Date:Sunday November 25 2007
I can`t quite get used to these international breaks. They used to only affect us when we played Wrexham and three or four of their players were called up by the international powerhouse that is, Wales.
The U`s squad was never affected. I think the closest we got was Efe Sodje (he of the bandana) getting called up for Nigeria friendlies. Then manager Steve Whitton was so perturbed, Sodje quickly found himself propelled towards the Layer Road exit. (Speaking of Efe, I`m sure I speak for all U`s fans when I wish him a speedy recovery from a nasty clash of heads in a match last week.)
How times change though. I`m sure it must have been a first (almost as sure as the fact I`ll be corrected if it`s not) that two U`s-linked players lined up on opposite teams in an international match.
Ok, Chris Iwelumo`s no longer ours as far as the FA are concerned but he`s recent enough in our memories to still be in our hearts. Mark Yeates is very much a current U`s player though and when he took to the field for Ireland B, 'Lumo` was on the other side, playing for Scotland B.
Matt Connolly was on the bench for the England U21s too. Again, not "ours" in the filing cabinet at Soho Square but still a signpost of how far the U`s have advanced in recent years.
By all accounts, Yeatesy displayed all the trickery and panache we`re so familiar with. Whomever the FAI pick as their new manager they could do worse than give Yeatesy a look-in with the first team.
There are quite likely to be a few international vacancies coming up. Ireland are already on the look out; Alex McLeish may well be lured away from Scotland; John Toshack may or may not be given more time - but even his failure with Wales pales into insignificance when compared to the car-crash that was Steve McLaren`s mis-management of England.
Given the international break has meant a dearth of U`s action I feel justified in turning my attentions to the international stage too.
England`s cataclysmic, calamitous, capitulation against Croatia has been attributed to many things: too many foreigners in the Premier League; overpaid/under motivated players; the wrong manager; negative media - as well as the usual gamut of bad pitch, bad luck, etc. etc. ad nauseam.
The simple fact is: we`re not good enough. Manager, tactics, players and motivation: Not. Good. Enough.
There may be too many foreigners in the Premier League and players are undoubtedly paid too much. However, does it matter if they`re not playing week-in, week-out in the Premier League if they give their all for the cause?
Take the squad from the last time England actually did well in a tournament, Italia '90. There were undoubted stars: Gascoigne, Pearce, Platt but the squad had its battlers too. They weren`t all top-flight stars.
Four of them played for Glasgow Rangers (Terry Butcher, Chris Woods, Gary Stevens and Trevor Steven). Chris Waddle was plying his trade in a decent (but not spectacular) Marseille team.
The bulk of the squad came from mid-table battlers and 'cup teams` whose best hope of glory was a run to Wembley. Chelsea, Forest, Villa, QPR all fit that mould. In those days Chelsea weren`t rolling in the cash they are today.
Then there was Derby County, who gave none other than Peter Shilton (and Mark Wright) - they were relegation battlers. Steve Bull even played in the (then) second division for goodness sake!
But the players were decent and gave their all, every time. And there was a squad. We had alternatives. Bryan Robson injured? In came McMahon, Gascoigne or Platt. Then again, there was Steve Hodge too.
My point is (there is one, honest) a team is greater than the sum of its parts. Is Paul Parker better than Micah Richards? Mark Wright any less inept than Sol Campbell? Probably not.
McLaren`s last-minute meddling didn`t help - why try 4-5-1 and a novice goalie in such a vital game? Isn`t that what friendlies are for?
But Bobby Robson managed it. England cobbled together a 5-3-2 half-way through Italia `90 and still got to the semi-finals.
The England of today have enough players with talent, despite the bleating about foreigners in England`s top club teams. They just lack the guts, determination and application.
Three qualities rarely found wanting at Layer Road, thankfully! Cheer on our squad of heroes to victory today. Judging by Wednesday`s Wembley performance most of them could be missing for the next international break!
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Date:Sunday November 25 2007
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