Germany 4 – 1 England: Lady Luck Catches Up with Capello’s Problem Gamblers at the Bloemfontein Casino to Call in the Hubris Debt.

June 27, 2011 Leave a comment

by Lawrence Mardy, Broadsheet Football Columnist, in Bloemfontein.

Pity the problem gambler. For each throw of the dice confirms the addiction. This poor soul may lose nearly everything he owns but sometimes, inevitably, his luck will turn, and shiny coins will spew from the bowels of the one-armed bandit like money effluent. And so quite inevitably, here at the Bloemfontein casino, Fabio Capello’s England bet it all on Umbro red and came up smelling of Top Trumps.

They collectively lost their chips, betting all on a quarter final against Argentina. But observers of problem gamblers, such as my estranged wife, will know this: England took their Slovenian winnings, and believing that their luck had changed, today spunked it all up the wall on a horse that fell at the last. For Capello’s England, this doomed, mangy nag was the a Germanic quadroped, well groomed and fed on elan-hay.

Much will be made of Franks Lampard’s goal that never was of course. Although the ball crossed the line the linesman clearly made the correct decision, deciding that England’s insipid displays in the tournament thus far did not merit an equaliser. I for one applaud the official’s judgement in this regard. To award the goal would have only delayed the inevitable and righteous smiting that followed.

England were tragically doomed this afternoon. Their approach of turning up and playing as well as they could under the circumstances was horribly ill-advised. James Milner for instance, stationed on the right wing, covered in Northern industrial soot and rat faeces, tried to cross the ball as well as he could at every opportunity. Inevitably, as at the pub fruit machines back in England, he would from time to time, deliver a serviceable cross more by luck than judgement. Meanwhile Capello’s eyes, ears and forehead on the pitch, Steven Gerrard, who loves Phil Collins and fears gangsters in equal measure, idiotically tried to find team mates with his passes, rather than the more noble option of retiring from international football as Paul Scholes did after Euro 2004.

The other England players also failed to cover themselves in glory. John Terry was confused as to which defensive crack was his to fill, inserting himself into every available hole much to the consternation of his team mates. Theo Walcott again failed to stamp his authority on the game, confined as he was to his red brick mansion on the outskirts on London. To the lightning-heeled Arsenal winger’s credit however, he showed determination in purchasing EA Games’ FIFA World Cup 2010 for the Playstation 3, replacing Shaun Wright-Phillips with himself and scoring a sublime hat-trick in a re-creation of this very tie.

In the press box, my colleagues continued their desperate attempts to cope with their ordeal, an ordeal which is surely akin to the deprivation and death that is part of everyday life in the nearby vuvuzela infested townships. As eluded to in my previous reports, the use of suicide and hard drugs has become an inevitable coping mechanism for the Fourth Estate. And I must confess that weakened by the turgid football on display and hearing the sexy suicidal whispers inside my head, this correspondent succumbed to the dark charms of narcotics. My colleague from The Guardian suggested in his northern twang that I try gak, more commonly known I understand as crack cocaine. As I smoked from his pipe, my initial reaction of pain and horror subsided as a euphoria took hold. However my recollection of the final twenty minutes of the game was disrupted by my attempts to keep the huge fucking red-eyed spiders with massive fucking all-knowing fangs at bay as they approached from all fucking sides. Later in the evening my shame was complete when I was arrested in downtown Bloemfontein, as naked as the day I was born, burn marks all over my face, offering to fight the locals for money.

But I digress.

In the lead up to this game, a deluge of emails came my way from base individuals who seek to discourage reality. A sad fact of our digital age is that the great unwashed can bombard a correspondent with all manner of deluded opinions at the click of a mouse. Some of these lager addled buffoons made accusations of pomposity, of self-important miserablism, of rabid narcissism or of the excruciatingly terrible use of metaphor. In an almost nobly naïve way, they made these sound like negative attributes. And inevitably, as I am becoming accustomed to, many of these poorly-written missives accused me, in an uncouth manner, of onanism. How ironic then that the compromised condition of my prostrate no longer allows me such a self-indulgent release.

A similar contempt was displayed this week by Signor Capello, who pockets a cool £124million a year from his Football Association lap-dogs. I, and my colleagues were left high and dry this week by the lack of communication from Soho Square’s snake oil salesman. With deadlines to meet and history to shape, Capello offered us only minimal information at his daily press calls. I pressed the FA press secretary on this very point and was informed that the Italian was too busy with the coaching of his doomed team. Such breath-taking arrogance. What Mr Capello fails to realise is that the World Cup exists not for him, not for his overpaid players, not for the myriad corporate sponsors who piggy-back on the back our great game. The World Cup exists, of course, for the journalists. And to a lesser extent for the fans of the game who, in the absence of press passes, find out exactly what to think about the World Cup by reading the broadsheets.

Germany, desperately unfortunate not to score 18 or 19, were mesmeric this afternoon. Bastian Schweinsteiger, as his name suggests, was resolutely and unapologetically German throughout. Miroslav Klose, although less German, nonetheless put in a flawless display, carrying on from his barnstorming Bundeslige season. Phillipp Lahm ran rings around England, confusing the hapless Wayne Rooney to the extent that the simian Manchester United striker needed medical and indeed psychic attention at the final whistle. And the German coach, Joachim Low was brilliantly adept, sitting in the dugout with a hairstyle that did not look even slightly shit.

This correspondent was reminded of a previous German humiliation of England, back in the World Cup final of 1966. The history books record the score as 4-2 to the host nation however make no mistake, this was a footballing lesson that England, and I, have yet to recover from. On that heady mid-sixties afternoon, West Germany demolished the home nation. But for a dubious Russian linesman, who in contrast to today’s game incorrectly and tragically awarded England a goal, and three other goals, the result would have been very different. At the final whistle, the England manager Winston Churchill was a shell-shocked figure. Sir Bobby Moore, captain of the winning team was so demoralised that he celebrated ironically, hoisting the Jules Remy trophy like he meant it when really he did not. So ashamed was the West Ham talisman that he threw the trophy into a hedge where it was famously discovered some time later by a canine named Pickles.

And there’s the rub. Capello, salaried at £143 million per year, a figure so astronomical it may well be a running joke that is going nowhere and is no longer funny, gambles on. However the Italian’s gamb(o)ling is not that of a lamb who may have been spotted in English fields in March or here in Bloemfontein in September when spring arrives being as it is in the Southern Hemisphere, but the gambling of a sweaty, misguided punter who is unaware his luck will run out and has staked his house on a doomed long shot. What Signor Capello and his hapless charges discovered today is that the World Cup casino is an unforgiving establishment, one which calls in debts by way of knee-capping, cement shoes and desert burials. And students of the game will know this: the World Cup casino is certainly not one which accepts IOUs.

And so, for England, the inevitable return to Luton Airport and recriminations. For Germany, a further assignment, against a certain Diego Armando Flores Geoff Constantine Flamingo Maradona’s Argentina.

 Mr Capello should have cashed in those chips a long time ago, methinks. The inescapable conclusion of this whole sorry episode is this, that the Football Association’s folly in even entering a team in the World Cup was a horrible miss-step. Surely the time has come for the FA to realise that sending a team into the tortuous qualifying campaign for a World Cup and risking that the team might qualify is too trepidatious. As we have seen here today, by trying as hard as you can and cheerfully hoping for the best, only humiliation results. This correspondent has had enough, and I call upon the powers that be to ensure that such a disaster never happens in the future. Soho Square, are you listening? Withdraw from international football now, and avoid having to read my columns ever again. As gamblers are not wont to say, but businessmen are, this would surely be a win-win.

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England 1 – 0 Slovenia: Capello’s England Titanic Lurches Towards an Unglamorous Iceberg.

June 27, 2011 Leave a comment

by Lawrence Mardy, Broadsheet Football Columnist, in Port Elizabeth. June 23rd 2010.

And so quite unbelievably, Capello’s Titanic blindly cruises on, into the frozen iceberg filled waters of the World Cup’s knockout stages. As with the fateful voyage of the aforementioned liner, this doomed vessel runs not on coal, but on hubris. “Full steam ahead!” yells Capello as the dark icy spectre of a an inevitable second round exit looms on the horizon. As he will soon find out, the Italian’s ship’s hull is not made of reinforced Yorkshire steel but of the papier mache conceit of presumed destiny and entitlement. Students of maritime history and keen England watchers will know this: the iceberg hides beneath the surface, grinning. In contrast to the James Cameron-directed epic, this particular Titanic lacks the glamour of DiCaprio and Winslet humping in a car. The iceberg that lurks is not unlike that of the 1980s government funded HIV awareness advertisements that could have made so much difference to the AIDS stricken citizens of South Africa where this particular game and indeed World Cup are taking place in South Africa at the foot of the African continent in South Africa.

‘Write the Future’ scream the makers of Rooney’s garish boots, bringing to mind the mid-eighties Robert Zemeckis series of Back to the Future motion pictures. Rooney, however is not the wise-cracking, whip-smart Marty McFly of these successful family movies, but the jittery, confused, trouser pissing future shell of the franchise’s lead actor, Michael J Fox. If only Rooney were able to dribble half as well as the fantastic Mr Fox. Indeed, it was Rooney who was out-foxed this evening. His first touches were leaden and horribly mistimed, this was the performance of a man who does not trust his broken overworked body and its various appendages. But Rooney was not alone in displaying a horrible disconnect. England were collectively wretched this evening. Joe Cole, not known for his intellectual abilities, set the tone, forgetting to bring his kit and having to play in his vest and pants, cutting a sad figure as he roamed aimlessly in search of the ball, shivering. The other Cole, Ashley, toiled idiotically on the left flank. His performance was comparable to his drunken bedroom antics with that hairdresser, all huff and puff and no end result. And such was Theo Walcott’s lack of positional sense and discipline that rather than pressure the space behind the Slovenian full back as he had been tasked, he spent the entire match on the sofa at his nan’s house in Berkshire, eating Pringles.

In the press box, patience had run out. Several of my colleagues used FIFA branded biros to gouge out their own eyes in order to avoid the desperate spectacle before them. Their grateful screams echoed through the Port Elizabeth night, creating a sharp juxtaposition to the flaccid-cock-dirge of the locals’ vuvuzela trumpets. Even the strongest of the press pack struggled. I myself, mired in a fog of prescription Lithium and despair at the match below, left my position at the final whistle and climbed wearily to the very top of this surprisingly well-designed and constructed stadium, where I stood for a time on the roof, contemplating the eight storey dive that would bring an end to my terrible ordeal.

Fortunately, my colleague from The Independent had unbeknown to me noticed and followed my funereal march. This great man talked to me with compassion, reminding me of my achievements both past and future. He reminded me of the impact my passing would have on my readers, on how they would have no way of interpreting England’s campaign and knowing exactly what to think about it. Tears welled and then rolled down my cheeks as I turned away from the parapet, now dissuaded from passing through death’s beefy curtains. I am not ashamed to tell you that I and my colleague from The Independent held each other for some time, warm in each others arms underneath the African night.

But I digress. Slovenia were a revelation tonight. And as Eastern European teams are wont to do, they ran rings around their vaunted Premiership opponents, handing out a lesson in technique. Robert Koren, their captain and talisman, was magnificent, running around and shouting things with mesmeric precision. Valter Birsa barely put a foot wrong, placing left in front of right in exactly that order all evening long.

The totality of Slovenia’s domination brought to mind a similar lesson from a different era. In 1953, Gusztav Sebes brought his Aranycsapat, better known as the Magnificent Magyars, to Wembley. So confident were the England of Sir Stanley Mathews, Sir Alf Ramsey and the frankly quite rightly unknighted Billy Wright that they started the game smoking cigarettes and tickling each oher. What followed was a football lesson that England, and I, have never recovered from.

England, playing in their traditional formation of one-one-one-one-one-one-one-one-one had no answer to Sebes’ men. History will tell you that the Magical Magyars played as a four-two-four with Nandor Hidegkuti playing as a deep lying forward between Ferenc Puskas and Sandor Kocsis, however this patently fails to communicate the sophistication and fluidity of their approach. The formation was in fact more accurately described as two-one-four-two-and-three-quarters-eight-minus-fourteen-carry-the-one-three-to-the-power-of-football.

Hungary ran out winners that day by fourteen goals to two. The superiority was confirmed after the game when, as was customary at that time, the victors won the right to have vigorous and noisy intercourse with the defeated team’s players’ wives. The Mighty Magyars’ coach, Sebes could not have been more apposite to Signor Capello, who is remunerated at a scarcely believable £83million a year. A former car factory foreman, Sebes was a humble and approachable man. Contrast this if you will with this correspondent’s experiences this very week. A routine question regarding the coaches’ inability to make key decisions and how this correlated to the ASBO entitlement culture of modern nanny-state Britain was met with a hand gesture which implied I was guilty of onanism. Sebes, in contrast with Capello, lived for football. With no need for the trappings of fame, Sebes lived in a hedge and foraged for berries. No need had Sebes for a £87million per annum salary. His reward took the form of football beauty. And Berries. Lots of berries. And the occasional hedgehog.

And there’s the rub. Capello, remunerated at a cool £93 million per year, a figure so ludicrous it might well have been made up on the spot, remains blind to the iceberg. Whoever England play in the second round is of little import, as the result is now inevitable. Capello’s Titanic is letting in water. And when the sinking comes, I for one, will not be holding a bucket. I will be stood on a life raft yelling, “I told you so.” Oh for a penny of Mr Sebes’ thoughts this evening.

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England 0 – 0 Algeria: England’s Circus Acrobats Without Safety Nets Have Reason to Fear the High-Wire Acts Lying Ahead.

June 27, 2011 Leave a comment

by Lawrence Mardy, Broadsheet Football Columnist, in Cape Town. June 18th 2010

And so the circus rumbles on. What should have been a routine lion-taming assignment turned into a reverse mauling, the wheels falling off the Team England clown-car, a solitary honk sounding out in the Cape Town night. Ringmaster Fabio Capello, salaried to the tune of £18million per year, cracked his formation-whip and tweaked his tactic-moustache but to no avail. His charges chased each other around, wrestling with self doubt in a manner reminiscent of the monkeys that play-fight in the evening sun at England’s training base at the foot of the Pilanesberg mountains in South Africa which is nestles at the bottom of the African continent here in South Africa where the World Cup is being staged.

In the lead up to this clash, much hope was placed at the feet of Gareth Barry. As I predicted however, the Suffolk Yeoman’s performance was fitful, and horribly confused. He misfired like the rusty cars of the nearby townships and struggled to settle the midfield as the ‘optimists’ and Capello, had hoped. Meanwhile, Ashley Cole toiled fruitlessly, while Wayne Rooney again flattered to deceive, roaming around in deep positions like a frustrated fisherman. Capello’s small-foreheaded lieutenant Steven Gerrard, patrolling the midfield aimlessly, carried what appeared to be a Tesco bag full of groceries as he chased Algerian shadows. And Theo Wallcott was once more anonymous, doing nothing to dispel the belief that he goes missing during important games.

In the press box, there was only anger. “How dare these bastards try to play football as well as they can and hope that its enough to win the game and please the spectators?” remarked my colleague from The Telegraph, capturing the mood. Several of the press pack took to the use of hard drugs to cope with the horror of having to watch a football match and write about it. At the conclusion of the game, a sea of crack pipes, needles and tourniquets littered the floor of the media centre. And inevitably, as at Rustenberg, there were suicides as journalists sought out release in the warm arms of death’s embrace. For those of us that remain, it is only through a superhuman stoicism not unlike that displayed by South Africa’s people’s princess, Nelson Mandela during his incarceration.

While England laboured this evening, bigger predators await. Algeria, although clearly technically superior to their England opposite numbers, lacked a killer instinct that other foes will have in spades. If England had been playing the 1970 Brazil team or the Dutch team of 1974 for example, they would have been horribly exposed. A performance such as this against the AC Milan team of the early nineties would result in a heavy defeat that would leave a ringing in the ears not unlike the insect-spaz-burr of the vuvuzelas.

More immediately, England’s likely second round opponents from Group D, should they even get that far, all impressively opened their accounts this week. Germany, Australia, Ghana and Serbia all performed without mistakes or indeed any flaws at all. The resulting collective sense of foreboding does not bode well.

Algeria were desperately unfortunate and but for their indecision in front of goal and in midfield and in defence and in goal could have beaten England by five or six goals. Karim Ziani gave a Herculean performance in midfield, keeping hold of the ball for as long as three seconds at times and falling over beautifully when required. And how ironic that a man by the name of Nadir Belhadj should shine so brightly on an evening which represented the Nadir of England’s footballing history. Belhadj ran and ran, in straight lines and sometimes at angles, often in the same direction as play. Aaron Lennon, frazzled and dazzled, could only watch in admiration.

And so, back to the question of Capello’s £23million per year salary. Sharp relief was brought to this astronomical figure this week as I visited the Tlhabane Township to the West of Rustenburg. The childlike inhabitants if this poverty-steeped hamlet were delighted as I delivered a lecture on how to use clever cultural and geographical references to add colour to sports journalism. Such was the refreshing naivety of my audience that many seemed unaware of who I was or the importance of my role at this World Cup.

These people’s idiotic poverty takes on a noble sheen when contrasted with the wealth of Mr Capello and his hapless millionaire charges. The people of Tlhabane have no electricity and are only able to follow the football courtesy of a weekly puppet show provided by UNICEF – An ersatz Punch and Judy Match of the Day if you will. They also have no word in their primitive language meaning ‘patronised.’ Somewhat tragically, eight of their number died of AIDS during my five hour lecture. But those that survived were happy, dancing merrily and blowing their vuvuzelas as I announced that I was leaving.

If only such joie de vivre could transfer to listless England, and maybe it can. Even amongst the humiliation of their campaign thus far, there are unbelievably, some reasons to be cheerful. As England now regroup, lick their wounds and look towards the Slovenian frontier, two straws of hope blow across the Highveld.

John Terry seems to be back to his best, offering a stiff presence at the back. Never happier than when on the job, he stood proud, always willing to thrust himself into any hole left unattended by his team mates. And Terry’s Chelsea compatriot Frank Lampard, in a reprise of his famous Ayia Napa performance all those years ago, teamed up well with his colleagues and offered penetration from a variety of angles.

 And there’s the rub. Capello, remunerated at a cool £43million per year, refuses to see this circus act for what it is. It is the Emperor’s New Circus, a Big Top built of whimsy and blind hope. The Big Top will now be packed up, driven to Port Elizabeth to be re-erected where the criminally underrated Slovenia lie in wait. On tonight’s evidence, it is clear that there will be no safety net below England’s high wire acrobats. It’s a long long way down. And I for one will not be standing underneath ready to catch those who fall.

 

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England 1 – 1 USA: The Folly of Capello’s Midfield Castle Built on Conceit Sand

June 27, 2011 1 comment

by Lawrence Mardy, Broadsheet Football Columnist, in Rustenburg. June 12th 2010.

 A draw then, but has a draw ever felt as much like a crushing defeat? Capello’s England stumble on, clueless, spineless and chinless. Such was the paucity of elan on display here that the doodlebug drone of the vuvuzela was a welcome relief, a Beethoven symphony to these ageing ears. The unlucky USA were superior in every department, in chutzpah, gusto and oompah. And no where were the North American underdogs more in control than in midfield where Capello’s repeatedly failure to find an adequate replacement for Dennis Wise was never the nor more obvious, odious and odourless. It seems prescient at this point to comment that Capello takes home a cool £6million a year from his paymasters at the Football Association.

Rooney cut a lonesome figure up front, touching the ball just twice during the entire game. Ashley Cole’s contribution was limited to delivering a throw-in to the opposition and audibly passing wind at a corner kick. Such was ersatz holding midfielder-come winger and captain Steven Gerrard’s confusion at his role that he could be seen wandering like a lost toddler, mouthing the lyrics to Phil Collins’ You Can’t Hurry Love through salty tears. James Milner, fleet of foot but slow of intellect, epitomised the malaise, patrolling the flanks whilst eating packet after packet of cheese and onion crisps. And Theo Walcott was so ineffectual that one wondered if he had even made the squad.

Contrast this with the USA – slick, in control and infinitely superior the supposed favourites. Landon Donovan was majestic in possession, spraying passes upwards of six feet like a gridiron quarterback. Jozy Altidore was equally beguiling, heading the ball with his head at various times. And Tim Howard led from the back with his frequent rallying calls of “keeper’s ball, cock flaps dog fucker turd hat stand,” and so on.

In the press box, such was the air of despair amongst my colleagues that two had taken their own lives before the sixty minute mark. My colleague from The Times fashioned a crude but effective noose using his own socks. If only such ingenuity was on display on the park 40 feet beneath us. As the game wore on a further three of our number had self-harmed to the extent that they required hospitalisation. Oh for such decisive action on the field of play.

Apologists for Capello and my therapist alike will no doubt say I am being negative. And there were positives of course in the form of Emile Heskey, always willing to run the channels with a bovine eagerness to serve. This cow-eyed, oft-derided, oft-chided and oft-off-sided Aston Villa understudy was easily England’s best performer, shining like a six-pence in a latrine. How sad then that his midfield colleagues and he were like strangers in the rusty Rustenburg night.

In the lead up to the tournament, much had been made of Capello’s disciplinarian approach. While this is to be applauded given the laissez fair approach of previous regimes, questions have quite rightfully been asked about his insistence on the ‘no talking during matches’ rule. Surely it’s time to reassess this particular diktat. His midfielders played like strangers.

And so, back to the question of Gareth Barry. Capello has consistently stated that Barry is injured, unable to play and unavailable for selection. Where is the evidence of this? I asked Capello, via the FA press secretary for evidence that Barry is injured. I received a roll of the eyes, and as yet, no formal reply. This silence is surely as deafening as the idiotic township roar of the vuvuzela. The injury may not be to his groin or whatever Capello on his £8million a year will have us believe, but to the player’s heart and balls.

Let me explain. Back in the 1954 World Cup I watched in awe as the wizard outside-right-inside-centre Garincha, playing at the zenith of Brazil’s famous one-one-eight formation, ran imperious rings around a shell-shocked Sweden with a partially severed arm and his left eyeball hanging down his cheek, held in place only by his stubborn latino optical nerve.

 ‘Injured’ was never a word in Garincha’s vocabulary. Famous for having a left leg fourteen inches short than his right, Garincha stood at three-foot-eight in his socks and weighed a mere 14 ounces dripping wet. He grew up in the shanty towns of Sau Paulo, one of thirty-eight children and made a living by bitch-slapping the native lions and tigers for the entertainment of the rich and cruel factory owners.

Later in life, his voracious appetite for bewitching inside-centre-half-backs was matched only by his appetite for creatures of the night. During Garincha’s dotage in the late sixties, by which time he was quite mad from syphilis, the great man paid for this correspondent to accompany him as he gloriously whored his way across South East Asia. Contrast this generosity with today’s ‘stars’ if you will. England’s present starlets, rather than rewarding the press corps with topless hand jobs, golden showers and the like, prefer to mock an ageing correspondent’s brown suit or comment that his breath smells of scotch eggs and whisky.

If you uttered the name Garincha in earshot of Gareth Barry, he would no doubt reply “Bless you” and hand you an Armani handkerchief.

And there’s the rub. Capello, remunerated at £14million per year, refuses to acknowledge the evidence before him – that England are doomed to failure, inferior to every other footballing nation. A quiet withdrawal from the tournament at this time must surely be the best option. Many observers fear that England will not progress beyond the group stages. On tonight’s evidence, they may be knocked out of the competition much sooner than that, perhaps even before the next group game against the criminally underrated Algeria.

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