But, now that I’ve cooled down, I can safely come to a few conclusions.

1. The referee, Koman Coulibaly, was terrible. Actually, he was beyond terrible. This was, easily, the worst refereeing performance of the World Cup (and that’s saying something given the card-happy Spanish referee’s performance in the Germany/Serbia match). Coulibaly had an awful game. He called phantom fouls and ignored real ones (yes, I realize the game is fast: referees, however, are trained for that and only the best [in theory] get to appear on World Cup pitches). He looked nervous. He looked thoroughly unprepared for the match’s intensity and its speed. All of that, of course, culminated in the horrifying call that denied Maurice Edu the winning goal. I doubt (hope?) Coulibaly will have any more games to referee in this World Cup.

2. The United States came very close to killing itself. The US, going as far back as 2 years, has a terrible habit of conceding early goals. The team under Bob Bradley almost always plays from behind. That needs to stop. I don’t know what the problem is, but the back four is more than a little suspect. I like how Steve Cherundolo has played. He’s been a force on the right. Oguchi Onyewu and Jay DeMerit, while periodically effective, have been abused by speedy forwards. Carlos Bocanegra has not made any mistakes, but he hasn’t been exceptional, either. Bradley needs to consider playing a defensive midfielder for extra cover. Perhaps that will release the other midfielders and the forwards to attack.

But that doesn’t really solve the problem. The US needs to come out committed to defense for the first 20 minutes of the next game (against Algeria). They need to build a wall and then progress from there. The only acceptable outcome is a clean sheet against Algeria. It has to happen.

3. Slovenia deserves to be in the World Cup and will present a challenge to England. Put simply, England must win to progress. England cannot underestimate Slovenia’s skill on the ball or its defensive abilities. And since neither Wayne Rooney nor Emile Heskey has gotten off the schneid yet (really, only Steven Gerrard has looked impressive), I’d be worried if I were England. On the other hand, the US exposed some weaknesses in Slovenia’s defensive wall, perhaps giving Don Fabio a template.

Michael Bradley celebrates scoring his fantastic tying goal (Christof Koepsel/Getty Images)

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British tabloids weigh in on Green

Robert Green watches the ball cross the line, helplessly (Getty Images)

Predictably, the British tabloids freaked out about Robert Green’s monumental error that allowed Clint Dempsey to score. While I think it’s funny – especially since British journalists have a long history of overreacting to national team ups and downs – I feel bad for Green. Hopefully he’ll recover.

Examples:

“Stars and Tripe,” said the News of the World. “Cock-up keeper Green wrecks dream start.” That tabloid also used the headline “Hand of Clod.”

The Sunday Mirror led with “Tainted Glove” (which is really quite clever) and also had “Worst Howler Ever” in its pages (I think that distinction is up for debate).

The People tried to be creative with “Blunder Pressure” and wrote that “England’s goalkeeper curse struck again.”

The Mail on Sunday declared “Calamity!” (which, incidentally, is why David James should absolutely not play).

Don Fabio will have to make a hard decision before the next match. Like Mike Babcock for the Canadian Olympic hockey team, he should suck it up and replace the keeper (Babcock replaced one of the top 3 goalies of all time without flinching; Green is hardly in that class). England’s replacement should be Joe Hart.

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On chemistry

Clint Dempsey scores v. England (Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

Chemistry is a nebulous thing in sports. It’s almost mystical, and it’s responsible for both good and bad things. Look to other sports, like basketball, and chemistry between teammates is seen as a vital part of collective success. Often, part of chemistry is one’s willingness to subvert personal goals for those of the team. In soccer, the same concept exists, usually framed with some sort of pithy argument that “the sum of a team’s parts is greater than each individual player.”

On paper, the United States had no business hanging with England in each team’s World Cup opener. The English team is an all-star team while the US had 3 (maybe 4) truly world-class players at the moment. As a result, England was favored. A draw was a good result for the US. To get the formalities out of the way, England captain Steven Gerrard scored at 4 minutes while winger Clint Dempsey responded for the US at 40 minutes (yeah, the goal was lucky but it still counts). Where does chemistry come in?

England looked very much like a team that had been hastily thrown together, like an all-star team. Don Fabio is an excellent manager but he made two crucial mistakes: one was playing Robert Green (Joe Hart would have been my first choice); the second was starting James Milner on the wing. Milner is a hard man central midfielder, but England’s problem is that both Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard like to play in the middle. In fact, Gerrard and Lampard are basically the same player. Sadly, not even Don Fabio had the stones to leave one of them out so Milner played on the wing when he should have been filling the Owen Hargreaves role as a central, defensive-minded midfielder.

But that’s neither here nor there. The real problem was one of communication and, indeed, teamwork. England is composed of excellent players but they don’t know how to play together. To a degree, England suffers from the same disease as Mexico: it assumes a haughty air in competition as if other teams should wilt in their presence. That is, in a word, idiotic. Yes, England invented the game but that doesn’t mean they get a pass every time they play; they have to earn the win. In this case, England was like Mexico in another regard: it didn’t respect the US ability.

Everyone knows about Tim Howard, Landon Donovan, and Clint Dempsey. Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore have tremendous potential and are just now tapping into it. The other players are good to very good or, like Altidore, long on potential but short on experience. But they’ve been playing together for three years. That has to have some benefit, even if you don’t give chemistry and almost mystical meaning. Chemistry gives players the guts to play long balls or to give-and-go with anyone on the team. Chemistry integrates the new players, like Edson Buddle and Robbie Findlay, easily. The England squad has cliques and the permanently frosty Gerrard/Lampard relationship. That has to influence how a team plays. Logic says so; if you don’t want to play with someone, you’re not going to make the effort to ensure maximum effort at all times.

England is a good, bordering on great, team. It falls on Don Fabio to put everything together. He can’t panic. He can’t listen to the tabloids. What he needs to do is be the calming influence and decide on a squad, and stick with it. Bob Bradley does that and it’s working.

Or maybe the US just really, really likes playing in South Africa.

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World Cup Qualifying previews

Jay DeMerit (ISI Photos)

Jay DeMerit (ISI Photos)

Bad news and good news for the US: Jay DeMerit, Oguchi Onyewu’s central defense partner, has been left home as the rest of the squads travels to Trinidad to take on Trinidad and Tobego tomorrow night. Perhaps that’ll give someone else a chance to make a good impression. Good, or perhaps just interesting, news is that Edgar Castillo, a Mexican-American left back, has been cleared by FIFA to play for the United States. Perhaps he’s the best option at left back now that Jonathan Bornstein has totally crapped the bed.

As an aside, Grant Wahl has a good Q & A session with Bob Bradley here. It’s well worth checking out.

A re-energized Mexico takes on Honduras at Estadio Azteca. I think that as much as Javier Aguirre has helped the team, the real key has been Giovani dos Santos’s (re)emergence as an attacking force. He’s been on fire since the Gold Cup which hopefully means his club career will be re-ignited.

In CONMEBOL, it’s do or die for Argentina against Paraguay tomorrow night. Perhaps literally. A must-win game means that Diego Maradona and his boys will be under tremendous pressure. I’m not sure if any of them would be welcome back in Buenos Aires if they lose.

In UEFA qualifying, Don Fabio is thanking Slaven Bilič for saying his team lacks “Englishness” since the Italian took over. There are calls to start Jermain Defoe but I don’t think that’s a good idea.  Look for David Beckham to get his 114th cap, though.

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Yeah, I was right: Capello replaces McClown

Man, it’s hard work being right all the time. Or at least in this case. The English FA did the right thing and hired Fabio Capello. He is the right hire. The man is a winner and that’s all there is to it. He’s won everything everywhere and England is lucky to have him.

Over the course of the hiring process, through the McClown sacking and the Mourinho flirtation, I maintained that Capello was the right man. Near the end, that is, in the last two weeks or so, I began reading a lot about the “proper age” for international managers. Basically, the theory states that anyone under the age of, say, 52, is bound to be tempted by club managing jobs. I suppose there is some truth to that. Insomuch as the theory applies here, Capello is 61 and says that this will be his last job. For what it’s worth, he signed a 4.5 year contract, with an out clause after the 2010 World Cup.

The issue now, in some quarters, is that Capello isn’t English. Objectors say that England should be run by an Englishman. Yeah, that worked out real well last time. The idea that national teams should automatically hire someone of that nationality to manage them, in any sport, is stupid. The idea is to win, right? Then hire the best man available. In this case, England did that. Capello is the best man available. If an Englishman was the best man available, he would’ve been hired. I suppose the argument smacks of xenophobia and that makes me kind of angry. If you’ll notice, all the objectors are people who would never be offered a job with the prestige associated with the England national team.

The FA got this one right. The players – notably John Terry, Frank Lampard, and Stevie Gerrard – need to buy into his system. And I think they will. Because Capello will drop them if they don’t. Now, as for the captain, that’s another post…

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