Are England really capable of winning the World Cup? Paul Fennessy wonders
As the World Cup qualifiers draw to a largely anti-climactic close, there is one question dominating the thoughts of many BBC and ITV observers – whether or not the current England squad have the mentality, guile and sheer talent to triumph in South Africa next summer.
The sporting public can undoubtedly prepare themselves for the usual tiresome tabloid hyperbole proclaiming the team’s apparent magnificence. In addition, people can expect an endless array of painfully bland and unnecessary headlines, along the lines of ‘Capello Praises England Camp’s Spirit’ or ‘Rooney Damages Toenail’.
However, this year appears to be a break from recent tradition, as the hype surrounding the England team for once seems justified. Needless to say, Fabio Capello’s unique regime, noticeably characterised by rigid disciplinary measures – in stark contrast to the laid-back coaching style of his predecessors – has been the crucial component to the squads’ marked reinvention.
Yet despite the undue ease with which the team sauntered through qualification, England by no means constitutes the finished article. Pre-tournament form can often be deceiving – the manner in which they demolished Germany 5-1, only to struggle at the subsequent World Cup in 2002, is a case in point.
In recent competitions, England’s most pressing flaw has been an inability to creatively unlock opponents. During the 2006 World Cup the side’s admirable work rate and defensive solidity were not matched by an attacking zest. Consequently, they exited the competition having failed to score in 120 minutes of football against Portugal.
Although Capello’s side are capable of scoring freely against teams of Croatia’s dubious standard, it remains to be seen if they can match this feat against more foreboding opposition such as Spain or Brazil. While the squad contains players, including Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, who are eminently capable of finding the net, a Xavi-type playmaker to orchestrate their undoubted potential remains ostensibly elusive.
Nonetheless, a potential solution to this perpetual problem exists in the form of Paul Scholes. Some may argue, perhaps rightly, that his best days are behind him. But these naysayers would still be hard pressed to find an English-born player with a greater passing range than that which Scholes possesses.
While Ryan Giggs grabbed the majority of the accolades for his performance in Manchester United’s recent win over Stoke, there was no question in Tony Pulis’ mind as to who dictated proceedings. “He was the best player on the pitch by a country mile,” Pulis stated of Scholes, following his side’s 2-0 defeat.
Clearly, questions remain over the player’s disciplinary record and his ability to last ninety minutes, not to mention whether he is even willing to be coaxed out of international retirement.
Even though it remains debatable if Scholes warrants a starting place in the England side, he represents a patently viable alternative to the strength and dynamism which Gerrard and Lampard exhibit in spades. He is a completely different type of footballer and thus, the perfect player to introduce if Plan A fails to flourish.
Moreover, when manifestly less gifted individuals such as Gareth Barry and Michael Carrick can be accommodated in the squad, then Scholes is unquestionably deserving of a chance to impress. For all his well documented tackling deficiencies, he continues to display evidence that he possesses the most acute football brain in the English game.
But whether he would indeed accept such a proposition is still uncertain. Nonetheless, given how Scholes recently stated that he plans to retire at the end of the season, surely he would not resist a final opportunity to secure the one major trophy he has failed to acquire over the course of his career.